It’s a transitional time for video gaming, and nowhere is that transition more evident than in the handheld portable video games market. Up until a few years ago, Nintendo was unquestionably the king of portable gaming. Sony made an impressive showing with the PSP, especially in Japan, but ultimately spent most of its time skulking around at Nintendo’s feet.
Then, all of a sudden, the iPhone nuzzled up to the Nintendo DS and said “hi.” Now smartphones are delivering consistent jabs in Nintendo’s ribs. Given time, Apple might even knock Nintendo off its pedestal. At least, that’s what GRL Games’ Graeme Devine told IndustryGamers in a recent interview.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of will [Nintendo and Sony] be hurt by [smartphones], I think they’ve already been hurt by [them],” Devine said. “I think that Sony and Nintendo, behind closed doors, their legs are shaking. They have to be. It’s like trying to ignore global warming. These things are here.”
There are two problems with Devine’s statement. First, neither Sony nor Nintendo are ignoring Apple. Nintendo has been particularly outspoken about its competitor, with Nintendo of America’s Reggie Fils-Aime going as far to acknowledge that yes, the shadow of Jobs is a looming menace. Nintendo is well-aware that Apple exists.
The second problem with Devine’s statement is his declaration that Sony and Nintendo are probably “shaking in their boots” behind closed doors. More likely, there’s some light sweating going on that’s easily dabbed away with a handkerchief.
More seriously, there’s an ongoing and rather tiresome belief from some corners of the games industry that smartphones and handheld game systems cannot co-exist. Analysts point to smartphones’ surging numbers, which seemingly ate into Nintendo DS sales through 2010. The Internet’s approach to Apple versus Nintendo versus Sony is all or none: In other words, the persistent belief that the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch will rob the Nintendo 3DS and NGP of every single sale and emerge the new lords of portable gaming.
That’s just not going to happen, especially to a company that sells one million units of a Pokemon game in 24 hours. What will happen, and what is happening is a shift: Casual gamers who loved the likes of Brain Age are finding cheaper alternatives on Facebook and smartphones. They have few reasons to pick up a Nintendo DS or 3DS.
To Devine’s credit, he also stated that Nintendo, Apple, and Sony must compete for people’s time. This is very true, and ultimately, that competition for precious leisure hours is what Nintendo and Sony should be most worried about. Smartphones offer a different kind of gaming experience from the Nintendo 3DS and (presumably) the NGP; a fan of Nintendo’s franchises is not going to abandon them for the sake of Angry Birds. But lately, game lovers haven’t been hurting for distractions to choose from. “Should I play Street Fighter IV on my Nintendo 3DS? Final Fantasy IV Complete Collection on my PSP? Or should I just wind down with some Doodle Jump on iPhone? How about my consoles? I haven’t given them much love lately.”
What does all this traffic mean for Sony and Nintendo? It means both companies are going to have to keep a sharp eye on the competition, will have to fight for our time, and will have to consistently deliver new ideas combined with great new installments from old, trusted franchises. That’s healthy for the industry, and it’s great for all of us.