Could Mobile Replace the Console?

Are smartphones and tablets really the console killers? Definitely maybe, says Mobile Pie's Will Luton

Back in August I wrote a bullish (perhaps bullshit) piece for Develop Magazine: A bold prediction that the mobile phone will kill the console.

I wanted to present a logical argument that could support what some said would never happen. I was surprised when it got a lot of attention and that it was even considered "controversial". I called it what it was at the time: A big guess.

I don't pertain to know the future of games. It's too complex a stage, with many players and successive intertwined underdogs and falls from grace. Anyone that says with certainty that they know what is next is lying or deluded.

The best we can do is guess. Our guesses are often, in whole or part, wrong. And in that context here is one of mine: In 10 years everything will be different.

Different as it was 10 years before that and the 10 years previous to that. This could be wrong. But looking at our history, the current state of technology, the new markets, new distribution, new pricing, new business models, new gamers, new games, new companies and the money at stake, I think someone, maybe you reading this, will shake it all up.

Let's imagine that an event will occur that takes the core business of console manufacturers away. Not by offering massively different content, but by offering a similar, more convenient service to a wider group.

In games we've have so much noise, that nobody knows what's going on today, let alone tomorrow. Few predicted Facebook or iOS. Many wrongly predicted Xbox, PlayStation or DS failing. Nobody saw Zynga happening. We all get it wrong. But guessing is a lot of fun.

So let's imagine that an unlikely event will occur that takes the core business of console manufacturers away. Not by offering massively different content (I'll assume there is a continued appetite for big blockbuster cinematic games), but by offering a similar, more convenient or cheaper service to a wider group.

If we look next at what piece of consumer electronics is in enough hands and has the ability to cause such a paradigm shift, you may point a finger to mobile. There are more capable smartphones in the world than there are consoles and they're full of brilliant gaming content.

On this site Rob Fahey wrote a lovely opinion piece on why iOS Airplay Mirroring and the iOS ecosystem won't kill the console. It is an appeal that the status quo will prevail.

And Rob is right. Airplay Mirroring is too limited, the mobile hardware is too far off being current gen console quality, you need expensive extras and the long form game selection is limited.

Since that was written Airplay Mirroring has had a few months in the wild and hasn't put a dent in the universe. Or even scratched the surface. I'd go as far as to say that not a single console sale has been lost to it. So, it's business as usual. Possibly forever.

Yet I don't think that's likely. I cannot imagine that in ten years people will walk in to a shop and walk out with a plastic box that you plug in to your TV and feed with discs. I believe our technological future is much more integrated, ubiquitous and exciting. I believe we'll see a big change.

The most commonly touted threats to current console supremacy are: The cloud, the smart TV, the mobile device and the social web. There are infinitely more. But these, and this is dangerous ground, seem the most likely.

Next let's set some flags in the sand - a criteria by which any piece of technology could kill the console.

  • Technology is available and affordable: Think laserdisc or DAT. Great tech, but limited availability and prohibitive expense killed them in infancy.
  • There is a good user experience: The iPhone didn't do much more than the next smartphone at launch, but it stole a lot of the market because it made everything so much easier.
  • There is good, easily available and affordable content: So many console also-rans have lost on this. Price, quality and delivery of games is vitally important.
  • Consumers adopt: This will happen because it is marketed right and it does all of the above as well as or better than a console.

The console market operates a razor model: You sell the handles (consoles) at a loss or low profit to gain market share where blades (games) are sold at a huge mark up. This is cut throat. If numbers on the handles decline, the blade sales plummet, creating a negative feedback loop.

We're also still seeing increasing budget in console software production, but market growth is reasonably stagnant. Margins are squeezed and risk is high. The hits need to be bigger and those pushed out or closed down are looking for new markets.

If a technology can meet the criteria I've outlined and begin to knock console hardware and software units in meaningful way, the house of cards could collapse quickly. With that as a context, where is mobile (iOS and Android at least) in the previous criteria?

  • Technology is available: iOS Airplay Mirroring is here. Some Android devices have HDMI screen mirroring, but Google is thought to be adding wireless HDMI and controller support for future devices. USB hosting for controllers is in Android from 3.1 and higher.
  • Technology is affordable: Airplay Mirroring requires an iOS 5 capable device and an Apple TV. Assuming the latter is already owned along with a wireless router the outlay is £99 for the Apple TV. Similarly a wireless HDMI TV or receiver will be required for Android. When either wireless HDMI or Airplay is built in to TVs (Jobs' autobiography talks of the iTV) out of the box and is widely adopted the barrier is dropped to zero.
  • There is a good user experience: Right now that isn't the case for Airplay Mirroring. Set up is a little fiddly, the display isn't full screen (due to aspect ratio mismatch) and Apple TV only supports 720p. Also it only mirrors the mobile device's screen, so you cannot display a control scheme on the mobile, while the game shows at 1080p on the TV. The Android offering is less known and could be where they leapfrog iOS.
  • There is good, easily available and affordable content: The definition of good is very subjective. iOS has some fantastic console-like games, such as Infinity Blade (which I deeply admire), Real Racing 2 and Shadow Gun. The prices are affordable and models mixed, including free-to-play, ad supported, paid with IAP and now, subscription. Also, Apple has a great database of card details and fantastic service in the App Store. Android is a little behind.
  • Consumers adopt: This will occur when they are aware, in that they see or are told, of the offering (I doubt less than 5 per cent of iOS users know about Airplay mirroring) and it is good (see above).

So, perhaps mobile is almost there on a few cases. Smart TV and cloud gaming (I primarily now play on an OnLive microconsole) also meet, or are near to meeting, criteria too.

