Is Smartphone Gaming Really That Disruptive?

Is Smartphone Gaming Really That Disruptive?

What will the online gaming market look like by 2012? According to a recent report put together by analyst firm ABI Research, it’s going to have a whole lot of dollar signs stapled to it. $20 billion worth, to be exact.

Analyst Michael Inouye believes the biggest area of growth will be China, though the country’s pay-as-you-go business model for online games like World of Warcraft is significantly different from North America and Europe’s subscription-based model. But Inouve also warns that the growth spurt won’t be without problems. An increase in cloud gaming, for instance, will put a strain on servers and data centers. More interestingly, Inouve warns that smartphone-based gaming is “disruptive” and will fragment the market and make life difficult for developers who want to support multiple platforms.

“Disruptive” is an interesting word choice. It tends to carry a negative weight: Parents would tell us to stop disrupting their phone call with our whining, or we’d catch it. Or when we pitched blackboard erasers out the window, teachers would warn us against disrupting the class. But as pointed out by commenter and Blancspot Creative Director Scott Howard on GamesIndustry.biz, the term can also refer to technology or business that changes a market. For better or worse, smartphone-based gaming is doing exactly that. Sometimes, disruptions are inevitable. Things change, and new business models blink into existence while others fade away.

Inouve’s concern is that smartphones will divide developers that want to support multiple platforms. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, it doesn’t have to be that way. Digitally-distributed content is already seeing release on multiple consoles: iPhone games often end up on DSiWare, and vice-versa. For cross-platform pollination to reach its fullest potential, it’s not the developers who need to try harder so much as the hardware manufacturers. Over the course of 2010, for instance, there were complaints from the industry about Nintendo’s lackluster support for indie developers. But if the company uses the Nintendo 3DS to finally demonstrate that it understands the importance of downloadable content, developers will benefit. If a platform’s rules and restrictions are reasonable, why not release a digital game across the iPhone, Nintendo DS/3DS, XLBA, PSN, etc, instead of settling for one or two platforms? Especially when there’s no packaging and physical distribution involved?

2012 will bring its fair share of challenges for the games industry: New systems, more crowding, the end of the world, etc. But for a developer who chooses to work with the digital medium rather than a hard product, releasing a title across smartphones and console download services should prove to be one of the year’s easier accomplishments.

But any way you look at it, disruptions aren’t always as grim as they sound.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

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