The video game industry is currently going through the next phase of its apparent ongoing evolution. That is, even since smartphones and media tablets became part of the market equation.
According to the latest market study by ABI Research, over 38 million handheld gaming devices from Sony and Nintendo are expected to ship in 2013 -- that's significantly lower than the previous peak of 47 million units in 2008.
Unit shipments following 2013 are expected to decline slightly, but dedicated handheld gaming devices are a sustainable niche, with forecasts relatively flat through 2017.
Smartphone and media tablet use for gaming continues to expand, making the mobile gaming market an increasingly important companion to dedicated handheld gaming.
"Mobile devices will compete with dedicated handheld gaming devices, but select consumer segments like core gamers and those individuals who do not want or have a smartphone or media tablet will still provide some demand," said Michael Inouye, senior analyst at ABI Research.
The addition of mobile gaming is not necessarily a zero sum situation. In fact, many of the industry insiders believe that there's plenty of room in the video game market for both a portable and mobile gaming upside opportunity.
Following an initially strong 1Q 2011 launch, Nintendo’s 3DS experienced a far weaker second quarter, prompting the company to dramatically lower the price of the handheld (from ~$249 to ~$170).
The lower price, with additional titles, spurred sales to over 15 million through the 2011 calendar year. In late 2011, Sony launched the Vita in Japan with a wider launch in February 2012 to decent sales, although the price might prove an issue for Sony as well, despite significantly more robust hardware.
Inouye adds, "The mobile and tablet markets have increased consumers’ price sensitivity. First party developers and key game franchises will be vital cogs for the industry in the future, since hardware alone is not going to cut it given the shorter upgrade cycles for mobile devices."
Recent announcements at E3 from Nintendo and Microsoft, coupled with past mobile-centric initiatives by Sony, make clear that mobile experiences will be integrated into dedicated gaming experiences (both console and portable).