The new Microsoft-Sony console smackdown

(MoneyWatch) Lines of die-hard fans greeted the new PlayStation 4, which Sony (SNE) began to ship today, amidst reports of some defective units. Next week, Microsoft (MSFT) comes out with its Xbox One console.

Some analysts think that smartphones and tablets will become the primary screenfor gaming. Sophisticated games can run from a cloud on almost any smart device. So why would these two giants of the traditional console gaming world keep pushing their lines? For several reasons.

One is that neither Microsoft nor Sony is a dominating force in mobile. They have general mobile devices and Sony has dedicated mobile gaming machines, but neither is close to influencing that market, let alone controlling it. Giving up consoles, which give the companies significant revenue streams from game royalties and licensing, would cause them economic harm without at least replacing the lost income with mobile offerings.

In addition, both console lines have been full-fledged hits, providing some consumer legitimacy. Given the difficulties and disappointments that both Microsoft and Sony have faced, giving up such a connection to any significant group of consumers would be difficult.

Aside from interest in the gaming industry, both the Xbox and PlayStation have proven themselves important in other aspects of consumer marketing. Millions of people regularly stream music and videos through the consoles and interact with other users in specialized social networks connected to the devices and their associated online systems. Game consoles have proven themselves gateways to people's homes for media services that could potentially be worth more than the games that started them.

Finally, gaming consoles and game titles are long term in their development and investment needs. Both companies have clearly been working on the new systems for years. Walking away from such a commitment would be difficult and expensive. By manufacturing the hardware and bringing the consoles out, both companies have time to recoup costs and gain some profits while trying to figure out what makes most sense as their next moves.