Where I think we're ultimately headed is a mix of all those technologies (and ones we can't yet imagine). All with the same content shared seamlessly across our four screens (pocket, lap, desk and wall), ubiquitously connected and delivered through the paradigm of the app.

What is under the hood of any app may be web content, such as HTML5 or Flash, OS native or cloud rendered, but it will be indistinguishable to the user. Everything is connected. Content is easily accessible and controlled in a multitude of ways.

Games will sit alongside TV, movies or music, with the notions of their separation, coming from their respective formats and retail channels, gone. Instead everything is the app and the mobile device (the pocket or lap screen) is central to the world as the most portable.

Or it could be something totally different. Because until it's happened, with all the unknown, it's just guessing.

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Latest comments (47)

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
550,000 new Android devices are registered every day, in August it was 200,000. Smartphones will be the most common internet devices. These are devices that are with people 24/7. So of course they are taking huge lumps of play time out of consoles. And of course they are taking some console sales.
There are nearly a million apps and they mostly cost very little. So the consumer is vastly better looked after than they are on console.
Phones are coming out with 4 core CPUs and 8 core GPUs which bring them up to PS3 power, the generational cycle is measured in months, not years.
I would say that consoles are in trouble.
It will be interesting to see what the console platform holders do to regain strategic advantage as their business model is eroded.
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Nick Parker Consultant 9 years ago
It's about timing. I haven't met anybody who disagrees that cloud gaming will take up a pretty significant chunk of the means to play games within ten years. Any connected device (Blu-Ray players, smart TVs, consoles, PCs, tablets, smartphones) will be able to offer the vast catalogue of browser games which are increasing in numbers and quality. These connected devices will also access the endless catalogue of games in the cloud. The question raised is what are the console manufacturers about to do and for how long? They have not stated that built in disc drives will be a feature, these drives will be available of course (maybe as a peripheral) as the disc buying consumer is not going to disappear overnight but Sony and Microsoft will be offering streaming services for triple A titles before long through PSN and Live respectively. They will have to improve the UI to at least iTunes standard and offer more recent titles rather than older catalogue and get the price right. Finally, there are so many streaming technologies for the cloud boasting that they have overcome all the problems of latency and contention ratios and some really exciting solutions yet to hit the press, but one of them or some of them will be available at every consumer touch point - ecommerce, publisher sites, console stores and B2C (such as OnLive). Now don't get me started on which business model will prevail.....
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
A lot depends on the individual's commitment to gaming, from the 100 hours a week committed hardcore game junkie to the busy housewife, businesswoman or student who wants a bit of casual gaming fun to fill a relatively small slice of time. Then there are all the people in between.
The 500 million people who have Angry Birds on their phone is already an audience that is way beyond what console can ever dream of.
The hardcore gaming audience is not big enough to sustain the console eco system, they have to tie in more casual gamers to get to critical mass. In doing so they compete directly against smartphones. And smartphones have a whole pile of strategic advantages as casual gaming devices.
Like I said earlier, the consoles need to pull the rabbit out of the hat to maintain relevance.
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Jim Webb Executive Editor/Community Director, E-mpire Ltd. Co.9 years ago
Short answer: No.

Long answer: I'll posit when I have more time.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game9 years ago
I'm not knocking Infinity Blade or Real Racing 2, they are very good for their target platforms, but I don't think many avid players of Arkham City, Skyrim or Forza 4 are sitting here thinking that when they are sitting at home, with control of the TV, they never need to play those games anymore, or that Real Racing comes close to Forza or Burnout. We may play them at other times, like on the bus or while the family has the TV. However, I do see the argument that you don't need to sway the most avid fans, if you just stop the more casual console players from buying AAAs to make a $50M+ budget unviable.
Hopefully though, rather than those of us being who actually like playing games that could never be played on an iPhone being repeatedly told that it's inevitable that nothing will exist for us in 5 years, instead we can question whether every AAA game needs hours of expensive CG and needs to be bloated to fit a 40 price point, or whether more games could go "single A" and do a refined set of features very well, and sell for 10 digitally, there is aroom for monster blockbusters, but there are examples of potentially good games that have been ruined because they are trying to ape CoD, or Halo or whatever, without the resources.

As for the constant change of hardware cycles in mobile, does this not mean that everyone has different hardware, and there may be 4 core phones with 8 core GPUs, but actually very few of those millions of smatphone users have them, a good deal of those massive numbers of daily registered hansets are 80 budget androids. So even if a handset is released that is better than a modern console in every way, and the battery lasts for more than half an hour, and it doesn't melt from the massive heat generated in a small unventilated (and certainly not fan cooled) sealed unit, you have to get 40 million people to buy that type of model before it could support what's considered triple A on console, but by the time 3 years had been spent on development, the original target platform would have long been consigned to the scrapheap.

That is not to say consoles will exist in 10 years, who knows? But if not, I struggle with the idea that its because everyone has traded in dual sticks and open worlds for touch screens iOS games, like some people seem to want to call. Of course, like the article says, your guess is as good as mine.
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Will Luton9 years ago
Just wanted to make clear (if it isn't from the piece) that I don't know believe mobile content will kill console content - I make the assumption that there will still be a strong demand for long-form cinematic titles. This is a service, delivery and hardware question.
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Bostjan Troha CEO, Zootfly9 years ago
Why are you fixated on 'replacement'? Smartphones are complementary to consoles, not their replacement.
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Lewis Brown Snr Sourcer/Recruiter, Electronic Arts9 years ago
I dont see consoles going away, last night I spent 2-3 hours playiong BF3 with friends the longest I have ever played a game on my HTC Sensation is about 20 minutes. It doesnt matter how good the tech is behind the phone, the screen and lack of controller are a limiting factor for me not the tech. I do think the Handhelds such as the PSP and DS are far more at risk.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 9 years ago
We can do better than guess, we can observe and calculate.

