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Why Handhelds Aren't Dead

by Nathan Mustafa - June 10, 2011, 10:42 am PDT
Total comments: 14

And why we need to take the gaming press with a grain of salt.

Handhelds are dead. I have heard that phrase uttered on far too many a podcast in the wake of this E3's press conferences to not vent somewhere about it. Just last year, the Nintendo DS sold seven million units in the United States alone, surpassing any records for annual home console or handheld sales to date. To date, the Nintendo DS has sold nearly triple the amount of hardware as the Xbox 360. Yet many vocal and respected members of the gaming press insist that handhelds are dead.

Each time I hear predictions that the 3DS will be a wild failure, I cringe. Largely, these predictions are spoken from the mouths of career game critics and journalists who would like you to believe that dedicated handheld gaming consoles are a thing of the distant past. Often, the points raised are that a console like the DS doesn't fit into anyone's lifestyle, and that a phone is much more convenient for gaming.

One could simply fling sales data back at them to debunk their claim that handhelds are a thing of the past, but their claims are more rooted in their personal lives and their apparent inability to see what a small portion of the population they represent. The career game critic has time built in to their work week to enjoy gaming. More often than not, sites put a priority on covering the large console games. Naturally, someone who needs to play games on a television for their job will tend to do so, but this isn't the average person. For the most part, their gaming habits are reflective of someone in high school or their early college years.

Many adult gamers share televisions, and only have the time to game after working hours. For a large portion of us, this means handheld games are a great companion to the small amount of time games are played on the big screen. Even if there is a separate television, some people just prefer sitting in the same room as other humans and don't constantly need alone time with the latest console release. Handheld games are a fantastic way for many to be near their friends and family, engage with them, and still have a bit of gaming.

Let's not forget the kids either. Plenty of new gamers start with the handhelds, and the thing about humans is that there are always new ones being made. Why is it that gaming press members constantly neglect that a significant portion of the games market is populated by young gamers?

Yes, more people are playing games on their phone during the tiny breaks in their days. But handheld gaming isn't just for when one is out of the house. Systems like the DS and PSP afford deeper experiences, with the benefits of physical control that can be played without the need of a television.

The Wii U looks to further cement the idea that the television is often a shared commodity, and that gaming near family and friends whether or not they are participating is a thing of value. Will the press attack the streaming video as a useless feature? Or will they embrace it, and never realize that, all the while, handhelds have been supplying gamers with a similar solution.  


Lady MushroomJune 10, 2011

A very insightful piece. Thank you.

Lives change. At one time I used my GBA mostly on the go, now I almost never use my DS out of the house, but I use it considerably more than the Wii. Also, while I play a little on my iTouch, in odd moments, I wouldn't find it sufficient for an airplane flight.

NWR_pap64Pedro Hernandez, Contributing WriterJune 10, 2011

It should be mentioned that in Japan handheld sales are stronger than console sales, and worldwide they are doing very well. I think the whole 3DS ordeal is forcing people to jump into many false conclusions. Yes, the 3DS is too expensive, it needs more games and shouldn't rely on the whole 3D gimmick. But a complete failure indicative of handheld sales? Very far from it.

KITT 10KJune 10, 2011

Who ever said "handhelds are dead" don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground. I use my Nintendo 3DS at work on my breaks at work EVERYDAY. And I use it at home a lot while still using my Wii and 360. So handhelds are NOT dead, (nor do I see that happening ever).

Sagagadeogo09June 10, 2011

looks @ my, DS collection, Psp Collection and gameboy collection, yep no for phones

jimwood27June 10, 2011

Well said, had been thinking this for awhile too.

EnnerJune 10, 2011

The "handhelds are dead" press seem to neglect the children. Time will tell if smartphones will usurp the Nintendo or Sony handheld even for young children but it is a long ways off. When I see young relatives get as excited with their Nintendo DS systems and Pokemon games like when I was excited with my Game Boy Color and Pokemon games it tells me that there will always be a place for a dedicated and affordable handheld gaming console.

