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The Games Console: "Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated"
On the day when the Nintendo 3DS and Apple's iPad 2 are released it seems to appropriate to examine the idea that games consoles are on their way out.
Taking on the big boys
The rise of casual games has recently been attributed to the success of the iPhone and iPad. Apple has made major efforts to market their devices as a gaming platform as well as for their various other uses. 'Angry Birds' was reportedly the most played game of 2010, yet didn't make it to a games console until Early 2011, and is still yet to be released for Nintendo DS, a system which remains the best selling console ever (over 135 million sold).
It is this trend that has led to some tech bloggers to announce the 'death' of the traditional games console, predicting a swift demise for the traditional games consoles. This flies in the face of perhaps the best indicator of market health - sales.
Nintendo's Wii, which has been at the forefront of bringing casual games to the living room, sold 20 million units last year. Microsoft's Xbox 360 add-on Kinect sold 8 million units in it's first 60 days of release, leading Microsoft to declare 2010 their best year ever. Sony's Playstation 3 has quietly sold almost 50 million units since it's release, an impressive figure which nevertheless puts it behind the Wii and Xbox in terms of global sales. These are not the sales figures of a dying industry.
Casual vs Hardcore: the false argument
Much has been made of the idea of the casual gamer replacing the 'hardcore' gamer. The latter phrase brings to mind a mental image of a teenager boy shooting at people/aliens/zombies for hours alone in a dark room, whereas the former might include a group of children playing 'Just Dance' or someone playing 'Angry Birds' on the bus.
Yet the 'hardcore' gamer is something of an internet myth; a product of people arguing about who's console is best based on arbitrary statistics like processors and polygons rather than actual games played.
The mass media has failed to cotton on to the idea that video games are now as popular a medium as films. Last year the Xbox 360 and PS3 title 'Call of Duty: Black Ops' was declared the 'best selling entertainment title of all time' after it's opening week sales hit $360 million, easily beating the figures set by the blockbuster films like 'Avatar' and 'Dark Night Returns'. Yet traditional news outlets still treat games and gamers as the preserve of a few geeks, rather than the mass entertainment form they have become.
The focus on the technology pages of these publications remains on items likes the iPhone and it's smartphone brethren, and of course the iPad and it's tablet friends, 'gadgets' as they are increasingly known. The release of the 3DS is making great waves in the gaming world, yet it is new news to the average consumer, who may have only heard of it this week when the adverts appeared promising glasses-free 3D.
A change in focus
The big names in gaming have not rested on their laurels in the face of completion from the smartphone market.
The Xbox 360 boasts a whole range of entertainment in it's newer models,offering instant access to films, TV and music in addition to it's more traditional gaming, as well as following Nintendo into the 'casual' market with Kinect's motion sensing technology. Sony have done much the same with the Playstation 3, offering film streaming and their own motion sensing controller.
Nintendo's DSi and Sony's PSP Go can be seen as a direct response to the success of smartphone games, both offering internet access, downloadable content and non-game apps, a move which Nintendo are continuing with 3DS.
Gaming remains the primary function of these devices but the three home consoles have all made the move from bedroom to living room in the last few years, sharing space with digital receivers and in some cases replacing DVD players (and indeed Blu-Ray players in the case of PS3).
Surviving the onslaught
In the face of massive sales of smartphones and the like, and a recession, console sales have remained fairly healthy. Accroding to VGChartz.com worldwide console sales were over 1 million last week, and the current generation of home consoles and handhelds has racked up half a billion total sales. Even with some people owning more than one console that's a lot of gamers. Remarkably the PS2 sold over 50,000 units last week, despite being more than 10 years old.
Smartphone sales are harder to gauge, what with the nature of mobile phone contracts and the increased likelyhood of loss and breakage, but from a perusal of sales figures it is reasonable to assume there are over 100 million in use. Add to this iPad and iPod touch sales and the figure is probably around the 200 million mark as a conservative estimate.
Room at the top
There is room in the modern living room for all of these items. An iPhone no more replaces a DS than and iPad replaces a PC (which I haven't even touched upon) - they have some similarities but their differences are what make them desirable.
In conclusion it is clear that consoles are in rude health, and that the success of the smartphone and touchscreen tablet has not harmed the big names in gaming. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony continue their march into our living rooms, and, rather than being a block, the casual gamer can only facilitate this move.