Since 1977, games are sold on visuals and capabilities. Being able to output a high resolution is not enough. The processors have to be able to do more, such as visuals, AI and world simulation. This means ultimately, platforms do compete in prowess.

Competition therefore happens in the space of processing. Constructing a processor revolves around a Thermal Design Power. The more heat you can dissipate away from the processors, the more power you can pump into the processors, the more processing power you get.

A mobile processor will always be limited by being passively cooled and powered by a battery. If you took the very same technology in the mobile device and reconstructed it for use in a console, you would get an instant increase in processing prowess.

An Apple-A4 processor has a TDP of 3.5W.
A console can house processors with a TDP of 200W and more.
As long as the processors come from roughly the same generation, there is no chance in hell the 3.5W CPU/GPU combination can compete with a system constructed around 200W TDP.

Our perception is just broken right now, since current iPad processors are way more modern and efficient compared to the consoles. That does not mean mobile consoles will take over. Because when push comes to shove, Microsoft's next console system with a 200W TDP will curb-stomp them into oblivion.

At best, mobile devices can "outsource" TDP to a server cluster in order to compete, i.e. the cloud. Not only does that mean the same TDP is still required to compete with a console, but now the person operating the server cluster has to pay for quite some substantial costs, such as power and air conditioning. Right now, owners of consoles pick up that bill. The cloud operator has one advantage, namely being able to dynamically adjust his power requirements to demand. At the same time, hardware manufacturers will not be thrilled to sell less hardware, because a cloud operator is better at distributing the required processing power via video streams.
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Dominic Roberts Android SDK Enginner, TapDaq9 years ago
I don't see this happening for a long time, mobiles need to overtake Nintendo's mobile marketshare first - Which isn't happening - as discussed before the mobile pie is only getting bigger but the gaming experience on a phone is no where near DS/PSP titles achieve.

As for home consoles, I don't see gamers putting down their dedicated controllers anytime soon, we'd all need to buy Xperia Play phones to compensate (which hasn't happened). However this combined with mirroring on a tv could well be a step in that direction - but theres still a large gap between mobile hardware and current gen hardware which will only expand when the next generation of consoles.

Ironically, with many devs moving to mobile platforms, it would be funny to see them developing the big budget blockbusters on mobiles that they tried to escape on consoles.
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John Donnelly Quality Assurance 9 years ago
I still want to know what makes a 'Smart Phone' smart.

That aside.

Until the phone can replace all the devices under my TV, does not run out of juice after a few hours of heavy use and does not require me to be tied in to multi-year contracts or pay more than the cost of a decent laptop to buy outright then maybe it could look to replace a console.

One limiting factor with phones is the fact most users are locked in on 24 month contracts.
If you taker any of the Android phones that are on the market most are not going to be running 4.X because they dont have the hardware, memory or the maker just cant be bothered.

Android is a very fragmented eco-system with a number of problems and most owners are running low cost, low powered phones.
I cant find the link now but alot of Telcos are getting android phone returns above the 5% mark because peple buy a phone thinking it will do everything their friends phone does only to find out it cant because its a budget model.
iOS is very well polished and supported but its a silo and you have to bend to the will of Apple who are very draconian at times when it comes to content.

HTML5 may be a way around the Apple silo but you still have the problem of low end hardware you dont get with a console.
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Patrick Day-Childs Features Writer, Pixel Enemy9 years ago
I remember someone saying "Consoles are just humps of plastic" I would rather have an oversized lump of plastic than the one I break every time I sit down.
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Simon Cowley Sales Manager Europe, NCsoft West9 years ago
While I enjoy the likes of Peggle and Coin Drop on my iPhone, nothing on smartphone has come close to the sheer brilliance that is Mario 3D Land. Aside from Game Dev Story, I can't think of any iPhone game that has really impressed me with its depth. I'm clearly a dinosaur but until smartphones can match handheld consoles in terms of controls and depth of experience, there clearly is a place for a separate mobile console.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 9 years ago
Uhg!... not this again... You now Im a gamer. i play long hours and I play hard. I own ALL consoles. I can honestly say nothing on mobile phones or tablets interests me as much as what ive been playing on my consoles. I honestly dont see anything on a mobile phone or tablet that I find worth so many hours of gameplay that i put into game consoles. I dont see myself playing games, like Zelda, mass effect, metal gear or Dark Souls on a mobile device. games like these require lots of focus, thought and time to play through. id rather play on my home in a huge TV, then solve a Zelda puzzle on the bus on my way to work. I think mobile games serve to add to traditional gaming expirience rather then replace them. If I lose in Angry Birds, I just restart from the same level. If i lose at Zelda or Dark Souls, i have to restard a level or way back at my last save. However, I do believe consoles maybe more streamlined in the future and share features with mobile phones and tablets, like less cables, more wireless features, improved online interaction and even some sort of portablility, consoles me even serve as severs for local online multiplayer allowing gamers to host online games to friends and have user created content from their console. I think there is lots of room for consoles to evolve in there own way. Because quit frankly, mobile phones still dont have satisfactory unlimited internet plans... 10$ per GB after you exceed your 4GB limit... Are you fucking insane??? Also battery life is a concern and the wear the hardware takes from pressing the screen or stroking the keypads so much to play games. Mobile hardware isnt really "ALL THAT" and honestly I prefer playing Zelda and mass effect from the confort of my own home on a big screen TV after a long hard days of work. My mobile phone is just to talk and keep myself in touch with work and school collegues for necessary things. probably check my bank account or email. At least that to me is a more practicle use for a mobile device.
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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 9 years ago
Forgive my Typos... This website doesnt let me edit my comments for some reason... "SERVER ERROR"... wonder what the webmasters get paid to do here. this has been happening for a while.
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John Donnelly Quality Assurance 9 years ago
Rick, clear your browser cache.
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Philippe Ledru Consultant & Writer 9 years ago
I think there are many a distinction that we need to address before we elaborate on the "mobile versus console" topic.

