What does the handheld games revolution mean for retail?

Some will be unsurprised to hear SCEE boss Andrew House confirm that only the biggest and best tentpole NGP games will be available for stores to sell. But his comments are the most explicit confirmation yet that retail’s part to play with games is simply over.

A brand like The Sims, for instance, is rapidly migrating online. Its mobile spin-off isn’t ‘the mobile spin-off’ any more, it’s the main handheld version, promoted heavily by EA through various app stores. Forget DS and PSP – The Sims is bundled on the new Xperia ‘PlayStation Phone’ handset.

Of course the console version still did the business at Christmas, but for a large set of consumers, this is a game they play on a portable, not a TV. Retail-friendly formats like the 3DS are fast becoming the exception, not the rule.

That’s why Sony’s totally hybridised model for NGP, and all its games platforms going forward, is hugely noteworthy. Power parity between the handheld and PS3 creates continuity for developers and publishers.

Meanwhile the PlayStation Suite and PlayStation Certified plan means games content and hardware can roll out without SCE having to bear manufacturing, but still give it the Sony seal of approval.

That’s a very progressive model for a typically closed format holder. And given rumours of a PlayStation Certified tablet, at this rate Sony won’t be releasing just one new PlayStation this year – it’ll have three or four from various divisions, all united with the same digital backbone.

What part retail has to play in that model is still be determined. Certainly, the High Street’s role in software sales for such formats is in question. But as the mounting excitement for 3DS shows, consumers will always be hungry for hardware: the next big gadget is always hard to resist.

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