The gaming landscape has changed greatly in the past 5 years – in my opinion, notably from the traditional single-player console games and towards lighter mobile games on platforms such as the iPhone, internet-based games like Farmville on Facebook, and a gear change away single-player console campaigns towards online multi-players. This isn’t a new thing. But the explosion in easy to start/stop/resume mobile games is changing the gaming demographic and possibly at the detriment of existing console developers. The past few years have seen a real shift in the style and type of games that are being played – with Sony and Microsoft market share losing out to more lightweight consoles like Nintendo’s DS and Wii, as well as Apple’s iPhone and iPad – not mentioning the myriad of other available mobile platforms out there.
So where are these gamers coming from, and who is going to win and lose? Are the adopters of lighter and mobile games new gamers, who are attracted due to the portability, ease of use and cheap entry cost? Or are consoles losing gamers to the Wii, DS, iPhone and so on? The answer is two fold. Activision’s recent cancellation of the Guitar Hero franchise speaks a lot about what may come. The iPhone has facilitated massive growth of a previously tiny market, and grabbed people who may not have been big gamers before. But I think it has also come at the expense of titles such as Guitar Hero – which requires not only a console, but peripherals, so an expensive entry point, and which appeals to a more casual user demographic. The shift here is the loss of the casual-to-moderate gamers from the Microsoft and Sony claws, to Apple and Nintendo and at the detriment of game developers who produce these titles for consoles.
What now? I don’t predict doom and gloom for consoles. In March 2010, Microsoft was still shifting an average of 372,150 Xbox360’s every month. There is no doubt that is an impressive amount. Sony flogs 301,825 PS3’s in an average month. But Nintendo sells around 724,667 Wii’s every month. The Wii obviously has a lower entry point than a Xbox or a PlayStation, and I don’t think it’s a catalyst for change in the gaming market, since it appeals to a different demographic – not discounting that all are mature consoles – and it’s entirely likely that someone who purchases a Wii has little to no interest in a Xbox or PlayStation. The shift in gaming demographics is instead manifesting more in the splintering of titles than consoles. I think the future of console gaming will revolve much more around immersive, multi-player experiences such as Call of Duty, than it will around a game such as Need for Speed, or Madden NFL – which have much less engaged followers and produce significantly lower economic benefits for their publishers than a large, multi-player franchise. Instead, it is possible that gamers who might’ve been attracted to those titles before are now migrating into iPhone and Wii games – and why not? If you’re a casual gamer, a cheap, easy, simple and most of all addictive game that you can play on the train, in the queue at Starbucks, waiting at the doctors office, on the bus, anywhere you find yourself with some free time, is highly enticing. Staring blankly at the roof has been replaced by hours of Tap Tap Revenge and Angry Birds. No more expensive consoles, accessories or titles. Just some stats to throw at you too – Angry Birds has over 50 million total downloads across all platforms, compared to 18 million for Call of Duty: Black Ops. Granted, Angry Birds has a significantly lower price point – $0.99c in the App Store, compared to Black Ops retail price, which ranges from $99 to $108 here in Australia. Increasingly in the future, I think we’ll start to see a fragmented audience – separated between casual gamers, and hardcore gamers – with new console titles being restricted to the highly profitable and successful shooter genre.
Do you think this fragmenting audience is happening? Or can everyone live in harmony? Personally, I find myself less and less playing anything other than Halo or Call of Duty on Xbox – which give me a different experience every time on multiplayer, than something like NFS which is gathering dust on my shelf. So, I’d love to hear what you think. Am I completely off the mark here, or do you agree? Where do you think game titles on Xbox and PlayStation are headed after this?