First of all, not all consoles are the same: PS3/XBOX are meant to sit in the living room, just like a desktop PC is meant to sit close to a desk. Those devices do compete together because they provide titles with comparable quality. Now that larger form factor entices blockbuster players, so called AAA-gamers. That's your Assassin Creed, BF, COD, etc.
A mobile device of equivalent price will always be less powerful (alternatively if it could boast equivalent power, it would be more expensive). So iOS and Android are not competing against the PS3/XBOX but rather against PSPs and the DS. From that perspective, mobile can never replace consoles because that would mean paying way too much for the same result you get with a PC or PS3/XBOX. In fact it's not even possible, PCs will always be better for they're upgradable. However, mobile can replace handheld consoles, and it's a likely future considering, for instance, Sony's phone/console hybrids or the PS store on Android.

The "home-bound gaming devices" (desktop PC, XBOX, PS3...) will not go away, and if they did, it probably wouldn't be because of portable devices (it would likely be because they converged with an all-purposes domotic PC). The main reason is money (quality/price ratio) and it applies to most "home entertainment" devices (Bluray quality movies, hi-fi music etc): no portable device can provide as much quality (screen size, power, etc) and even if it could, prices would break the roof. The only workaround to this physical fact would be neuronal interfaces that could give you the illusion of home theater, anywhere, by bypassing your senses, and even if proof-of-concept is already here, we still have to wait a decade or so for mass consumption of such techs (first we'll get mental control of computers, that's one way from the brain to the computer; then later machines will be able to feed information directly into the brain, that's the other way from the computer to the brain; such techs could totally melt the barrier between all kinds of devices, particularly home and mobile).

As of 2011, I think mobile devices are rather meant to cooperate with the home ecosystem, here a phone turned into a remote controller, there a tablet turned into a secondary screen ala Nintendo. Versatility is the key concept behind computing, and I see this generation of tech (2007+) as a strong testimony to that unique trait (think of how many electronic devices can be emulated via software, from audio studios emulated in software like Reason, to sensor-packed handhelds that do GPS and navigator and even sniper assistance; thus how many less electronically stuff we need to store and process information ever since we got computing at an affordable price).

Now mobile gaming on its own, the kind we do since the original Gameboy was released, will soon be flawless on general-purpose devices that also happen to be phones (versatility again). There are few reasons why, economically, all the mobile hardware wouldn't converge into one single all-purposes device. So yes, it's likely that all handhelds will converge, if only for price and accessibility (that's the blade argument, how big is your potential consumer base, and how much does one have to spend to be equipped for the software you're selling). Mobile gaming is a side-dish, as some already said in this thread: it just happens on top of, not instead of, traditional gaming.

Until we break away from such limitations with, for instance, nano manufacturing of most items (think 10, 20 years from now), the economical equation will remain that the best entertainment experience money can buy will be too big to take away from the home (PC versus PS/XBOX is the real war there). Mobile isn't a 50" TV set with huge computing power. But if your phone alone can do everything that used to be in your bag (calendar, contacts, handheld gaming device, GPS, health/sports monitoring and so on), then that's also economically sound for most customers. From a psychological (precisely cognitive) standpoint, I don't see any revolution there before we get mental interfaces.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters9 years ago
I'd still like to know what these "good" mobile games are that people keep talking about on this site. Everything I've tried has been, at best, a mediocre distraction good for killing time when "real" gaming isn't available.
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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago
What we are competing for is time first and money second. Mobile wins hands down because it is there 24/7 for immense numbers of people, as Angry Birds and quite a few other titles have proven. How many different number one console games added together does it take to get to the half a billion downloads of Angry Birds?
The immense growth of smartphone use in Africa, China, South America and India will continue to ramp up. A $100 phone is $4 a month on a 3 year contact. Soon smartphones will be $50. These are potential customers. There will be several billion new smartphone purchases every year. What is the total for all consoles ever made?
Of course a console game is a bigger and more immersive experience. But how many people are hardcore gamers who will be willing to pay many hundreds of dollars for the experience? Compare that with the billions who will be walking round with a smartphone on them 24/7, they are buying and carrying the device anyway because it is what they text and make phone calls with.

Already I am sure that many a casual gamer has not bought a current generation console because they are getting all the gaming action they need out of their phone and can spend all the money they have saved on beer.
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Gregore Candalez Journalist and Account Manager, FD Com.9 years ago
This is a current discussion. All the guesses are welcome, well-thought and well-presented. But I don't believe in replacement.

When the TV popularized, people said the radio would die. When the internet boomed, people said the TV would die. Now, press media has its death decreed. Good technologies aren't replaced, but reinvented.

Playing a good game in the comfort of your house in a 72 inch HD screen is much better than playing a mobile game on the street in a 4 inch silly screen. The focus of these two kinds of games are completely different. They can and will coexist.

