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Carmack: Phones may kill off handhelds

"There may not be much as developers we can do about that"

Id Software technical director John Carmack believes smartphones will soon replace dedicated handheld consoles.

Speaking to The Dallas Morning News, he claimed that the upcoming Nintendo 3DS and Sony NGP could prove to be the last of their kind.

"The smart phone may turn out to be 80 percent as good at gaming as a dedicated gaming platform. People are going to carry their smart phone, and if it's an 80 percent gaming device, how many people in the gaming market will be satisfied with that? That's the question that's in everybody's mind.

"If that's what the consumers are going to trend towards on there, there may not be much as developers we can do about that," he said.

In terms of future efforts from Sony and Nintendo, he reasoned that "You don't always get to build pyramids just because you want to."

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Latest comments (22)

Charles Dawkins8 years ago
Well I fully agree. I will always carry my phone but I'm not planning on carrying my phone and a portable dedicated gaming console. There is more then enough gaming on my phone to keep me happy. I personally thought that the NGP should have been a phone and a serious gaming device all in one but this decision to go both ways leaving the Xperia Play with PS1 games via the Playstation Suite and the NGP with 3G and no phone is just lame. I have a Windows Phone and the Xbox Live section has a great selection of games and games that tie into their disk cousins on the 360. I also believe that any device that has a 3G connection better be attached to my phone and not a gaming device because that just makes more sense. I advise getting a Smartphone that acts as a hotspot if you have to have a NGP or 3DS because my 3G is costing me $30/Month for 1 GB. I play Alpha Jax, which is basically scrabble, multiplayer on the go and I can play with upto 30 people and it has live tiles and push notification and I am not held down by a Wi-Fi singal which makes Smartphones the new king of hand held gaming hand down. The 3DS has that 3D screen edge that's a bit appealing but as good as that is I'm about convience and Smartphones are more convienient and do way more then just game.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.8 years ago
I bet you your annual salary, John, that Nintendo will release another dedicated portable gaming console after the 3DS.
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James Stanard Principal Engine Programmer, Eat Sleep Play, Inc8 years ago
What about rockets? Do you get to build rockets just because you want to?

I think there are some people who don't want cell phone features detracting from their handheld game console just as much as there are people who don't want joysticks and buttons sticking out of their phone. There will always be purists who want the best experience from a device rather than trying to converge it all together. Additionally, a dedicated game machine backed by Sony or Nintendo provides a stable platform for several years and cultivates a large library of quality (assured) software.

Ultimately, I don't think your handheld even has to fit in your pocket so long as you can take it with you in your backpack, riding the bus, hanging out after school, or sitting in your bedroom. Leave your cell phone in your pocket while you play games on a real game machine, and this also prevents premature cell phone battery drain. If anything, I think that more powerful handheld consoles might obviate their wired brethren.
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Show all comments (22)
I've heard many gaming experts, luminaries and analysts make predictions about the future and so far none of them have been on the money enough to claim bragging rights.

If history (of gaming) teaches us anything, it's that the nature of the business is always changing. I'd be so bold as to predict that tomorrow will be different from today.

(tomorrow's thursday - I'm already right)
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Private Industry 8 years ago
Thats going to depend on how the games on phones evolve. Games like Angry Birds or Cut the Rope are a lot less expensive to produce and popular, but those kind of games are not going to make Nintendo and Sony regret to make handhelds. So what it needs is big games and those have to actually sell good, would people be willing to spend 20-30 bucks for a game on the iPhone or Android? While Nintendo does not have a lot of first party studios they still have strong IP`s and Sony has extremely high amount of 1st and 2nd party studios and strong IP`s and that`s important.

Obviously 3rd party games are also very important, but if 3DS and NGP are successful and they want to continue that way they will because of the previous success it`s very likely that 3rd party will also support the next device. Gamers go where the games are if that means they have to carry 2 device they will.
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Haven Tso Web-based Game Reviewer 8 years ago
I think it's silly to even make that kind of premature prediction now to get press time as the smartphone technology is not as advanced as everyone thinks, especially comes to battery life.