Bman87301June 10, 2011

Handhelds are clearly not dead... as iPads and smartphones are handhelds too. :-P

But seriously, as far as dedicated gaming handhelds go, they're not dead either... but the market will likely remain forever changed since non-gamers are far less likely to buy a specialized gaming handheld, when a device they already own for more practical purposes can do the same thing without them having to make another major purchase.

There's definitely a reason the 3DS was clearly designed more so towards the hardcore crowd, while the Wii U is still going after the causal crowd on the home console front where the market is still largely untapped.

It is likely a safe bet that gone are the days of the games that brought Nintendo into casual territory in the first place... That may also explain why Brain Age 3 seems to have mysteriously gone MIA-- Nintendo realizes gamers are the ones they need to appeal to on handheld front (unless they're looking to partner up with a cellphone manufacturer).

Mop it upJune 10, 2011

The fact that Nintendo is using a handheld as the controller for their next home system is proof enough that handhelds aren't dead.

RazorkidJune 10, 2011

Dear God Man! Thank you THANK YOU for putting into exact words what I have been feeling (which has risen to a crescendo during this week of E3).  I have been listening with increasing disdain to the majority of gaming media (particularly during podcasts) take up the flag of  "DEDICATED HANDHELDS ARE DEAD! John 3:16" especially this week. 
It makes me spew because it's always declared from people WHO DON"T EVEN GAME ON HANDHELDS ON A REGULAR BASIS IN THE FIRST PLACE :Q !?! How much sense does that make? I don't game on consoles that often, does that mean console gaming is dead?!?  And then in the same sentence say that their iDevice takes over that space! What?! Arrrgh!

You brought up several and very poignant reasons why dedicated handheld gaming is very useful to millions and isn't going to go away because the 3DS didn't sell out in it's first 3 months or because the PSP only sold around 70 million units worldwide.

Arrgh!! I have such vitriol in my veins for these stupid comments that are made and perpetuated in our insular community at large.

AVJune 10, 2011

Thank You for such a great article.

I'm sick of this argument too and people bitching that I don't want to carry to much stuff in my pockets.
I carry 3DS, iPod Nano in my left pocket, and wallet and keys in right. I have belt clip for phone. It is not to hard to carry this around, and I have the small cartridge holder that can carry three games that's not big or bulky.

I know iphone has great games but it's few and far between, for every 100 they might be 2 that are great, and 3 that are good. Now many of those have 'good enough' or 'it takes time to get used to it ' controls. Sorry I rather pay more and get better content, better controls, and more worth while package. Time wasters are nice but they don't replace quality products just like mcdonalds is NOT real food but fast crap food.

ThePermJune 10, 2011

Gameboy started off slow, and was practically dead until Pokemon came out. Also 3DS has been out for what 2.5 months? Gluttonous pigs, its not even the holiday season yet? This is the fucking annoying Gimme now generation. Let Wii die its death, give 3ds some breathing room

I've never understood how anybody could say that handhelds are dead.  Look at the market trends...if anything's dead or dying, it's conventional consoles.

If any smartphone tells the story of where dedicated handheld gaming systems are going, it's the Motorola Atrix. Within 1-2 generations, miniturization tech will have proceeded to the point where one box can come with a flip-up screen suitable for taking console experiences portable, and also docking into our 2160p 4D TVs for the big screen experience.

AzagthothJune 12, 2011

Game journalists always seem to forget this. Try as they might to convince me that gamers are hip 19-24 year olds, I know the truth; we are mostly older, married, and have young children. When I made the jump into the current gen consoles I didn't just buy it for me. More than anything I wanted to get a system that I could play with my kids, because I knew they would see me playing it. The opposite is true for my handheld. I can get away with playing games like 999 because they aren't as likely to see me playing it before bed, on break at work, or on the toilet(you know you all do it). I have an ipod touch, an android phone, and a ds lite. The gaming is so much deeper on my lite than anything either of the others have brought to me.

Thanks for saying what we all were thinking Nathan.

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