As various rumors surrounding the Sony “PSP2” are bandied about the Internet (not to mention news around the upcoming Nintendo 3DS launch, or potential products from Panasonic (Jungle) or Razr (Switchblade)) one could be forgiven if he or she were to get caught up in the hype and temporarily lose sight of mobile’s threat to portable game players. But for the moment let us consider what the future of portable gaming might look like.
First to the plate will be the Nintendo 3DS (which didn’t come out holiday 2010 as some predicted), which is hoping to usher in a new chapter in the rather nascent 3D market; aiding this effort are some strong features like: 3D slider to adjust the “depth,” Internet browsing, Wi-Fi, 3 cameras (2 rear-facing for 3D photos and 1 front facing 2D camera), 3-axis accelerometer and 3 axis-gyroscope, 3D movie support, and backwards compatibility (DS). In addition the 3DS might encroach upon other devices’ feature sets like eReaders and portable media players.
Whether or not 3D will, in of itself, be a strong enough differentiator to maintain the gap between portable and mobile gaming is still uncertain, but there are some caveats to the glasses free technology that might give some pause. Early reports suggest the 3D sweet spot is rather limited and differs between games – this could potentially impact the user experience if the game supports some of the motion controls. In addition some might point to the 3D TV market as further signs of mixed receptions, although 3D TVs have a number of unrelated (to the 3DS) issues.
Another potential detractor is 3D game/system performance. In other words 3D does not come “free” or necessarily makes for a better experience. Battery power with 3D is expected to hover around 3-5 hours while non 3D games (e.g. DS games) should allow for 5-8 hours – regardless this is lower than the current DS line which ranges from 9 to 19 hours (depending on model and brightness). In addition some have mentioned frame rate reductions when using 3D – again this is not terribly surprising considering reports surfaced that the 3D experience on games like Call of Duty Black Ops were less than satisfactory. Some of the expected launch titles have also been delayed, most notably Kid Icarus Uprising, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Mario Kart Game, and Animal Crossing (all of which might not make it to market until post E3/June 2011). But despite these potential hurdles there is little reason at this point in time to expect anything other than a warm reception, especially given the price at $250 (for US market).
There are a number of possible features for this device which include: 3G (for gaming and data, currently not voice calls), large OLED touchscreen, and likely no UMD support. Of the two the PSP2 sounds more “evolutionary” than “revolutionary”… although depending on the reception to 3D in portable gaming the 3DS might be more of the latter as well. While the 3G feature is not expected to include voice calls (at least for the portable) we might be privy to the next evolutionary step towards a mobile future (that is engulfing/eliminating the differentiating term “portable”). Reportedly NTT DoCoMo in Japan will support the PSP2 although no word yet on other markets.
Other Potential Portable Gaming Platforms
Neither company has confirmed a launch date or even if the product will ever see the light of day, as it were. Panasonic is further along on the road to market, with testing recently announced, but the question remains if the PC gaming market is actually looking for such a portable solution. Both Panasonic and Razer would likely target the online gaming and more specifically the MMO market. While a unique proposition these devices might find the market more niche than lucrative, although if these devices include 3G connectivity (without additional fees) then perhaps the value/appeal might extend further – in other words this would make the device far more portable/mobile than having to track down a Wi-Fi hotspot.
The portable market will surely continue to get folded into the mobile space – 3G connectivity and PSP2 phone rumors are just natural progressive steps towards this near inevitability. While there will still be room for portable game players (e.g. those who don’t want or can’t have a mobile phone) the market will be smaller and likely far more competitive. Regardless, as intimated earlier, we might soon reach the point where portable will mean mobile, and to some this might already be the case.