In periods of great technological growth we in the media have a natural tendency to get a little bit excited. Things start advancing so fast that we make all sorts of ludicrous predictions for the future based on half-baked ideas and products 'in development'. Sometimes those predictions end up being correct, more often than not they're proven wholly or partially incorrect as time goes on. Still, that doesn't stop us from making more frantic predictions the next time we hear a cool news story.
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On that note, the New York Times came out with an article today about the sudden, rapid growth of mobile gaming and what it means for the future. They quoted Greg Joswiak, the head of marketing for the iPhone and iPod when he said, “This is the future of gaming.”
Is Joswiak right? Or is he just being a good marketeer? There's no doubting that mobile gaming is more popular than it has ever been before, or that the iPhone has had a huge hand in the growth of that popularity. Millions of people who had never played a video game in their lives are more than happy to spend a dollar downloading a simple iPhone game. The success of Apple's app store (which makes roughly half of its sales from games) is a model to the hand held gaming manufacturers the world over.
Sony's new PSP-Go is one reflection of this. It's moved beyond cartridges, and now downloads games and media straight from an online store. I don't think it's too far-fetched to assume that Nintendo will make the same decision in the near future with their next generation of hand helds. But, the fact that the gaming industry is adopting an Apple idea does not mean that it's being subsumed by them.
The big money in gaming is not switching over to small, cheap downloadable app-games. Even if an app game gets downloaded a million times it is still not going to come close to the profits that a company like Blizzard makes from their 11 million MMORPG subscribers, or the money that Nintendo is going to rake in when they release their upcoming hand held Metal Gear Solid game.
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Mobile gaming isn't the future of gaming, but it's not a fly-by-night fad either. It's a whole new industry, and it should be seen as separate from console, PC, and even hand held gaming. App games are targeted at a different market and have different standards of success. When I want something to do during my five minute wait for the bus, I'll fire up a game on my cell phone. When it's Sunday night and I've got four hours to kill I'm going to load up GTA 4 on my Xbox or Empire: Total War on my PC. Modern gamers have plenty of time, and plenty of money, to support both industries. Even in this economy.