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May 15, 2021

Everyone Thought Mobile Would Kill Game Consoles. Here’s Why That Didn’t Happen

Why didn’t Wired’s 2012 prediction that game consoles were going to die because of mobile come true? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

This author fell into a common trap for people making predictions about technology markets (actually growth patterns in general). There is a natural tendency to extrapolate linear, unbounded growth. People are able to add an inflection point and adapt their thinking to exponential growth when they see it, like Moore’s Law or the expansion of the internet. But, for some reason, people don’t do well putting a second inflection point in the curve, and they almost never predict leveling off.

In 2012, smartphones were growing at an astronomical rate, and gaming was a prime application for them, along with a lot of other highly useful applications, like mobile messaging, VoIP calling, web browsing, and social media.

This led a lot of people to think all of the above would shift to almost completely mobile, and alternative platforms would die.

But, there are a few problems with that, and for gaming, they are pronounced:

  • From an HCI (human-computer interaction) perspective, it just isn’t possible for a standard smartphone to provide the user interfaces needed to control and visually process higher end games.
  • High-end games are very resource intensive applications. The power needed to run one would murder the battery of a phone to the point of impracticality, even if a user could properly interact with it. You could certainly have accessories to at least partly address that (like a big supplementary battery pack), but once you go that route you quickly lose the mobility advantage. The same is true of the GPU systems high-end games need.
  • From a business perspective, mobile gaming revenues were not climbing at the same rate as mobile adoption. When there isn’t money to be made, the companies with the best IP don’t have the incentive to push harder into it. While it was a strategic area for all the gaming companies, and most were bullish on it, the way the mobile app marketplaces evolved, with freemium and very low prices being the norm, simply didn’t support gaming companies the way the console game marketplace did.
  • Mobile was clearly growing the overall gaming market, and claiming the lion’s share of that gain. Mobile consoles, like the PSP and NDS, were bound to get crushed, but many people using their phones for games were new to it or were coming from casual games, which are a non-factor on consoles. As such, the growth of mobile gaming was not much at the expense of console.

The bottom line: consoles (or gaming PCs) are still necessary for high end games, and mobile only took a small share of that. There are some people who can’t afford both, and some who have given up high end games for more casual ones, but for the most part people who want to play the Battlefields and FIFAs of the world aren’t able to replace that with their phones. Now, real VR consoles on the other hand…


Craig Bowen

Certified alcohol practitioner. Professional writer. Pop culture fanatic. Student. Explorer. Music scholar. Lifelong creator. Managed a small team developing strategies for puppets in Suffolk, NY. Spent high school summers building toy soldiers in Africa. Spent the better part of the 90's getting my feet wet with magma in Africa. Practiced in the art of writing about heroin in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Earned praised for my work lecturing about bagpipes in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Spent several months working on heroin for farmers.

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