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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.

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Will Luton

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