The games toa 100 guide market is booming. Small apps, which can be downloaded for free, achieve several hundred thousand dollars a day. Through advertising and in-app purchases. In the train you hardly see anybody with a PS Vita. Only the Kiddis play Pokémon or Mario on their 3DS. Exceptions confirm the rule. What does the future look like? Will handhelds be completely replaced by smartphones and tablets? Is the offer in the App and Google Play Store better than that from the PS Network?
As part of a lecture at my university, I gave a lecture on the future of mobile gaming and compared handhelds and smartphones. The aim was to predict how our gaming habits will change when we are on the move. Will smartphones completely replace the beloved Game Boys? But let’s start all over again.
What are handhelds? In principle, handhelds are portable video game consoles that have controls, screen and speakers firmly integrated. Often a fixed memory is also built in. The devices should be small and compact so that they don’t take up too much space in your backpack or even in your trouser pocket. The first handheld was the Microvision from Smith Engineering (1979). For the device with the incredibly small display 13 games appeared, but after 2 years the production was already stopped. One year later Nintendo made their first steps with their handheld series “Game and Watch”. For each Game and Watch device there was a firmly implemented game such as Donkey Kong. Smith Engineering wanted to try it again in 1984 and threw the Microvision Epoch onto the Japanese market. Once again the range of games was mau: Only 5 games saw the light of day.
1989 should be the year: With the Game Boy, Nintendo gained supremacy in mobile gaming. The device had a low processor performance of 4Mhz (8Bit CMOS, 8kByte RAM) and a black/white (I correct: green/dark green) screen. But the Game Boy could convince with a relatively long battery life. With Tetris as its launch title, Nintendo had created the perfect device for in between.
But there were also counterexamples: Although the Atari Lynx had quite remarkable success, there were battery problems here because a color screen with backlighting was installed. The lack of games for Atari’s device, which was easier for left-handers to use with the flip key, was also a big criticism.
Many people still remember the SEGA Game Gear. The first battle announcement against Nintendo was made. By the same architecture as the master system at that time, there were already some titles to the Launch, which made the Gamer heart beat faster. Even if the games were partly only ports.
This was followed by many handheld attempts by third-party manufacturers, which were more or less successful. There was the NEC PC Engine, the Watara Supervision or the more popular Neo Geo Pocket. Nintendo defended its pole position in 1998 with the Game Boy Color. This had a big advantage that was important for many users: backwards compatibility. You could just keep the old games and change the device.
Nowadays, hardly anyone cares anymore about this quite important feature. Sony simply offers old games for download via the PS Network for PSP and PS Vita, the Nintendo 3DS also has its own online store and pocket consoles like Pandora are actually only used to emulate old classics.
And where do these smartphones come from? You don’t really have to say much about smartphones. Everyone has such a device and can think for themselves what the word pair has to mean: Smart – smart, phone – phone. So a smart phone. A phone with a computer function. A computer with telephone function. Yes, they are actually just computers with a SIM card slot. The first mobile phone to program games was the Nokia 5110 (1997). Some will remember snake, memory or logic. Especially Snake was a fast gaming experience in German latrines. With the NGage they tried to create a handheld mobile phone hybrid (from here on I use the abbreviation Triple H for this neologism). Nokia’s Triple H had a playing card slot and the keys were more or less intentionally based on the GameBoy Advance.
After some time the Blackberrys and Palm organizers took center stage. Although the NGage already had some features of a smartphone (multimedia player, office applications), the business devices from Blackberry and Palm had other sales arguments. They were mainly used in the management sector and younger mobile phone owners were hardly addressed.
In 2007, Apple took an important step forward with the iPhone: the iPhone with multi-touch screen came along with innovation and beautiful design and eclipsed the competition. For the time being, no app store was planned that would make it possible to install user-specific programs. Since more and more users were using the “Jailbreak” to install their own software, Apple decided to offer this possibility to all buyers. The App Store didn’t just offer office applications: the first games were quickly launched on the digital marketplace. In 2008 Google launched the G1, which was a worthy competitor especially in the USA, but in Europe the average user does not know the device.