Could rental give high-priced consoles a running start?
Smartphone retail model could make Vita and 3DS more attractive to consumers
Could a rental or hire-purchase model help secure a future for dedicated gaming handhelds like the PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS?
It's an idea floated by Frontier Developments' David Braben, Codemasters' Jamie MacDonald, Boss Alien's Jason Avent, and Simon Oliver of Hand Circus in a roundtable discussion with GamesIndustry.biz.
One of the challenges the Vita faces is that, beyond the lower prices of smartphone games, mobile hardware is generally acquired through a hire-purchase model, effectively making it free to the consumer.
However, this approach - a common retail strategy for numerous consumer electronics devices - hasn't been attempted with game consoles.
"Maybe that's an idea," Avent said. "You get your PS Vita and pay a subscription for it and you get usage of one or two games that you can swap in and swap out.
"You join a club for £15 a month and you get really top games for that. And you get hire of the hardware. And then it's much more like an app store where you have to get your games through Sony."
In Braben's view, this could be a "workable business model" for handheld consoles, not least because it would open up new shelf-space with high-street mobile phone retailers.
"It would be a bit like a Sky subscription with telephone, internet and TV in one," Avent continued, "but you could have a small mobile phone with a contract, and then it's packaged up with the Vita and a subscription to games"
This view is consistent with comments made by industry analyst Nick Parker at the London Games Conference last month, in which he outlined the possibility of retailers like GAME eventually selling contracts and not hardware.
"I sat down with Ian Shepherd a couple of weeks ago and his vision is seeing GAME like Carphone Warehouse, whereby Carphone Warehouse doesn't actually sell anything at all, no product, no hardware, it just sells contracts," Parker said.
"And they see themselves doing the same thing - selling contracts for OnLive or any other technology provider or source of games and then hardware can eventually be offered for free."
The notion that the market for handheld consoles has been fatally disrupted by the growth of mobile gaming has been widely discussed over the last 12 months.
Slow sales of the 3DS only improved after Nintendo slashed the price by as much as 40 per cent, while the PlayStation Vita's performance has declined sharply since it launched in Japan before Christmas - it is currently 4th in the hardware charts, one place behind its own predecessor, the PSP.
To read the full discussion between Braben, MacDonald, Avent and Oliver, click here.