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The fate of video game consoles in the world of the killer app

Posted by Michael Warshaw  June 7, 2013 11:32 AM

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By Michael Brown, content marketing manager, uTest

There are not many businesses that have been disrupted more often than the hit-seeking video game industry, where success always seems to be fleeting. Consider that at some point in the last 30 years, Atari, Nintendo, Sega, Sony, and Xbox have each held the console crown, only to be deposed by another.

We’re now witnessing another displacement, except that it doesn’t apply to any particular console gaming system, but rather all of them. This time, the usurper is the mobile games industry, and it may bring down console for good. Or maybe not.

Minyanville writer Andre Mouton recently took a closer look at the challenges that mobile poses to video game developers. Citing a 21 percent decline in console sales last year, he speculated that mobile apps might be part of the reason why, but acknowledged that there’s no real proof that is true.

In the absence of hard numbers, we’re left to state our theory about apps vs. consoles, based on our own observation, assumption, and common sense. So here are a few reasons why we believe mobile apps will not kill the console games industry:

1. The decline is console sales is not what it appears. The current drop in sales is almost certainly related to the lack of fresh gaming products. The newly unveiled Xbox One has yet to hit the shelves. Ditto for the PlayStation 4. One would have to expect sales to climb again later this year, as both consoles are highly anticipated.

2. The indie video game development community is on the rise. If you think all of the young technical talent is focused on app design and development, you’re wrong. As this video shows, there is a global community of young, creative, indie developers just waiting to make their mark and take console games to the next level.

3. Apps may be social, but so are console games. Maybe they used to, but it’s not as if console games exist in a vacuum any more. Today, almost every console game incorporates some sort of online/social element. Some games have moved to this model exclusively (with varying degrees of success). In other words, the attractive aspects of social/mobile gaming are already built in to the console. It’s not a choice of one versus the other. Thus…

4. Prediction: The two platforms will complement and converge, rather than compete. The user experience for video game consoles and mobile apps is completely different, in almost every way possible. While mobile apps offer convenience at a cheaper price, console games clearly offer a more robust user experience. Instead of competing, it’s more likely that mobile apps and consoles will complement each other going forward.

(Side note: the two most popular paid games, according to Mouton’s article, are Tetris and PacMan).

So are mobile apps and games killing the console? Not in our view. It’s easy to look at declining console sales and the dramatic rise of mobile games and leap to that conclusion, but there doesn’t appear to be a direct correlation. When it comes to the future of gaming, there are plenty of other factors at play.

Michael Brown is the senior content marketing manager for uTest, based in Southborough. He frequently writes about software development, app testing and startup life.

The State of Play blog, organized by MassDiGI, features posts by digital and video game industry insiders writing about creativity, innovation, research, and development in the Massachusetts digital entertainment and apps sectors. MassDiGI, based at Becker College, is a statewide center for academic cooperation, entrepreneurship, and economic development across the local games ecosystem. Follow along @Mass_DiGI.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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MassDiGI 8-24 287w872.jpgThe State of Play, organized by MassDiGI, features stories by digital and video game developers and business insiders. Follow along @mass_digi.

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