Game consoles sticking around despite onslaught of smartphones
By Miwa Suzuki, AFPTOKYO -- Games on tablets and smartphones are better, faster and more varied than ever, but the excitement surrounding the upcoming PlayStation 4 — expected to attract big crowds at this week's Tokyo Game Show — proves consoles are here to stay, say observers.
September 18, 2013, 12:11 am TWN
They point to Tuesday's global roll-out of Grand Theft Auto V, the latest in a multi-billion dollar mega-franchise that dwarfs some Hollywood films, as evidence of the sector's vitality.
Although the market has come off its peak, a hard core of gamers will continue to demand their favorite titles on high-performance machines, they say.
Combined retail sales of game consoles — static or portable — and the software for them topped 700 billion yen (US$7 billion) in Japan in 2007, the year after the release of Nintendo's Wii and Sony's PlayStation 3.
But in 2012, the domestic market had shrunk to an estimated 485 billion yen, according to Computer Entertainment Supplier's Association.
The shortfall is a sharp contrast to the fast-expanding market for social games — those that involve some form of remote communication with others and are usually played in Japan on smartphones and other mobile devices — which now accounts for more than 400 billion yen a year.
Hisakazu Hirabayashi, a long-time games industry analyst who heads Tokyo-based consultancy firm InteractKK, said the casual observer might conclude consoles were on their way out.
“It is a market that is not growing but it is stable,” Hirabayashi told AFP, adding software sales bottomed out in 2009 at 300 billion yen a year and have stayed around there since.
He says consoles can be thought of as a specific entertainment in their own right for a certain sector of society that will never be “won-over” to a different format at the expense of the thing they love.
“They've got their own styles and solid fan-bases ... It's a certain 'cultural mode'” that attracts people, he said.
Hirabayashi says games machines have taken root in people's lives and established traditions that can be seen alongside worlds such as sumo and kabuki.
Millions of people are willing to buy a new installment in a mega-hit series such as Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest “in the same way that kabuki fans will go to the theatre to see their favorite performers in a new version of an old play.”
Games evolved on a series of technological innovations but “game content has become a traditional, conservative industry,” he said.
Sony is addressing its core audience with the upcoming PlayStation 4, he said. There will be “no leap (in sales) but no flop either,” he said.
Big titles still generate excitement.
Grand Theft Auto V, the latest addition to the multi-billion dollar franchise was making its worldwide debut Tuesday.