Portable Gaming - A Future

I first bought a Nintendo SP - the first portable I actually owned - shortly after it's release. I'd played on Gameboy's and Game Gear's before this, but they weren't mine. It took me this long because before this, I'd never really had a solid enough cash flow and to be honest, I'd spent more than enough on games. I wasn't too sure how a handheld would fit in.

After a few years of playing games on the SP, I had grown use to having this alternate avenue of play. It was different from the home consoles, and it had that added edge of convenience; I could play whenever I liked.

This is one of the reasons why most people like these platforms. It's convenient, and they like to be able to game wherever they are. But that wasn't really what I liked the most about it. Sure, I enjoyed the convenience, I enjoyed being able to play wherever, but more than that, I enjoyed the mobile escapism it provided. I liked how I could be anywhere, but I was able to disconnect from my surroundings and delve into one of the virtual worlds.This ability really helped me a lot, that mobile escapism allowed me for a moment, to break away from what was happening around me.

When I was 20, I took a year out to travel. I went to Australia. I also brought along my SP. For the vast majority of the trip, I didn't even grab it out of my bag, but - if you've traveled, you may know this - when times went bad, it was more than happy to have lugged it around with me for the previous 7 months or so. There was one point where we were low on cash...very, very low. Work was really hard to find, and all in all, I wasn't having a good time. All of those cool pictures you see of people traveling are real, it can be awesome, but it's no escape from bad days. But, my SP was.

When moral was low, tired of eating crappy food and sick of sleeping in tents, I remembered my SP. I was able to escape. Golder Sun 2 and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, those two games provided a salvation. They helped me. And from that point on, I have always wanted an option to play when and where I like. Portable gaming is something I appreciate greatly.

So that's where I come from when discussing this, there's my context. But before I talk about a future, I build a little on what I have just said, and address a common train of thought; that portable gaming is for bite-sized experiences. If you consider my own past on portable gaming, you can probably guess that I disagree with this assessment.

This is one of the most restrictive patterns of thought to have; why should a platform be limited like this. Sure, you could say it's playing to it's strengths (which it can, and I'll go onto that), but if you look at what is said about the PSP, the announcement of the Vita and even Mobile, it seems to be the general consensus that if trying to do anything but small slices of entertainment, is using the platform incorrectly. "I don't want to play my PS3 games on a smaller screen." is a common complaint, but worded in a number of ways. This kind of complaint is not about wanting games to play to the strengths of the system, this mind set is about decrying games that choose not to.

So, I don't think that games played on portables need to be brief or need to dial down the scale. I also think that Mobile and Tablet are viable platforms, and ones that can be put alongside handhelds. At the moment, the only thing separating them is the software, physical buttons are just a complaint made because there seems to be an odd belief that anything worth playing, needs to be played using physical buttons.

Right now, when I look at the current portable gaming climate, I see Mobile's, Tablet's, and handhelds. It's rich and diverse, and it's now at a level technology wise, where the games that can be made for the platforms can vary greatly. It's a good time to be a portable gamer. We just need to wait for some more games.

This is where I'll talk about the future, and about using the platform to it's strengths.

Outside of the immersive adventures that I have indulged in, portable offers something else. In an age where couch social is losing out, and LAN mostly being impractical, portable gaming is showing how real social gaming works. If you haven't before, try and experience 8 player Mario Kart on the DS. That is social gaming. Others - although I don't play them personally - are the likes of Monster Hunter and God Eater, these are examples of great portable social gaming.

Now, Mario Kart is arguably bite-sized entertainment. But Monster Hunter and God Eater? These two really use the platform to it's strengths. They are deep and rich in content, as much as any home console title (just look into the hours some people sink into these as one reference), but the game has been carved so that it can be played in beats. You can set out on a quest, and have in done with you and your buddies in an hour at the coffee shop or a lunch break. The game wasn't a 'time waster'. It was a few more steps on your overall journey.

A Future

The iPhone 5 was released, some went wild and some shrugged. I was excited. I was excited by a single feature on there, not a new feature, but the first time it was present on a mainstream device; LTE.

The Vita has games like God Eater 2 on the way, and Ragnarok Odyssey and Phantasy Star Online 2 (on iOS too).

The 3DS is going to be hosting Monster Hunter content for some time.

The future for mobile is connectivity, social play. But not on a bite-sized scale, but where you can jump in and out of vast amounts of content. Where you can play a quest while on the bus or in the bathroom. Those connected experiences are not isolated to home consoles or PC's. They can be taken with you wherever you go.

Clouds

Those times where you go from point A to B on sitting at your desk playing Skyrim, can be done while waiting for the train. Your game data is synced across the platforms that you play. You have a fetch quest, herb gathering, you can do it away from your TV screen.

Your portable machine will play the same content, and allow you to tailor what you actually play. You can get to your home device and spend time playing the game rather than reading text quests, or finding the next story location or important marker. You can manage your team, or squad.

A boss battle waits for you when you get home. Grind for some gear or levels so you are ready to play the progressive aspect of the game when you are sitting at your PlayStation.

Filler content won't go away, and sometimes that content can actually be enjoyable. But if you are a busy person, someone who doesn't have a great amount of time to game when they get home, you at least want the content you experience to be meaningful content.

Remember, this is not 'The' Future

This is all potential. It's not certain. It depends on how the consumer takes to these possibilities. There is the very real option that it stagnates, that gamers want bite-size, that they don't want their Nintendo or PlayStation mixing with the iPhone or Galaxy Tab.

It's likely that developers will only see the Mobile and Tablet as 'casual' devices, and fall under the pressure of "real games need buttons", by stumping the creativity and sticking with what is working right now, but not trying to see what could work.

There will be mediocre ports of console titles, with store shelves - digital and physical - selling gutted versions of Assassin's Creed or Resident Evil.

I'm not sure what will happen. I do see a shift in what is being tried on portables and there is some movement towards the right direction. But ultimately, the consumer dictates. What I want, what I think could be the best route, is not necessarily what the mass market wants. This is reinforced by the way most see handheld games compared to how I see them; Respite vs Escape. Or how many believe that some experiences need to be exclusive to certain platforms.

In a future, portable gaming can grow and develop to be the most accessible, connected and deep platforms available to people. One that doesn't ask you for a commitment, but adapts with you. Or, in another future, it's simply what it is now; a mess of me too's, catch-up and bitterness.