Mobile Entertainment and the Living Room

When people talk about the biggest threats to Nintendo consoles these days, more often they talk about Apple and mobile gaming in general – which is now considered a threat to consoles in general. I don’t think I’ve devoted a whole post yet to why I disagree with that sentiment, at least not since these opinions have intensified.

I think infamous analyst Michael Pachter has said at least once (probably more than once) that the casual market Nintendo carved out isn’t buying consoles again. Of course you also have all the traditional news outlets assuming that mobile has cut into Nintendo’s financials. May 2012’s NDPs have also given a pretty pessimistic outlook on console gaming right now, with the Xbox 360 “on top” at a mere 160,000 units sold – down over 40 percent year-over-year. Most recently though you have David Jaffe declaring that mobile will indeed be the end of console gaming in the next decade.

My problem with this view is that I’m not convinced that mobile devices and tablets have conquered the living room. I’m not even convinced they’re the same market yet, but that could just be my experience.

I still haven’t seen people reconfigure their living room entertainment experience around phones and tablets. As far as I’ve seen, people who own game consoles still play them, and I still haven’t seen people directly pass up turning on the TV to turn on the iPad when in the living room.

The way I see it, people today still consume their living room entertainment in largely the same way they did 20 years ago: through a cable box, movie player, or game console attached to a TV. Over the last few years smartphones and tablets have completely changed mobile computing, but that same paradigm shift hasn’t arrived in the living room yet.

My brother, who seems to be ultimate early adopter in this regard, has started watching movies by attaching his iPod Touch to Apple’s HDMI connector, and I’ll admit the image quality is impressive for standard def. Just turning your mobile device into a set-top box makes sense – if they can just give you a way to control it by remote, which as of this typing I haven’t seen yet. There are some 3rd party workarounds but as far as I know nothing official from Apple.

The point is, I haven’t seen anything come in and really threaten to replace cable boxes and DVD/Blu-Ray players yet. There are things on the market that could eventually do this, but none of them have made it big yet.

You have smart TVs and nice set top boxes like the Roku, but none have caught on to become a standard in anywhere near the same capacity as what the iPhone became for phones. Even the Apple TV seems kind of obscure compared to its mobile cousins. An Apple TV with its own complete app store could be a big deal, and perhaps an iTV could be too, but I’m not sure yet.

How many people are really going to pay $1000+ just to get iOS in their living rooms? Much less do it periodically. There’s a chance that if Apple does release one, the games developed for it could cut into console game sales, but in a previous post I already compared software revenue between iOS and conventional gaming. I’m also not convinced mobile gaming is what’s cutting into console financials right now.

There are way too many other factors coming in. For Nintendo alone you’ve got the fact that the Wii hasn’t really had anymore big games in the last couple years along with the strong yen. Wii Sports Resort and Wii Fit were big, but Angry Birds didn’t really steal their thunder – Nintendo just neglected to provide follow-ups.

For console sales in general you’ve got the fact that the current consoles are ancient by normal standards and may have reached saturation. I think we should at least wait until next gen consoles actually launch, then decline compared to their predecessors before we declare the whole market in danger. It’s also not like consoles can’t adapt.

I’ve said several times on this page already that Microsoft seems to be going in a media/app direction with the Xbox, trying to turn it into a general purpose set top box that does for your TV what your iPhone does for your pocket. Sony and even Nintendo are slowly moving in that direction, and Apple hasn’t made their move in that area yet.

In terms of actual games that appeal to the casual audience, nothing on iOS has replicated the family-oriented experience from games like Wii Sports or Just Dance. In a post-iOS world, games like Just Dance and Dance Central have even been able to gain mainstream traction. Nintendo has the former probably launching with the Wii U along with Wii Fit U and a new 2D Mario. If the audience that bought Wiis still recognizes the need for multiplayer gaming in the living room I have a feeling those games could sell a ton.

Now I could totally be wrong about this and it occurs that the mass market just doesn’t see video games as something you should enjoy on a TV screen. Maybe Apple finally does enter the living room space and changes it forever. I’m just trying to point out that right now, I don’t see a direct link between mobile gaming and console gaming.

BULLETS:

  • For some reason whenever I’ve got time to kill on the go, I’m more likely to read a book on my iPhone than play a game. The books I buy on iBooks and Kindle are much better at holding my attention than iOS games.
  • Thief II is $5 right now: http://t.co/opHLDCOE
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