The release of my most recent report, entitled “The Phone Gaming Revolution: Do the PSP and DS Stand a Chance?,” this week generated a great deal of heated discussion on video game and tech websites that I feel warrants a response from me. The report points to the explosive growth of phone gaming and questions the long-term viability of the gaming-dedicated DS and PSP platforms in light of the proliferation of highly multifunctional smartphones and messaging phones, including the iPhone and Android-based devices (and their cousins, the iPod Touch and iPad).
Some very intelligent points made by many DS and PSP loyalists in response to the report are that phone gamers tend to play casual games, and that they might be new to gaming by virtue of the convenience of phone gaming—thus not representing a threat to the DS/PSP devices, with their established audiences who demand deep, robust games dependent on real-button D-pad functionality. This is borne out by our New Media Measure study to a degree, in terms of both demographics and genre preference.
Phone-only gamers (who do not play on a DS or PSP) are more likely to belong to older demographic groups (25+), and a full 13.3% are over 45 (vs. 4.5% for those who play on both types of devices). Conversely, those who play on both a phone and a DS/PSP, or on a DS/PSP alone, are more likely to be very young and male. One element of Interpret’s general definition for “hardcore” gamers, derived from years of research, is that they play on a wider variety of devices than their more casual counterparts, and are more likely to be male. More importantly in this case, phone-only gamers actually state a preference (27%) for casual games to other game genres, while phone/DS/PSP gamers and non-phone DS/PSP gamers show much higher preference for more hardcore genres, most particularly first-person shooters and role-playing games. This lends credence to the notion that the phone-only gaming contingent is indeed a more casual group, so far.
However, as stated in the press release on my report, the fact remains that 27% of those who own both a DS or PSP and a phone that they use for gaming no longer use their DS or PSP at all. I myself belong to this group, and I very much enjoyed both my PSP and my DS, for years. Those devices are not safe: if phone gamers are new gamers, they are consumers whose attention has now been captured by other game system manufacturers; and if a set of phone gamers have defected from the DS or PSP, those devices have likely not provided a compelling or convenient enough gaming experience to their owners. The aggressive attempts by phone companies to promote use of their devices to satisfy many needs, including gaming, has provided value to consumers that primarily gaming-oriented handheld devices are potentially unable to match, even for those who prefer “hardcore” D-pad gaming with real buttons—which they can do on their consoles at home. As pointed out by many commenters on various websites (including in response to Brendan Sinclair’s GameSpot article “Smartphone gaming catching up with DS-PSP“), a shift to phones for gaming is not least because of the price tags of DS/PSP games, which are wildly expensive compared to phone games. While some pointed to the fact that DS/PSP games generate more revenue than phone games, margins on iPhone games are actually higher than on DS/PSP software, and incumbents like EA are increasingly shifting resources to the phone gaming space.