Also one has to remember that smartphones are phones after all so they have to perform the phone function as compared to handheld console. Just imagine that you are in the middle of an online Call of Duty session with your smart phone on a long campaign and the phone keeps on ringing (or vibrating) for your attention - not only that takes out battery life but at the same time is an interruptive experience. If you switch your phone to non-receiving mode to play games, then why getting a phone for gaming?

As many has pointed out already, smartphone games are good for short burst time killing purpose but not for full attention gaming. I can already hear Kratos swearing at you if you try to answer the phone in the middle of a boss fight with Hydra.
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Tim Carter Designer - Writer - Producer 8 years ago
"When the Sage points to the moon, the wise man sees the moon; the fool sees the Sage's finger."
--- Ancient Chinese saying.

Games and game designers are the moon.

Game platforms are the finger.
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Julio Gorgé Managing Director, Lemon Team8 years ago
@Jimmy: I agree. We all know that after the 3DS, Nintendo will release the 3DS Lite, 3DSi, 3DSXL… ;)

The trend is clear, though. It's very likely that the NGP/3DS won't be near as popular as the DS and PSP have been, and may as well be the last 'mainstream' generation of portable consoles.
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It may be true for Sony, but not for Nintendo. They make money off their IPs, not the hardware - and whatever platform their IPs will be on, will continue to sell and be made.
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Rafael Brown Lead Designer, id software8 years ago
I found this article to be very interesting when I first saw it last year:
[link url=http://www.engadget.com/2010/11/24/nielsen-31-percent-of-kids-want-an-ipad-other-stuff/
]http://www.engadget.com/2010/11/24/niels...[/link]
and the original survey:
[link url=http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/kids-in-the-u-s-eyeing-big-ticket-tech-this-holiday-season/
]http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/cons...[/link]

The rate of adoption of mobile devices (non-gaming specific handheld devices) by young consumers is truly startling and seems to be growing much faster than anyone has anticipated.
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Cristiano Garibaldi VP Asia Pacific, mobile streams8 years ago
I agree with the article, casual gamers are the majority of the market and they will carry 1 device only, Nintendo will always appeal to kids so it's possible that it stays on top, parents dont want kids to have a device capable of browsing the internet, make calls etc. NGP will appeal to hardcore gamers: they are a minority. An NGP game development cost is not sustainable if the consumers are expecting to pay a few dollars for a top game. All the top games in world are casual games...
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Dave Chan Product Manager, 3D Interactive Inc.8 years ago
I have a lot of respect for Carmack, but in this case he's wrong. 2 reasons why. Real, physical controls can't be replaced by touchscreens. Sony even realized this and decided to make a phone with controls. Not sure how that will do as Android isn't really a fantastic platform to sell games on yet. The second reason is demographics. Sure, a teen or an adult that already has a phone, but isn't a big gamer will buy the occasional game, but it's not a dedicated gaming platform and it's definitely not a rugged platform that I'd give to a 10 year old. How many people are going to buy their kids smartphones with monthly data plans costing $40 or more? Carmack, is a brilliant guy, but he also makes mistakes. Remember when he said the "use" button was unnecessary?
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Private Industry 8 years ago
PSP sold over 60 million units, given they went against Nintendo and the first try on a handheld that`s a substantial user base and those people don`t expect to get a top game for a few bucks. They are a minority but they are a lot more willing to spend plenty of money, per head they spend way more than your casual person who gets Angry Birds on iPhone or plays FarmVille. More people does not equal more money in that case. Developers are not going to stop making their big games and they look where those big high priced games can sell the best when they choose the platform and on what platform they can deliver a good experience.

Parents buy kids PC`s/Laptops and by now every phone can brows the internet it does not need to be a smartphone also the normal phones come with an internet browser. At least in Europe and in the US plenty of kids have mobile phones especially given by the parents to them so they can check up on them easy when they are not at home.

