With almost everyone now owning a smartphone where they can access a variety of online games, from kids’ stuff to competitive gaming, some see it as a surprise that the hand held console still exists at all. There is a feeling in the air that with the advances in online technology, these devices belong to a bygone era, and are gradually going the way of the VCR and CD player.
Nintendo is doing its best to keep public interest alive and sales bubbling, with the release of a new orange and white version of the 2DS XL, but will it significantly affect flagging sales? The revised model has already appeared on the shelves in Australia and New Zealand, and will be officially released in North America in the first week of October. This was the second special edition of the 2DS announced by Nintendo in the space of a few hours, coming fast on the back of the limited edition Poke Ball New 2DS XL, which will be available in November.
Will these be this year’s “must haves” for Christmas? Ten years ago, perhaps. But in 2017, it seems unlikely.
A declining market
The handheld market is dominated by the two main players, Nintendo and Sony. The latter’s PlayStation Vita is getting a little long in the tooth, and Sony is starting to drop some of the apps that actually made it stand out, such as social media connectivity. This leaves Nintendo in a position where it could dominate the sector, and to an extent that is exactly what it does.
The 3DS XL is generally rated as the best handheld on the market, and its lower cost companion does everything equally well, but without the benefit of a 3D screen. Yet the truth is, more than two years ago, Scott Stein wrote a piece for CNET in which he remarked that handhelds “feel like they are fading away,” and that the market leading devices might have caused a stir a couple of years earlier, but in 2015 they were not generating excitement. Which devices was he talking about back then? The self same Nintendo 3DS XL and Sony PlayStation Vita.
Stein laid the blame for the decline in handheld console gaming firmly at the feet of the smartphone market, which was exploding at the time. 2015 was the year that mobile overtook desktop as the internet surfing platform of choice, but it was not just the traditional PC that was placed in jeopardy by the all-conquering smartphone.
Two years on, and the online gaming sector has seen immense growth and development since Stein wrote his article, particularly in the adult gaming sector, where virtual games and sites have captured the imagination of gamers across the globe. New player offers such as the Rizk casino bonus are what attract today’s gamers. With more gaming sites being launched every day, and competing for the public’s attention, the online market is a bustling, vibrant place.
Compare that with the handheld console sector, where other than a change of color scheme, the product offering appears to have stagnated over the past three to four years.
The rise of virtual reality
Online gaming, whether it is in the adult market or the world of Angry Birds and Farmville, might be the biggest driver in steering gamers away from the consoles and towards the smartphones, but it is by no means the only one.
2017 has been the year that virtual reality has really started to take off. We mentioned “must have” Christmas items earlier, and the truth is that while the Orange and White 2DS XL is unlikely to be flying off the shelves, it is this new generation of gaming experiences that will really be capturing the imagination this holiday season.
The Oculus Rift is the obvious example, but at $600, it is not something that the average parent will be buying by the boxload for their brood of kids. And here, again, is where the ever present smartphone steps in.
The latest offerings from Apple and Samsung are making a big point of their VR capability, via major marketing efforts and TV advertising campaigns. Samsung’s Gear VR retails at around $200, and is the obvious choice for the smartphone generation. If that is too much, there are cheaper versions available for a tenth of the price.
Most significant of all is the fact that the technology is still new and developing at a remarkable pace. The VR offerings that will be available by Christmas 2018 or 2019 will look a whole lot different.
The handheld console sector at least has a dedicated and mature market, even if more and more are asking themselves why they really need one, when a smartphone can do it better. The VR manufacturers are still in their infancy, but already, their buyers are asking themselves exactly the same question.
Where next for handhelds?
Will Nintendo, Sony or one of the other big players step in and reinvent the concept of the handheld games console, or will the current generation slowly fade off into history alongside our Gameboys and ZX Spectrums? Almost certainly, the answer is the latter, and it is something that is happening before our eyes.
Mobile gaming has already been reinvented and revitalized as part of the smartphone revolution, and the developments show no sign of slowing.
Mobile apps, online games, and virtual reality are the major areas of interest and development, and perhaps the most exciting thing to sit back and watch over the next year or two is how these three seemingly diverse areas will intersect to create an even more immersive gaming experience.
The possibility of stepping into a virtual arcade using a VR headset and being able interact with game worlds in new ways is a genuinely exciting one, and is clearly something we will be able to do very soon.
The sad truth is that it is hard to see where the traditional handheld console fits into this exciting new world.