People play their mobile games when they're outside, bored, waiting in lines, etc. Why would they choose to play, say, a 3DS at home when they could be playing an amazing game like Skyrim, which wouldn't have the same effect if played through a mobile console.
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Marty Greenwell Senior Software Developer 9 years ago
I can see mobile devices replacing the office pc / laptop first.
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Philippe Ledru Consultant & Writer 9 years ago
@andreas: I agree with you. On one side, mobile gaming will converge will all things mobile (phone, camera, etc.) into a single device, probably a credit-card shaped screen. On the other side, all home (heavy) devices are converging into a single domotic device, just as HTPC and media centers have paved the way for some time now. But I don't see, excepted through entirely new tech (mental interface, nano manufacturing...), how that basic physical difference between "home" and "handheld" devices can suddenly disappear.

Yet, once convergence is done, and as soon as those two primary device (portable screen + home entertainment system) stop being asymmetrical (as we speak, one is somehow slaved to the other, or limited in functionality), then you get a real ubiquitous personal computing system. Cloud being mandatory for such an ecosystem. Then software makers can start innovating in meaningful ways, like we've already seen with some interesting cross-system apps (think handheld mini games that add to your primary saved game on a home console, think auction house and crafting in MMO via phone apps, etc.)
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Fred Skoler Business Strategy, Design, Engagement, Sweepstakes, Contests, Executive Producer 9 years ago
Publishers & consoles needed each other to survive. Without a measurable and massive audience plunking down dollars for a console the traditional AAA publisher business model gets broken. An installed base with the tech to play a game and great market visibility is what a publisher needs.

The demise of the console may just be the result of economics. Console manufacturers build a market and publishers pay for the right to distribute their content in that market. Great games sell more consoles and help build the platform.

Console manufacturers have done their job well. I still dust off my PS One, Dreamcast, N64, etc. Why? Because they bring back great memories of times with friends playing the games we loved. The truth is, I can now play most of my old games, in some form, on my phone. I have an emotional attachment to the idea of the console but this has persisted because business and technology required it.

If you think of your console as the hub for your games then why not switch that to a phone? Your phone can be a multi-purpose stationary hub that also travels well. Why not think of it as a console in your pocket?

In the future, I expect my phone will have greater capability (phat bandwidth, cloud storage, kick-ass processor, high-def projector) and will be able to serve lots of content to me wherever I go and in whatever fashion I want it. I would expect that I will be able to stream hi-def cloud based games to my TV through my phone. I will use my phone as the hub for content, over my local network wirelessly or through a connection cable. I will use a wireless controller to play my "console" games and enjoy lots of add-on hardware. With a phone as my hub, I could extend my game experience on the go. My portable experience may not be the same but it could all happen from the same device. In the future I think that the pipeline for content will become far more important than the hardware at the delivery side.

The model has been changing & the business models have been changing. I do think consoles will become a thing of history. I believe that large screen & portable gaming will be accessed from the same device. I think that bandwidth will be the future console. The local hardware running a game will become irrelevant to the consumer. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo may each sell a pipeline to what we used to call "console" content. Maybe publishers like Activision and EA will serve it up direct.

In all cases it's fun to think about and dream up the cool designs that can take advantage of this probability.
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Abraham Tatester Producer 9 years ago
If you're talking about handheld consoles, then sure, handhelds are in trouble.

But until I can dock my phone to my TV; until it can output 1080p video (and render HD graphics); until I can use a proper game pad and other peripherals with it: no, the mobile phone will not replace my consoles, and this kind of talk is nonsense.

But the day they can do all of that... watch out, consoles.
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Rick Ellis Tech Director, ArenaNet9 years ago
I agree that *currently* there aren't enough/compelling enough mobile games to make his argument hold water. Much of this is because everyone is trying to "get rich quick" on the new platform and producing utter garbage (seriously how many "angry clones" do we need?). However, I'm not so sure this is the case in the future.

As for processing power, Klaus, you are correct. Mobile will never match the power of a dedicated gaming console, but keep a few things in mind. The screen resolution (so far) of even the largest tablets is still relatively small and having the most cutting edge graphics doesn't make a good game. There have been plenty of examples of games with "outdated" graphics that were still VERY good (Thief anyone??) and those that had amazing graphics that for lack of a better word sucked. It used to be the case that consumers purchased games almost strictly on their graphics features, however that's not so much the case any more.

Also, let's consider what the next generation of consoles will bring. Each of the previous versions of hardware brought with them very high retail costs, per unit losses to the console manufacturer, and high cost of game experiences to consumers. Additionally, with each new console generation, there has been a large bump in the development costs of the games that run on those platforms. This cost is passed to the consumer through lower quality games and much shorter gaming experiences. Heck, as recent as the Rage release, we see that it's "ok" to ship a game with something like 6-8 hours of content. Since when is that ok? Let's not even get into the fact that most games are rushed out the door with hideous numbers of, and sometimes game breaking bugs.

I see the mobile platform, in the future, setting a new trend where the gaming experience is less expensive to make, less expensive to purchase/own and offering very similar gaming experiences. Does that mean they will replace consoles? Maybe not immediately, but I seriously doubt you'll see consumers paying $80-100 per game and $1k or more on consoles in 10 years, but if the console trend continues, I think that's where we'll end up...

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Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 9 years ago

Angry Birds delivers 10 billion advertising impressions a month. Just sit down and absorb that. Anything on a console is trivial in comparison.
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Peter Dwyer software engineer, openbet9 years ago
When mobile devices get the flexible organic led screens that can be rolled out to allow a device to go from a small phone to a 7 or 8 inch hi res screen, then the days of the console are pretty much over. If you're having trouble visualising what I mean. Think of the globals from "Earth Final Conflict".

