We’ve been hearing about it for years: mobile games will kill the console.
The indie game revolution is bringing more variety to mobile. It’s easier and cheaper to develop for mobile than it is for consoles. More people own mobile devices than consoles. Mobile games are more affordable than big Triple-A titles. More and more consoles are requiring Internet connectivity, a barrier to some, while mobile gaming simply requires a pre-existing cellular data plan. Mobile game revenue is expected to overtake console revenue in 2015 for the first time in history: $30B for mobile and $26B for console.
Image: Wesley Fryer
Sounds like a ticking Doomsday Clock for the console industry, right? Not so fast. Before you start hosting a memorial for your Playstations and Xboxes, there’s hope yet.
Console Revenue on the Rise
Console gaming still has a stronghold in North America with over $11 billion in sales every year. And gamers aren’t slowing their interest in consoles: 2015 is expected to see over $15 billion in sales of consoles, games, and accessories according to DFC Intelligence. That’s an increase of 36% over prior years’ revenue!
All games that have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars appeared on consoles.
Consoles Cash In On Nostalgia
While game developers are often criticized for not taking more risks with new titles, there’s something to be said about capitalizing on nostalgia. Consoles have been porting classic games to be enjoyed again by a new generation. Downloadable content keeps aging titles playable with new abilities, story arcs, and characters.
Popular franchises often see new life with sequel releases: sequels and remakes stole the spotlight at E3 2015 with the announcement of Fallout 4, Final Fantasy VII for Playstation4, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Halo 5: Guardians, Doom, and Gears of War 4. (Just how lucrative is a successful franchise for consoles and developers? Call of Duty has $10 billion alone since it first launched 12 years ago.)
Final Fantasy VII remake announcement at E3 2015
Consoles seem to be holding strong despite the rising tide of mobile gaming. But as evidenced at E3 2015, some console game developers are hedging their bets and becoming flexible to cash in on a very large mobile gaming market.
Console Devs Make Mobile Games They Would “Want to Play”
The Bethesda team not only announced a feature-packed Fallout 4 that left most E3 attendees in a puddle of their own drool, they also sneak-attack released their own mobile game based on the popular franchise.
Fallout Shelter was originally intended to be a fun little project Bethesda created on the side. Video game designer Todd Howard was playing around with an iOS treatment of the Fallout franchise as early as 2009, saying that he’s always appreciated the platform and the franchise would translate well.
After a number of roadblocks and six years later, Fallout Shelter was released to fans already hungry for the next game in the franchise–only they did not realize it was going to be a mobile game. Gamers will need to wait until November for Fallout 4 but this surprise mobile treat was available at that very moment.
The buzz blasted Fallout Shelter into the stratosphere of the mobile charts, outranking even the perennial favorite Candy Crush Saga in revenue. (To give you an idea of just how much we’re talking, Candy Crush Saga earned $2.55 million per day in its first quarter of launch.) Furthermore, Fallout Shelter is a free game to download: all that revenue came from in-game purchases.
Bethesda’s release proves that even the most hardcore console gamers can be attracted to mobile gaming when their favorite console game developer is at the helm. Fallout Shelter doesn’t take the same game everyone knows and loves on the console and cram it onto a smaller screen. The developer created an entirely new game experience for mobile, built on the celebrated tongue-in-cheek aesthetics of a post-apocalyptic nuclear meltdown.
Beloved Console Characters Come to Mobile
Console game developers are trying their hand at creating mobile games based on their favorite franchises–and sometimes it’s for financial reasons.
Nintendo shocked audiences with their announcement last March: they will be partnering with a mobile entertainment provider to develop and distribute mobile games using well-known and well-loved Nintendo characters.
The console giant from Japan has notoriously abstained from developing games for smart devices. In a 2011 press conference, President Satoru Iwata was clear when it came to dabbling in the mobile game market:
“If we did this, Nintendo would cease to be Nintendo. Having a hardware development team in-house is a major strength. It’s the duty of management to make use of those strengths.”
And who could blame him in 2011? Handheld sales, such as the Nintendo 3DS, accounted for the company’s largest revenue-generating product offering–even outpacing revenue from video game sales. Fear of cannibalizing their most profitable product was real: what if their limited development resources became split between their own Nintendo 3DS and third-party smart devices? What if the same games were offered on both Nintendo 3DS and mobile devices? Why would someone pay $40 for a Pokemon game on 3DS when they could buy it for $4 on mobile?
With news like mobile console game revenues projected to outpace console revenues this year for the first time ever, it’s easy to assume Nintendo’s decision as simply moving to where the business is. But the truth of the matter is that Nintendo has been struggling to sell hardware in a market dominated by Xbox and Playstation. Nintendo has made the difficult decision to set aside developing their next generation of console to focus on releasing five mobile games in the upcoming year. Perhaps they’re hoping to save money in development and earn enough revenue to reinvest into their next console.
The Digital Gaming Market Isn’t A Zero-Sum Game
The media speaks in terms of do or die: mobile gaming and console gaming are at odds with each other: one needs to lose in order for the other to win.
What if I told you mobile gaming and console gaming are actually supporting each other?
Bethesda’s Fallout Shelter backing up the news of the excitedly anticipated Fallout 4 release is a prime example of how mobile and console can support one another. The news of a favorite franchise’s next console release can be buoyed by an early mobile release.
A mobile release can drum up additional funds to help support the resource-intensive process of developing a console game. In Nintendo’s case, a struggling console product can rely on mobile success to give company revenues a boost. As soon as Nintendo announced its focus on the mobile market, their stock increased 9.5 percent.
Developing for multiple platforms inspires creativity. Gung Ho CEO Kazuki Morishita (of Puzzles and Dragons fame) believes it’s important for developers to create for all platforms:
From a creator’s point of view, it’s always better to have an equal amount of titles out on different platforms. It cultivates your creativity and helps you come up with new ideas. It’s good for the creative process.
Games can’t simply be ported between mobile and console, and still be fun. A console game would be difficult to follow and control on a small mobile screen, while a mobile game might not be as engaging in a larger console format. However, some game developers are supplementing the console experience with mobile capabilities: Bethesda has plans in the works to have a second-screen experience alongside the main console action on Fallout 4. Players can give characters and weapons a boost on their mobile and send it back into the game. Developing for console and mobile requires different approaches and inspires new gaming adventures.
Image: The Conversation
Mobile gaming will attract new gamers to try consoles. Although console sales are growing at a slower pace than mobile, mobile is drawing in a new generation of players. Pardon the assumption, but I want to believe some of these new gamers are trying their hand at console games, as well.
Consoles are not dead, and mobile is not going anywhere. The two can co-exist and even supplement one another for an even better gaming experience. What do you think?