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Where the Future is Headed for Handheld Gaming

From left to right: iPad, Nintendo 3DS XL and Dell Latitude netbook

The future makes us anxious since we don't know what will happen. We can, however, discuss what might happen, what's (un)likely and what possibility belies in its path, to seek even an atom of hope where it may outshine its uncertainty. Despite all that went on this year, talking about the video gaming world, it's important to know whether handheld gaming will still continue production. This topic of discussion is in response to the modernization of portable gaming, so let's see what may transpire in the coming years:

We all know that PS Vita barely hung on, and with the cost of purchasing proprietary accessories made it a pricey handheld to own (despite the hacks, which Sony would quietly counteract with new system updates). While the Nintendo Switch [Lite] could, by definition, be perceived as a handheld, we haven't seen/heard much after PS Vita's exit. Are there reasons to look toward a new handheld system? Various third-party companies have done their own independent developments, that happen to remain in tact with older games, from Game Boy to even Neo Geo Pocket games. Because the handheld market is an outlet to introduce portable version of games, and/or games with its own exclusives, we feel the future may meet the same fate as the PS Vita: Depending on price and features, many gamers won't purchase unless the price is right (also if the system allows support and usage of non-proprietary accessories).

Two words: Mobile gaming

Since gaming gradually went digital and sold titles online, or in app format, it's been very accessible for both casual and diehard video gamers to get a hold of these games. Plus, at a nominal price, it's tough to turn down. Granted, since all apps don't run across the same operating systems, it hasn't stopped handheld gamers from exploring and playing mobile versions of their favorite titles. As long as you have enough space on your phone, not bloated with apps that you use a few times per month, why not play games on your smartphone or tablet? Why shell out another hundred dollars or so on a new device and, on top of that, spend another batch to buy games compatible with the system? That's where things get tricky during this time (hello, PSP Go), because unless you're purely hardcore and/or a video gaming collector, it wouldn't make sense to spend that kind of money. What if the game developers release a mobile version of the game, wouldn't you want to play that instead, costing you less than half the price?

Questions like that seem to harken back when debates about gaming on PC or on a console started spewing (still being discussed today). As you know, nowadays, the thing video gamers judge are graphics of the game. (We're old-school video gamers, so the days of simply playing a game, and the graphics being secondary to gameplay is still stuck with us.) While we agree on having our video games play smoothly without lag, what do graphics tell us in this modern age? Will a mobile game with lower-end graphics, to compensate for internet speed and frame rates, be less desirable than a game played on a handheld console? Along with WiFi and Bluetooth, to pair wireless [external] controllers with the handheld system, dedicated handheld consoles can serve on its own. However, how long will video gamers commit to such handheld, given what happened with the PS Vita?

The question we've asked so far seem to 'teeter' toward the economics, as we feel that price is a factor. Nevermind the simple features such as internet connection, but adding more features to a handheld means turning the console closer to a computer. The Nintendo Switch blurred the lines with gaming portability. serving as its own stand-alone console that can be connected to a big-screen TV. Where will the video game companies stand going into the new generation of consoles? If adding more features turns their consoles into CPUs, wouldn't gamers consider a gaming computer instead?

On the rise again, Ultra-mobile PCs, or UMPC for short, are gaining momentum, thanks to Chinese companies such as GPD, becoming a unique choice for portable gaming. Granted, since these are still computers, its horse power leaves a lot to be desired, in comparison to today's 2-in-1 laptops. Sure the screens and the keyboard real-estate are too cramped, but because these devices serve enough strength, we're looking at a new system that could potentially pose a challenge to both handheld consoles, gaming/mobile laptops, and even tablets. Seems like the choice to have an all in one device is starting to ramp up, and these micro computers are sneaking up slowly at a modest price (depending on computer specs). While making sense of its audience and their usages for these computers, it's only a matter of time that bigger companies jump the bandwagon. Doesn't it feel nice to carry a portable computer, enough to satisfy your general web browsing, system administration work, software development, while being powerful enough to play games, having a touch screen, convert into a mini tablet/phone being able to do handwriting and/or compose your own illustrations? Perhaps, it is such thing that may be the big crave of today's consumers, let alone video gamers. As you know, Steam is compatible on the Windows, Mac and Linux systems, and these micro computers meet above the minimum specs, it's hard not to consider them for gaming. Oh, and being able to connect to an external monitor? Yes, that's possible with these machines.

We'll ask again: Is there a future to look forward to with handheld consoles? Even though third-party companies see this as a simple opportunity to create a small, mobile project, despite having better odds of generating sales on platforms like Steam, it sure feels like handheld gaming has made this quiet "detour" onto mobile devices, making video gamers used to playing games on the go. By today's standards, it's making less sense not to play on a device you already own, given the game's requirement of an internet connection or not. In other words, when it comes to games, we want to play and want to play now—the philosophy of today's gaming. Sure, there are differences playing the full game and its mobile/handheld version, but again, we feel the costs added to a handheld system is making it less attractive to those who can consider other options to play the game while embracing its entire features—better frame rates, responsive controls, higher-quality graphics and crystal-clear sound.

Whether Sony or Nintendo feel the handheld market is still a stable area or not, must we be excited if a new portable console were to be presented? There's still a batch of gamers who'd rather play on a separate system instead of their own mobile devices, but once again, for budget costs, it's a big price tag to pay (that is if the gamer is willing to pay, for both the system and its library of games). It's very difficult to sense the kind of future that portable gaming will have. Both mobile and handheld systems have their pros and cons, but since gaming and computing are becoming more mobile than it has been ten years ago, we feel that there may be a few glimmers of hope to give handheld consoles a few more tries. Unsure about the demand at this point, perhaps a new, fresh handheld system could give another spotlight before officially passing the torch to mobile gaming or 'portable' consoles, as we've seen with the Nintendo Switch (as if it hasn't done so already). Yes. we know everyone has their own choices and everyone is different, however, with new consoles from both Sony and Microsoft, along with unlikely competitors Google and Amazon, the future seems like handheld gaming will face permanent retirement, lending the stage over to mobile devices/portable computing.

That leaves us with a few more questions: Would you like to see another handheld console released in the future? If so, would you purchase it? Do you think mobile gaming will be the standard go-to for video gaming? Will cost be a factor in the release of a new handheld console? Calling all fellow handheld video gamers, let's talk in the comments below!


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