I don`t think CoD, Halo, GTA, GT, Uncharted and so on are casual games and that`s the thing that kind of games will always be there and I don`t see your typical gamer (who spends money) rather switch to a smartphone with compromised controls and experience just so he only needs to carry one device with him.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Private on 10th February 2011 12:38am

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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.8 years ago
When Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Hasselblad, Pentax, etc....start worrying that mobile phones will take over the camera market, then he may be on to something.

Until that time, dedicated devices will always have a place.
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Mbuso Radebe Producer, Electronic Arts8 years ago
@Jimmy: +1

Couldn't agree more with your last comment. Well said ;)
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Tony Johns8 years ago
If people have to pay every time when they play a game on their iPhones and Smart Phones...then this will be the end of my gaming life as on the handheld.

Sorry but I have grown up with the Gameboy and I will die with my DS and my PSP in my hands.

If the IPhone or Smart Phones becomes the gaming platform in the handheld market, how long are we going to be able to play a game that we have already brought without having to pay ongoing fees?
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.8 years ago
Thanks, Mbuso.

And then it becomes odd to me that Carmack has IP's. Does he not care the platform they appear on? Perhaps he doesn't. But I guarantee you that Sony and Nintendo care very much for the platform that their IP' appear on.

Last generation of dedicated portable gaming devices. Mr. Carmack, have you lost all your sense of bushiness, reality and common sense in one go?

I understand the concept of licensing a 3rd party game engine ....maybe even an IP. But to flat out ignore reality in favor of sponsors does your credibility little service. Sad is the direction you are showing young developers with dreams.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
I, for one REFUSE to answer the phone here at the home office when I'm playing a game on my TV, so I'll be damned if I'm going to start interrupting my on the go gaming for someone asking "where you at?" or trying to send me a muffin recipe I didn't ask for or whatever...

That and the pay to play model sucks. I'm cheap AND broke, so I refuse to pay for a phone plan - that cash goes for the too many games I own that I can jam into a cart or disc slot.
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Graham McIntyre Software Engineer, Games Warehouse8 years ago
I agree with the comments that the portable console is no doubt the best deal, however parents buy the kids mobiles anyway, it's not a case of either or here, some kids probably get both. So if the mobile based games become cheaper they could oust the portable console market. You can't rule it out either way. Take the whole MP3 industry, MP3's are not as good quality wise compared to CD's but that didn't stop things going the way they are now - the average person just doesn't care!!!
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.8 years ago
Graham, MP3's aren't platform specific like gaming IP's can be. For example: New Super Mario Brothers on the DS has sold 25+ million units. Because you cannot get that IP on your phone and that IP obviously has one hell of a following, phones won't threaten dedicated devices.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 8 years ago
+10 Jimmy. I know Nintendo gets kicked about for not getting into the phone business (why would they want to?) or letting the money train roll over them by licensing their characters out for mobile games, but they're fine with it and so is their fan base.

And as someone who still has vinyl here... I do care about my sound quality and have never put a single song on any device I own after hearing how lousy they sound compared to both CD (bad) and vinyl (much worse). The problem is people SHOULD care and demand quality worth paying good money for, but we see that price point and get lazy about respecting some of the ancient ways (,grasshopper). Chop it to shit-bits in the eardrums, charge pennies for it and it's a "bargain" for those who know no better audio quality.

To me, MP3 music files are the scrambled porn of today, but remember, I'm old and crazy...
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Robert Douglas Studying B.A in Game Art and Design, Art Institute of Pittsburgh8 years ago
When you see things like http://kotaku.com/#!5611523/id-unleashes... and http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/10/... ; you start seeing a pattern here with Carmack. He's a genius, but he's also a businessman so of course he'd say that. Carmack has been right with some of his predictions in the past, but he's also been wrong several times as well...
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