On the eve of E3, the largest gaming conference in the United States, the video game industry faces a distinct crossroads.
And tablets are the reason.
The era of the console—dominated by the likes of Sony, XBox and Nintendo—is on the decline.
Casual gamers are not rushing to the store to buy the latest version of Mario any more. Not when it’s much easier, and cheaper, to swipe a couple of times and download a dynamic game to your tablet of you choice.
At this point, if you are a tablet owner and haven’t played Angry Birds, you are in the distinct minority. Tablets are superseding all other mobile gaming platforms, eating into sales of the consoles makers’ derivative devices.
How many people do you really see walking around with a Nintendo 3DS these days? Not many. But, almost everywhere you look you will see somebody futzing around with an iPad, playing Cut The Rope or Fruit Ninja.
Games are the largest category for both tablet and smartphone applications. Analytics company Flurry said that games were 52% of all application sessions (a session is when an app is opened and interacted with by a consumer) on mobile devices from January to February of this year.
Social networking was second with 22%. The amount of people playing games exploded in the first three months of 2012, seeing 20.5 times growth from the same period in 2011.
Video game retailers have taken notice. Last week, GameStop announced that it would be selling Android tablets at 1,600 of its locations across the United States. In addition, the retailer is preloading tablets with a multitude of games, including Sonic CD and Riptide.
GameStop has five Android tablets on its retail roster ranging from $229.99 to $499.99. That includes two from ASUS (TF300T 10-inch and Transformer Prime), two from Acer (Iconia 10.1-inch and Iconia 7-inch) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1-inch with 16 GB of storage space.
None of those is an extraordinarily desirable tablet, except for maybe the Transformer Prime and the Galaxy Tab. But when a consumer buys a tablet exclusively for gaming, the priorities of the consumer change.
Natural tablet functions like email, Web connectivity and utility apps take secondary importance to how well the tablet stands up as a gaming platform.
That is where the cross section of tablets and gaming gets very interesting. Because it comes down to defining the very nature of what a tablet is.
Among other things, they are enabling innovative game makers to build well-made, dynamic games that take the experience from relying on the television or computer and literally put it in the palms of the user’s hands.
Imagine the ability to play some of the best console games you’ve ever played with a large screen that you’re using as a touchscreen. A tactile experience like that understand places the player closer to the game experience than ever before.
The devil, of course, is in the details. Are consumers going to go to a GameStop to buy a $399.99 Samsung Galaxy Tab so they can have a better experience playing Angry Birds Space? Not likely.
But If a game like Diablo III could give a player the same type of experience on an iPad or an Android tablet that it does through a console for a fraction of the price, then it’s time for console makers to be afraid. Very afraid.