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Game Developers Conference: Consoles Are Tired; Mobile Is, Um, Wired

The Game Developer Conference traditionally focuses on PCs and game consoles such as the PlayStation or Xbox. This year, however, nearly every company is putting far more energy into social and/or mobile gaming platforms, including Rupert Murdoch's new company, Making Fun. Once relegated to online solitaire and bad versions of Snake, social and mobile games are taking the spotlight away from traditional home game systems. Here's why.

Mobile and social is where customers are
A new survey from the game company PopCap and the Information Solutions Group found some interesting statistics, including:

When asked which gaming-capable device they play games on most often, 44% of mobile phone gamers chose their phones, catapulting handsets past video game consoles (21%) and computers (30%) to the top of the list.

The reasoning is fairly simple:
  • Mobile games are available: Unlike consoles, customers do not have to make a conscious decision to buy a mobile phone for gaming. They already have the gaming system in their hands.
  • Mobile games are cheaper: The hit Angry Birds is as cheap as 99 cents, while the average console game runs $49.95 and is rarely less than $9.99 at its cheapest.
  • Mobile games are accessible: Limited buttons on a cell phone mean games have to be simple and intuitive, unlike the home consoles that sport as many as 17 buttons on their joysticks.
Online social gaming isn't quite as ubiquitous as mobile gaming at this point, but the same advantages apply:
  • Social games are available: Most Americans have access to the Internet.
  • Social games are cheaper: Zynga's Farmville and nearly all other major social games are free.
  • Social games are accessible: The online environment (issues with latency, etc.) makes the games simpler.
Consoles gaming is available elsewhere
A decade ago certain video game experiences were exclusive to the home console, but advances in the social and mobile gaming platforms have changed all that. There is now less incentive for the average consumer to buy a console and, more importantly, the games that come for the console.

The past year has been particularly interesting for non-traditional gaming markets:

My BNET colleague Ben Popper said about OnLive last June:

...with the launch of the streaming game service OnLive this weekend, the death of expensive consoles from Microsoft (MSFT), Sony (SNE) and Nintendo (NTDOY) may finally be in sight.

I'm skeptical that consoles will go away entirely, but signs say their role will soon be the equivalent of the television: A living room set piece that has taken a backseat to YouTube, iTunes, and other media channels.

Photo courtesy of farnea // CC 2.0

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