I'd say that's a good 5 years or so away as an affordable tech though and the global recession may add a year or two to that.
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Mike Wells Writer 9 years ago
Don't focus just on games and the relative horsepower/limitations of different platforms. The key change is that all those apps on smart phones and pads (and TVs soon) are taking people's time away from other activities, including playing games, just as the web did 15 years ago. Yes, you can make a technical argument that the AAA games will only ever be playable on a powerful box (hmmm, didn't we used to think that about Doom, which you can now play on a camera?) and I for one look forward to the next boxes arriving, but the point is the overall market for those boxes and the titles produced for them is unlikely to be big enough to support the industry in its current configuration. And retail will be the first to crumble...
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Philippe Ledru Consultant & Writer 9 years ago
The question also always comes back "how much can I get for the money I'm willing to spend."

We had CD quality. We had hifi systems. Now 20 years later people settled for mp3 quality (much much lower than CD) and they often traded the good old hifi system for basic computer speakers. If you can barely hear the rythm and melody, it's fine for most people, especially younger ones. Bluntly put, good sound quality doesn't sell anymore, people are fine with extremely low quality devices.

TVs and screens follow a different trend: bigger, more pixels, faster, is a motto for most consumers. People don't settle for less quality than they're used to, contrary to the CD-to-mp3 evolution of the market. It seems that, while ears matter not, eyes do need their candy.

So how's it gonna be for games? Well, some people will absolutely demand (and pay for) high quality, but others will settle for $1 games on tiny screens or in a Facebook window. The question is the ratio between those two profiles. It's economical in the end, or so I believe: especially in times of recession, people make choices. Games that cost 1/20th of a monthly wage ($60 or so) can't be bought that often, so it's unlikely there will come a day when that AAA market expands unless costs go way down. Until then, mobile games, which are much more affordable, could drive a lot of people away from traditional consoles and PCs, especially the handheld market which is dead already.
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I'd say that main issue smartphones need to overcome to truely kill consoles is the control mechanism. Someone mentioned how many android devices are sold each day, but a lot of them are single-touch screens. with that restriction you have to be pretty imaginative to program effective controls into Asteroids! Add-on bluetooth controllers have been released for mobiles in the past (I implemented support for some in a few mobile games), but none have ever taken off.
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John Kauderer Associate Creative Director, Atari9 years ago
The smartphone would have to evolve into a media station that could hook up to an HD TV. Then you'd need peripherals like joysticks etc... and you'd need a standardized system for all the periphs. It could happen. I suppose you'd also have to entertain the death of the personal computer as a possibility as well. Although evolution is probably a better word.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 9 years ago

I agree, the controls are the major battle ground. "Core" audience titles tend to have controls where the player's hands melt to the joypad/keyboard and only tiny muscle twitches happen. These tiny movements, with tactile feedback of having sent the command, causing immediate reactions on the screen are such an important pillar of "core" gaming, that nothing short of mind control can endanger them.

Wii, Move, Kinect, tablets, none of them can deliver this type of gaming experience.

I also challenge everybody to read the next sentence aloud and believe it:
"I am satisfied playing Uncharted 4 on my ten inch tablet"

No you are not. You want to rent out an IMAX to play it, like I do.
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Kieren Bloomfield Software Engineer, EA Sports9 years ago
"They will have to improve the UI to at least iTunes standard"

We really need to dispel this myth that Apple interfaces are so great. iTunes is an awful piece of software and I regularly have more trouble getting it to do what I want than any of the incarnations of the Xbox Live dashboard (even them old blades). It the future of gaming is going to be AppStore/iTunes like then I'm unplugging and walking away for good.

But back on topic, I've said it before; just because it can play games doesn't mean it should. People don't think of their phones in the same way as their home entertainment hardware. I don't want my main entertainment device to be something that's locked into a phone contract for X years. And kiddies, can you imagine your console being your daddies smart phone? That's right; you can only play when he gets home from work.

Rant over...
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Pete Thompson Editor 9 years ago
Could Mobile Replace the Console? Yes it could, But only if enough people want to use a small screen device with awkward controls that dont work too good. In my house we've two ipad 2's and three iphones, and none are used for mobile gaming, consoles (X360 and PS3) are the prefered platforms..
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Jamie Knight International Editor in Chief, Playnation9 years ago
couple of points: Lewis Brown @ EA? Hit the nail right on the head
Mike Wells: You and a few others make the assumption that as Smartphones increase their technological capacities and processing power that somehow consoles will not? You may well be able to play Doom on camera, but my PC carries more computing power than the system that put man on the moon, but will I be vacationing in the Sea of Tranquility this Christmas? No, probably not.
Bruce Everiss: Just....what??? Are you serious? The core of console gaming isn't big enough? Check the record breaking figures of Modern Warfare 3 being the best selling entertainment medium of all time at 44.99 a pop and let me know what other system, disc, title or format makes that and I'll listen.

Consoles will be around for as long as the customer wants them, not the manufacturer. As someone correctly pointed out it is 'supply and demand of a service' and with more gamers than ever looking forward to the launch of the next Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft products it seems to me that consoles, if granted enough technological advancements and improvements could, ( should? ), be giving the PC a run for its money. Smartphones and tablets are at best the Milky Way of gaming. The are the sweet that doesn't fill you up between the main courses of Xbox360 or Playstation 3.

on another note: For the love of God do NOT let the pub's and dev's get their wish of a digital only distribution system. They take the mickey enough ever since DLC was spawned, and granting them the power to switch off whenever they feel like it the servers that power the game YOU paid for is ludicrous. You will own nothing, you will purchase nothing and will have the consumer rights to nothing and they know it. Stop DD in its tracks before it starts

carry on....

