The release of Sony’s new handheld console and successor to the PSP, the PlayStation Vita in 2012 set the new benchmark in portable gaming. Boasting a stunning OLED touchscreen, dual analog control and two cameras at a reasonable price, many thought the device would do well. Instead, current sales figures are lagging behind even Nintendo’s troubled Wii U console (see above). Admittedly, sales for Nintendo’s most recent handheld iteration, the 3DS, are performing much better with 35 million units sold compared to the Vita’s 4 million. This is probably due to Nintendo’s unrivalled first-party support, evident in the boost given to sales with the release of the latest installment of the Pokémon franchise, X and Y.
The company has had to back down from its centerpiece 3D technology to a more affordable 2D system, which has also proved successful. One might consider this situation to be the same since the early nineties with the release of the original Game Boy. Children are playing handheld games using traditional portable gaming devices, mostly made by Nintendo. Yet the seemingly staggering 250 million lifetime sales figures for all the Pokémon games appears paltry compared to the nearly 2 billion downloads enjoyed by Rovio’s Angry Birds series.
What these numbers show is that the childhood experience of dusting out game cartridges, straining your eyes while staring at a tiny screen all day and swapping pocket monsters is now a thing of the past. Now the must-have device for most kids is a smartphone, where most games retail for around a pound. The quality of these games may be in many cases poorer than on traditional portable platforms. Yet they are accessible, and therefore mobile games remain the majority of market share in portable gaming. A larger amount of parents are allowing their children to play games on their phones or tablets, saving themselves from spending more cash on other devices that in their eyes only play games. What is the solution to Sony and Nintendo’s quickly disappearing consumer base, especially in Europe and North America? Simply develop for the App Store and Google Play Store; Nintendo are deluding themselves by staunchly refusing to port its games to mobile devices.