Sales slump in video games accompanies shift to mobile

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Posted: Thursday, July 26, 2012 12:13 am

The current state of console video gaming like Xbox and PlayStation could make the ever-ebullient plumber Mario hang his head as the mobile app Angry Birds and its kind are blowing up more than egg-hiding pigs.

That $65 billion industry presently is mired in an extended sales slump. Video game hardware and game sales continued a seven-month slide in figures released this month by market researchers NPD Group and sales of consoles like Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo’s Wii and other hardware have dropped 45 percent drop from last year.

At the same time, games created for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets are tallying impressive sales and downloads. In only three years, the game Angry Birds, in which a player slingshots birds to destroy green pigs, has topped 1 billion free and paid downloads.

Independent game developers are finding ways to distribute their creations directly to fans rather than trying to win the attention of game company giants such as Activision Blizzard (creator of Call of Duty and World of Warcraft), and Electronic Arts (Madden NFL, The Sims).

Fans intimidated by the $50 and $60 price tags of new console video games are finding mobile games selling for $5, if not offered for free.

“There’s been a huge shift from console to mobile,” Joseph Dolan said, who teaches video game creation at Texas State Technical College.

TSTC’s game development and design program, in fact, now requires students to create and publish a mobile game as a degree requirement.

The move to mobile and how downloadable games are sold online mean new opportunities for independent game designers and developers, who can release their own games directly.

Mobile games are more likely to be what Dolan calls “instant gratification games,” which a person can pick up and play for short periods, such as while waiting in a doctor’s office, standing in line or other time-consuming activities.

But he explosion in mobile gaming hasn’t affected business at Waco’s videogaming center Lansharx, which offers 20 Xbox stations, 40 PCs, high definition monitors and fast online connections that can make all the difference in multiplayer versions of first-person shooters.

Assistant manager Josh Williams, 30, said the 7-year-old business has found a steady customer base thanks to the center’s focus on family-friendly gaming. “Word of mouth has done good for us,” he said. “We still do tons of parties and have overnight lock-ins. We have dads and their sons, dads and their daughters.”

While mobile gaming puts games literally in the palm of one’s hand, it’s hard to share that experience with others through a smartphone. Serious gamers still enjoy playing in front of others who cheer them on — or diss them good-naturedly.“We’re still about the social aspect,” he said.

The rise of online gaming has reenergized console gaming at Lansharx, Williams pointed out, thanks to a flood of new games from indie developers. League of Legends, one such game, has a loyal following at Lansharx with players who feel it’s a more challenging fantasy role-playing game than Activision Blizzard’s enormously popular World of Warcraft.

Lansharx’s group of core gamers turns over every few years with new, younger players replacing older ones who move on, Williams said. That suggests that casual gaming won’t replace console gaming any time soon — particularly since Microsoft and Sony both boast they’ve sold more than 50 million Xboxes and PS3s.

Baylor University film and digital media professor Cory Carbonara believes the present transition in gaming has opened the door wide for young programmers and game developers, with technology suggesting avenues of future game play such as wearable games.

Carbonara, who works with video gaming with fellow FDM professor Michael Korpi and assistant professor Dan Shafer, sees promise in two fields: haptics, or wearable devices that provide feedback through vibration or other sensations, and augmented reality, in which devices add information to an existing environment.

Google is developing glasses with lenses where information is projected. That could be used to turn everyday objects into game icons or real-world locations into game environments, moving games from handheld devices into the open spaces of the real world, he said.

That day may be closer than you think: Baylor Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III is presently working with the FDM division on a project that employs Google Glasses to help a quarterback learn the opposition’s defensive setups, Carbonara said.

A quarterback would wear the glasses in practice, seeing — a la Madden NFL — where the defense is most likely to position its players on certain plays.

If that works, expect to a see a whole range of new gaming applications.


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