I was sitting at my desk yesterday poking around on Twitter when I came across an interesting article about Nintendo’s potential plans for the future. The unfortunate thing about Twitter and writing on a work computer is the struggle to find the article so I can share it with you guys. ((Disregard, found it and linked at the bottom)) So what I want to do today is spend some time discussing the history, particularly the key moments, of handheld gaming. It will all build up to my predictions about the future of video games. I hope you enjoy it!
There have been handheld video games since the advent of gaming. I personally own a few including a two player soccer game from the 70’s. Nintendo even entered the market with the Game & Watch series, but it wasn’t until 1989 that Tetris and the Game Boy took the world by storm! As far as handheld gaming goes, the Game Boy brought the idea of “playing on the go” to the mainstream. Every person who pulls out their cell phone for a game of Candy Crush owes respect the granddaddy of mobile gaming. With just over 188 million units sold worldwide, the Game Boy was a juggernaut of success. There are 7 redesigns for the system (DMG, Pocket, Light (JP), Color, Advance, SP, Micro) and even Sega, previously known as Nintendo’s fiercest competitor, was inspired to release the Nomad and Game Gear. A slew of handheld systems hit the market but no one could top the sales of the Game Boy and Tetris.
With the success of the Game Boy came a unique genre. You may recall the late 90’s and our obsession with fighting digital monsters. We had Tamagotchis and Digimon. We had virtual pets that didn’t fight, like Giga Pets and other off-brands. It was insane. These things would hang on a key ring and you’d take care of them like real animals. I believe this was all an offshoot combining growing technology and the original Furby hype. Above all else was the influence of Pokémon over the entire digital pet industry. Nothing could touch Pokémon. Everyone already owned a Game Boy so it only made sense to use it as the games platform. This franchise revolutionized mobile gaming. All of a sudden, everyone had a link cable. “Do you have red or blue?” was a common question on the playground. The hype was ridiculous, but on point.
In the past I’ve said that I believe Pokémon is the single reason we still have handheld gaming today. I think that without this particular franchise, handheld gaming would not be where it is. Surely we would have mobile gaming on cell phones, but the 3DS may not be a thing. To back this up, I did some number crunching. All seven models of the Game Boy included, sales figures are just over 200 million. Games with Pokémon in their title added up to nearly 123 million copies sold. Odds are high that if you owned a Game Boy, you had at least one Pokémon game. Another staggering figure is that Pokémon accounts for 13.8% of ALL games sold for the systems. That’s undeniable influence, right there.
Mobile gaming on a phone is not revolutionary. It is expected. Computers run games and packaging phones with titles helps users understand the touchscreen options better. This is why Windows had solitaire. It builds familiarity with the system. The revolutionary aspect, I realized, was combining a console with a mobile phone. This came to me when I was playing Assassin’s Creed 4 on PS3 while using my phone as a live map. It updated like a GPS wherever I went. This kind of tech has amazing implications. I have a friend who plays Star Citizen on PC and uses a tablet to control certain functions of his ships. Nintendo embraced this two-screen idea in the DS, 3DS, and Wii U. The Vita links to the PS4. Smash Bros. on Wii-U can use the 3DS as a controller by linking it wirelessly to the console. And, if you can believe it, Sega had a screen in their Dreamcast controllers by using a VMU. Really, the mutli-screen gaming idea has been around for many years. PC gamers have been using multiple screens and consoles can trace the origin back to the Game & Watch. It is just finally hitting the main stream.
So what comes next? I posted last year (now deleted) that I felt this would be the last generation of strictly handheld systems like the 3DS and Vita, not because they are going away, but because they are being integrated into console gaming. That Nintendo article I mentioned earlier said that Nintendo may be attempting a mobile home console. Imagine brining the Wii U gamepad anywhere, but connecting it to the big screen at home. Could this really be the future of Nintendo? Well, the news literally dropped today that Nintendo will be bringing smart phone style games to the 3DS. They are adamant about not porting their games to mobile phones and that makes sense. The games aren’t built for touch screens. The only thing that remains to be seen is if Nintendo can pull off a new mobile home console system.
Personally, I’m rooting for them. I love my Wii U and my 3DS. Nintendo is on fire right now. If you haven’t noticed, their products are selling out before they even hit store shelves. The company is bouncing back from the slow Wii U sales and things look very promising. So my prediction for the next generation is that Xbox and PlayStation will embrace VR. The Vita will be cancelled (no sense in a second screen attachment if VR is the primary UI). Nintendo will dominate mobile gaming. And cell phones will continue to have mediocre pay-to-win indie titles.
I’m looking forward to the next generation. For now, I will continue to embrace what I love in Nintendo. I have no plans to buy a PS4 or XboxOne. I simply haven’t seen anything I want to play bad enough to justify the cost. Perhaps when they release a slim model I’ll get on board. Until then, I’ll sit back and watch how everything unfolds with eager anticipation. It an amazing age for gaming that we live in, after all.