Is the smartphone a legitimate gaming platform?

May 2, 2011, Author: Phil Ubee

Over the past few years we have seen the development of some pretty special Smartphones, with the iPhone leading the market in terms of adding some real quality gaming to the platform, rather than just standard puzzle games and the average flash-based products of yesteryear.

Last year, Microsoft launched Windows Phone 7, which includes Xbox Live integration, allowing you to download and play Xbox Live titles on the go and giving you added opportunity to boost your Gamerscore. This year, Sony have entered the fray with the launch of Xperia Play, which includes a flip out Playstation-style control pad and the highest spec graphics in the market, along with Playstation compatibility.

So does this make the Smartphone a legitimate gaming platform to challenge the likes of 3DS and NGP?

Analytics firm Flurry Analytics have released reports that suggest that the Smartphone market is causing both Nintendo and Sony to take a hit in the mobile gaming market. In 2010 this was published via CNET and showed that iPhone had taken an additional 14% of the market the previous year, and just last month The Next Web published the latest results to show that this trend had increased with the introduction of Android phones reducing Sony and Nintendo’s portable market share by a combined 15%.

Making Nintendo Angry.

Over the past eight months we have seen the addition of Windows Phone 7 to the arena, offering Smartphone users the chance to set up or use their Xbox Live account to play games. The phone gives you full connectivity to Xbox Live, including your Avatar and Gamerscore,and any Xbox Live title on the platform comes with the offer of achievements to boot, which will surely lead to next year’s figures showing an even bigger share of the market belonging to the Smartphone platforms.

At the time of writing, we are still waiting for a fully compatible Xbox Live game with Multiplayer opportunities, but in what is a relatively short space of time we now have games that synch to their XBLA counterparts, such as Full House Poker. The WP7 version synchronises your XP and credits to your XBLA version of the game, allowing you to build up your coins on your travels before taking what you’ve gained online via the full version; another string to the Smartphone bow.

XPERIA Play, a truly beautiful device.

Not wanting to be left behind, Sony have released their first Playstation compatible smart phone this year with the XPERIA Play device, offering the highest spec of any Smartphone to date, with a 1GHz CPU and 16 million colour screen. Even as an Xbox fanboy you can’t help but be impressed by it.

All this is on top of the progress Apple have made since the release of its iPhone back in 2007 and the plethora of enjoyable games that can be downloaded onto these devices has moved on considerably from old-fashioned mobile phone games. A quick look at the current top 20 mobile games shows that alongside the traditional mobile games like Bejewled and Pac-Man, we have some more traditional console games like FIFA, Need for Speed and TombRaider leading the way. The playability of these games has also moved on considerably. In fact, I have been playing PES 2011 on WP7 for the past few weeks and at £3.99 it is every bit as enjoyable and fulfilling as the full version and although it is naturally streamlined for the mobile platform it has plenty of longevity and I believe is definitely better overall value.

As good as the console version.

Which leads me onto the next point; Smartphone games are very rarely over £5 to download. Most of the licensed Xbox titles on WP7 sit around the £3 mark with a good selection of independent games available (minus the achievements) from free to just £1 in cost to complement them. From a gamers point of view, it is difficult to see a negative here but Nintendo’s CEO has been very critical of the platform in general stating that “smartphones are bad for games because instead of being focused gaming devices, they’re about as many apps as possible” and “indie developers’ practice of making games free or very cheap, hurt the industry”.

Some will take these comments with a pinch of salt in light of the fact that despite outselling its predecessor, the launch figures of Nintendo’s 3DS were seen as something of a negative overall, with industry analysts expecting much greater figures than the 400,000 units sold in week one. However I think he may have a point. We have seen many criticisms over a lack of new IPs in recent times as software houses follow the money, and casual gamers are seen as a larger part of the market these days generating billions for the likes of Apple.

Without question, current generation Smartphones offer some enjoyable gaming experiences at budget prices and managed well, this can be used by the bigger companies to entice new gamers into the market. My wife, as an example, will sit and play Flowers on my phone for hours on end which gives me a little extra leverage to entice her onto the Xbox with me to play something like Peggle, and who knows from there. I see this as a huge plus as it ultimately gives me more time doing something I love and opens an opportunity to involve her in that side of my life.

Not just for the girlies.

Whether Smartphones can ever replace mobile consoles in my opinion is highly debatable. As good as these games are they are still designed as short “Quick Fix” titles, something to keep idle fingers and minds busy while on the train or, dare I say it, in the loo rather than to challenge and fulfil the average gamer. They will never offer the depth and immersion of a Zelda or Metal Gear Solid, will they?

What do you think? Can Smartphones really replace handheld consoles?