In the eighth of a series of features answering the biggest questions about the industry's future, Dominic Sacco investigates the dangers smartphones and tablets pose to the console market
Is the threat of mobile over-hyped?
Angry Birds has been downloaded 1bn times.
Not even the longest-running and biggest boxed franchises like Mario, The Sims and Call of Duty have reached such heights in terms of unit sales.
And we’re talking about an IP that has been around for less than three years.
Games such as these have benefitted not just from the growth of smartphones, but an explosion in tablet sales.
During its recent earnings call, Apple said it had sold 67m iPads in the first two years. It took the firm 24 years to sell that many Macs, five years to sell that many iPods and three years to sell that many iPhones. And these numbers don’t include Android tablets, such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire.
Yet what kind of impact has the growth of these products and the sales of cheap apps had on the traditional handheld games sector?
Early signs have been mixed. 3DS got off to a slow start, although a price cut, a new marketing push and some Mario games have helped turn that platform around, with over 17m units sold worldwide.
PS Vita has also got off to an unspectacular opening. But again, it is too early to draw any conclusions on that platform. Yet Gamesbrief’s Nicholas Lovell believes Sony and Nintendo has a fight on its hands with Apple and Google.
“The mobile and the tablet taken together are very dangerous to the traditional console market,” he tells MCV. “They are desirable pieces of kit. They offer a vast range of high-quality content at very low prices or free. The process of paying for a game is simple. Companies can make more from an iOS title than they can with a core game.
“Development costs are low – perhaps one hundredth of the cost of developing for a console. There is a wrinkle, though: the hardcore market likes a particular type of game. They like triple-A blockbusters, with vast unnecessary budgets. But I can’t imagine another generation of consoles after the next one.”
Zynga’s COO John Schappert told MCV last month that there is a space for big core games, but that mobile will become the mainstream form of gaming.
He says: “I think [boxed console games] is a really tough business. Is there still a market for it? Absolutely.
“Did movie theatres die away when television came? No. But what do we watch more of?”