Lessons From Tokyo – Small Gaming Devices Are Making A Big Noise

Mark Stephens

The Tokyo Game Show was from Thursday to Sunday last week and one of the traditional homes of gaming is having to come to terms with some fundamental shake ups to the gaming industry.

Far be it from anyone to tell the Japanese that small is beautiful – they practically invented the phrase – but as far as gaming goes there are shifts happening that mean it’s going mobile - more towards small handsets and tablets and away from home-based consoles.

Stealing the Show

The annual show in Tokyo has traditionally been the domain of the big blockbuster games for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii and other gaming consoles. While the games are still represented this year, there seems to be a scaling back of the “stock” manufacturers as sales are down for console games; but in their place has stepped smartphones and tablets boasting an array of mobile gaming options for the next generation of gamers.

mobilePreviously mobile phone games took a back-seat at the show, but it should be no surprise that this year they’ve stepped out to really meet and greet the crowds, because sales of smartphones are spiking worldwide.

Why Mobile Gaming is Taking Center Stage

The technology is now there to allow a great gaming experience on portable devices while people are on the go, so developers are increasingly looking to this new market to display their talents, win followers and create scaled-down games that people come back to again and again. It’s a big challenge and we all know how developers love challenges.

So it should be no surprise that mobile gaming is starting to take center stage and soak up the spotlight.

Portable is Profitable

Akira Yamaoka of Grasshopper Manufacture – a leading Japanese game developer – said that Japan’s traditional gaming industry “absolutely cannot ignore mobile games…. makers of traditional gaming portables might be in a tough situation right now, but this is the reality.”

He went on to say that the mobile gaming industry has already officially over-taken the console game industry in Japan this year, after being around even last year.

He is clearly showing an awareness of the trend away from console-type games to portable versions. Essentially large game developers will always follow where the money is flowing and if the technology is leading consumers to buy more smartphones, that’s where the future of game development surely lies.

Where Console Games and Mobile Games Meet

Mobile games often face a lot of stick from hard-core console gamers for being too easy. The problem that developers in the mobile gaming arena have to solve is how to create games that offer a comparative level of sophistication to the console games, and can maintain the interest levels of serious gamers.

Mobile games are often seen as “lowering the bar” because, by their nature, they have to be able to be operated on a smaller device yet maintain clarity and ease of use.

They have, in effect, opened up gaming to a new audience because many are free to download and play (though charge for in-game purchases.)

Indeed a recent report in Australia said that many parents had received shocking credit card bills after their small children racked up in-game purchases from smartphone games; the truth is that 4 to 6 year olds can and are playing games on iPhones, Androids and tablets these days.

How are the Big Guns Reacting to the Rise of Mobile Games?

You may have read in the news that Nintendo have repeatedly said that they have “no intention” of making mobile games. Along with Sony they have been one of the mainstays of the Japanese gaming industry.

Sony too is forging on and is just about to release a new portable station called the Vita in December 2011. But it’s also going to release an SDK for Playstation Suite, a mobile games platform, this coming November – in a clear nod of recognition to the rise of the mobile gaming market.

It’s going to be interesting to see how things pan out as we go into 2012 and we at Monkeybin will be keeping you across developments in the mobile gaming market as things change – as they surely will.