The Case of Social vs. Mobile vs. Console Gaming

While consoles and social games may continue to see a decline in the relative share of gameplay time and revenues, they will remain a dominant force in the U.S. in the most literal terms.

No decision presents higher stakes for game developers than which platform they should use. While it may seem tempting to suggest that smart money always hedges its bets, the social, mobile and console gaming ecosystems require their own unique approaches, and few designers or studios, if any, can expect to truly excel across the whole ecosystem.

Below, we’ll look at how three current platforms for video games – the social network, the smartphone, and the dedicated console – are currently faring, as well as predictions on where each could be headed in the not-too-distant future.

Console Gaming 

Two years after the games console entered its eighth generation of hardware and celebrated four decades in existence, it’s not surprising that it has less of a spring in its step compared to younger rivals, like mobile.

However, global revenues from console hardware and software will comfortably exceed $50 billion next year after several successive years of respectable growth. While the growing importance of the worlds’ ‘emerging economies’– including Russia, Brazil, Pakistan and Thailand, has most obviously benefited newer entrants to the gaming market, these countries are also producing a significant legion of players who want to experience the ‘AAA’ content where the console is still the preferred platform.

Without a doubt, console gaming will continue to dominate the U.S. market. Newzoo estimates that console games will generate more than $11 billion in U.S. revenue in 2015 as opposed to mobile’s $7.2 billion.

It could be argued that the console’s relative decline in what the industry calls ‘importance’ – how many people play them and how much – will actually increase its cultural cachet. Just as vinyl records and printed magazines were eventually bolstered by their ‘boutique’ status when they ceased to be the default media in their respective fields, so could consoles. Now that they are just one of many ways to play video games, they can focus more intensively on those areas in which they truly excel.

Verdict: Console gaming will remain dominant in the U.S. for the foreseeable future but loses out on a global scale.

Mobile Gaming

Increasingly, the dizzying rate of technological progress makes it unclear how long the traditional console will hold the majority of clout – at least globally.

According to the same report from Newzoo, that time is quickly approaching. It is estimated that in 2015, mobile games will generate more than $6 billion more than consoles worldwide. The pace of development in smartphone handsets may have slowed since 2007, when makers of devices running the Android operating system raced to meet the challenge thrown down by Apple’s iOS – but this nascent maturity in hardware is just the beginning of the story for mobile game developers.

While the most prominent successes have been casual games like Candy Crush, a growing lineup of mobile titles from AAA developers, such as Deus Ex: The Fall to Republique, have been giving hardcore gamers pause. Additionally, mobile developers are not just satisfied to gnaw away at market share traditionally reserved for consoles. Titles such as Battle of the Bulge entirely re-make the concept of serious gaming in a form that exploits the native characteristics of mobile devices.

Of course, hard statistics are difficult to beat. This is where the current story of mobile gaming cuts straight to the chase: by the end of 2014, global revenues in the sector reached $25 billion – an astonishing 42 percent surge since 2013. Like consoles, mobile devices pair hardware with an OS to encourage loyalty to both: you can’t switch from Android to iOS without a costly change of handset, just as your XBox or Playstation 4 are an inseparable pairing of physical device and software. Although, one can expect that as gaming continues to be a dominant on mobile, we will continue to see more mobile game exclusives.

Verdict: Given the impressive maturity of mobile phones in terms of graphics and processing speed, you now essentially have a gaming console in your hand. For this and many other reasons, mobile will be the leader on a global scale for years to come.

Social Gaming

While console gaming offers possibly the best experience for the user, social gaming made it truly accessible to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. Social networks’ rapid advance as gaming platforms has been fueled not just by technological dynamism, but also by the accessible way they’re set up: there’s usually no up-front cost to play, while in-game purchases can be calibrated to local market conditions.

In the past, the speed of home computers was far faster than Internet connections. That untapped well of processing power enables social game developers to connect with a far wider market that exists for games needing dedicated hardware. Many believe that this scale – and the human contact which lies at the heart of the process – creates the scope for projects of unparalleled ambition.

Revenues in this sector of the industry may still be lower when compared to mobile and console, but steady growth in revenue means that they aren’t as far-gone as some analysts would believe. Moreover, social games are most popular in parts of the world in which overall growth is fastest, such as China.

Verdict: While social gaming’s hype enjoyed only a short reign of dominance in the overall market, it is still a home for many popular casual and strategy MMO games and continues steady revenue growth each year.

Looking forward, each of the platforms discussed can expect to maintain a big role for gamers.

Mobile games will, by early 2015, be king — they’ll attract more players and make more money than any sector of the industry has ever done before. But mobile will never get to experience a sense of complacency as augmented reality and virtual reality continue to mature and inevitably change the landscape. Only time will tell what kind of effect this will have on the market.

Gabi Shalel is the chief marketing officer and a co-founder of Plarium, a social and mobile game developer with over 130 million users worldwide and 3 million daily active users. Since the company’s inception in 2009, Gabi has directed marketing initiatives to support the launch of popular titles, including Stormall: Rise of Balur and Total Domination: Reborn.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.