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Johnathon Swift9 years ago
Oh certainly mobile will dominate all... if Sony and Nintendo and Microsoft refused to put out a new console, mobile devices introduced the kind of access to the hardware that game developers like, supported a set of standardized game controllers, offered an easy way to hook them up to your giant tv and overcame the notion that mobile devices are for smaller, more casual games.

In other words, it's not going to happen SOON. As I've stated before, once mobile devices have, as a standard, more power than most consumers would care about, something like WHDI standard and etc. then why not? But I'm fairly certain the PS4 and 720 will have another seven+ years of success before that happens.
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Andrew Coates Lead Programmer, Ninth Ninja9 years ago
Consoles will die and that will be a truth.

The reason why is convergence of technology. A really good future guess (we use Apple as an example) that the iPad/iPhone/iPod a couple of generations down the line will be on par with the current console tech. Some of these devices can already plug into TVs for HD output. So when Apple finally release wireless controllers for home use, you then have a powerful console for home use. But then you can just unplug it and do gaming on the move as well. And that is really what it will be all about - mobile/home will be the same thing really.

Now the interesting thing about all this is game studios will have to think different about game design. For instance a game can have gameplay elements for HDTV experience but also have elements for when the player is on the move. I'm really looking forward to when this happens because it will see a ne age of creativity emerging.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 9 years ago
Shorter answer: Not yet, despite all the wishful thinking. Short answer: No.

As I keep saying, until there's 100% high-speed available EVERYWHERE at a fair price, a payment system that doesn't fuck users over into contracts they had zero idea they needed until they want to pay for the item, a secure means of getting content that can't be compromised at ALL (imagine the PSN debacle, but multiplied tenfold - who'd stand for that?), a means for those of use who can't see for shit on a tiny screen made for squirrels and garden gnomes to get options for every app with scalable type plus a ton of other small to large IMPORTANT factors the folks who keep trumpeting loudly overlook, mobiles will stay as mobiles and need to stay as mobiles.

Some of you "kill the consoles" folks sound a wee bit too much like those who here are gleefully cheering on the oncoming death of the US Postal Service because they thing today's tech can do EVERYTHING better than an "old" service that actually benefits more people who don't realize it. You might be hopping around like happy monkeys now, but you'll miss some really important things should the demise come as soon as you wish it become a reality. I say go be a lemming with your own time and money. Let mobile live or die on its own merits without taking those who refuse to go along for the rise with you.
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Josh Maida Interactive Director, 6ft9 years ago
Won't consoles sooner change than die? I've heard the convergence argument in the interactive agency arena for years. It never materializes like anyone predicts.

I can't cite any evidence, but I imagine when TV came out, cinemas and radio braced for some cataclysm. In the past week, I've played a game on my phone and iPad, listened to an audiobook on my iPod, played CoD and StarCraft 2 on my PC, played Assassin's Creed on Xbox, watched TV, and listened to the radio. I haven't gone to the movies, but I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. I would LOVE to go to the movies. (Man, I'd even go see Twilight).

I know I don't represent the planet, but my media consumption is more divergent than it's ever been. I'm not saying it's a non-issue, just SSDD. (I'm playing MW2 btw) :)

Great comments all!
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Brian Smith Artist 9 years ago
Yeah the phone market is huge and the app market within it is huge, but as can be seen from just the comments here they are short burn and secondary to many, even if they own and like them.

I'd like to know what impact mobiles would be making if there wasn't a phone involved because lets face it, it's their prime purpose. Just because folk buy phones and cheap games doesn't make it a console beater because the numbers are bigger.

When the mobile/tablet tech reaches console processing power levels I still don't think it's match over. Huge games with HD content and cutting edge tech will always cost the moon on a stick. Whether they are on console or your I-pad 4/5/or whatever. The market will go where this content is. CONTENT IS KING.
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Dave Herod Senior Programmer, Codemasters9 years ago
Recently I've been looking at getting a new gaming PC, and have weighed up gaming laptop vs gaming desktop. I'd love the portability of a laptop, but I just know that no matter how good laptop tech gets, desktops always blow them out of the water for performance yet cost less. Even the portability of a gaming laptop is compromised - you can't play games without being plugged in, or the battery will be dead in minutes, and they're generally huge, so they're more like an easily movable desktop PC.

I see consoles vs mobile phones as a more exagerated case of the same thing. Portability comes at a cost of performance, so however the technology comes along, a dedicated fixed machine will always outperform it. And I know that good graphics don't make a good game, but there's more you can do with extra power than just make the game look prettier.

As for mobile gaming reducing people's time for AAA gaming? Why would it? If I'm sat at home with a few hours to spare, why would I ever fire up some crappy touchscreen timewaster on my phone when I've got a huge screen and several dedicated gaming machines? I'd only spend time playing games on my phone if I'm out and I wouldn't be playing a AAA game anyway, so consoles lose nothing.
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Will Luton9 years ago
As the author of the article, it's brilliant to see so much discussion around the topic. Thank you.

However, I want to reiterate the central argument (seemingly some of the commentators didn't read the piece in full).

The "guess" is not that people will play short-form mobile games at home at the expense of AAA console content. That is not my argument.

It is that when (or if) mobile devices become easily and ubiquitously connected to TVs, with the delivery platform and connectiveness they offer, they could become a better, more convenient platform than consoles for the content consoles currently offer.

The secondary argument is that the market is so complex that it is impossible to predict any meaningful changes with any certainty. In other words: I am almost definitely wrong.

The one thing I do believe as highly probably is one huge disruptive change (the industry has seen one of these about every 5-10 years) and that we should be ready to embrace it, instead of being left out in the cold. My gut instinct is that technology will be more integrated than the purchase of an add-on box. That to me feel like the past.

RE power: Of course a desktop PC or dedicated console will be more powerful. However, there will likely be a point where that difference is negligible, perhaps in the next 10 years, for the majority of consumers. Cloud rendered gaming may even make that point moot within that time - I primarily game on OnLive now.
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@Will: What disruptive changes have we seen every 5 years in gaming? The business model is still pretty much the same as it was when the original NES hit the market. We have platform owners taking licensing cuts, and publishers offering games. Self-publishing is still rare in the AAA space.

Calling facebook games or app store games "disruptive" would imply they actually disrupted something, as in taking away huge chunks of the AAA audience, but as others in this thread have stated, they merely extended the market.

There hasn't been a disruption that you could compare with digital distribution of music and it's effect on the original record industry, for example.

As for the topic, I don't see it happening anytime soon, the demand for bells and whistles core gaming is still very much there, this year pretty much proves it with core games (or even hard-core games like skyrim which is not even slightly casual-oriented) still hitting the sales charts hard.

The development talent and thus the quality will be where the core experience is, and it will stay that way unless games will become prohibitively expensive to develop.

The argument that mobile platforms hardware will become as powerful as home consoles in the near future and thus kill them doesn't hold much water in my opinion, because as soon as this happens, customers will demand the same production values and design intricacies that become possible with this. And then the budgets will grow to AAA levels, meaning that the 99 cent pricing model will become unsustainable and thus the main advantage of mobile will be gone.

Hardware evolution in the mobile space would actually be bad for business for this reason. The notion that mobile will kill home consoles because their hardware will evolve so fast is a very dubious assumption.
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Holy, judging from the length of the responses, this is clearly an emotional issue for most as many here are console devs or pubs. In the face of the interwebs, smartphones and cheap PCs - the unemotional reality is that the value prop of the walled garden console market is done, done, done.

Proof - Whats that in your pocket!?! an XBox? me thinks not.

All is not lost, you simply have to change and let go of the past. Write games for the browser, the iPhone and Android. Nobody pines over the landfill graves of VCR or DVD players anymore!

Oh and one last thing - God (or spaghetti monster) help you all when Onlive and Gaikai wipe the plastic lump from the space under every TV. Never forget the consumer is a godless, wanton beast driven by quick fix lust and fickle allegiances. No? send me a copy of your meds prescription, i'd like to try them out.
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Rob Craig Instructor / Writer 9 years ago
In the US, the internet infrastructure is a mess. Gaming in the 'Cloud', digital distribution, etc ... is something that people who have 1Mb or better data lines think of. The truth is, millions of gamers do not have reliable or fast internet here. For those that can't stream a simple YouTube video on their PC, Xbox360, PS3, or "smartphone", struggle to keep from dropping an online connection. This problem is slowly going away, but I don't see it resolved in this country within the next 10 years.

To the point of handhelds .. I echo some others in this thread that my handheld is great for a casual game. 20 minutes or more becomes quite uncomfortable. It becomes difficult to be fully engaged visually to something 20 inches from your eyes for much longer. Reading a books is very different, less eye straining (unless the text is abnormally small). There is published research on this topic for all to read.

If I could use my 'smartphone' as a gamer class PC, using bluetooth for real controllers and my Droid's mini HDMI output to a reasonable display ... then we have something worth considering for both mobile and "fixed" gaming locations. That I think is the next generation of game devices. Still doesn't address the internet infrastructure issues.

To the point, if publishers and next gen system developers want to make money, they must meet the needs of the customer. Customers are a fragmented group - some will embrace digital distribution, cloud gaming, etc. Others will be alienated without an alternative means to download or install their games.
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Fred Skoler Business Strategy, Design, Engagement, Sweepstakes, Contests, Executive Producer 9 years ago
The argument is not that mobile will over-power consoles. It is that the local device (a console) will lose relevance. Do you honestly think that the consumer of the future cares how he/she gets games? I'm talking about someone who is 13 today and thinks that texting is having a conversation.

The distinction between the console experience vs the mobile experience is about content. Mobile, console, social - it's all games content. Let me play it on the screen I like with the input control I prefer. This is the natural path for the advancement of the technology and industry. We will move from dinosaur (I must "own" something physical) to totally digital (stream it to me baby). With this progression we will lose the necessity of the on-site console. Of course we will need a device to connect to the content & peripherals, & that could be a phone.

Today, many of us receive our Phone, Internet & TV services from the same fiber-optic line. Isn't it reasonable to think that premium subscription services like HBO will include Nintendo, Sony & Activision games? When this happens, and it will happen, you will have the option to subscribe to a premium service and get your games streamed in. I expect that same service will allow you access to content designed for small & large screen games.

The distinction of the player device will most often not matter to you. Your peripherals will be portable and connect to whatever device you are playing on/logged onto.

A reliable delivery path for high bandwidth content is what will kill the console (today we call that the Internet). A mobile phone is just as likely to be the device I plug into as any other hub for this stream (merely an accomplice in the murder).

How I experience my games will be a factor of my peripheral preferences but as a gamer it will more than likely consist of a portable high def headset with surround sound and a wireless controller of my choosing.

Everyone can agree this is not happening tomorrow, but I don't see this as science fiction either.
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Eric Plante Product Manager, Autodesk9 years ago
Very interesting comments. Here's my take on it, which discusses some of the points raised here: AREA blog: Games, Limb from Limb".
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