Smartphones and Tablets vs. Dedicated Portable Gaming

An article on TechVibes does a pretty good job outlining some of the challenges that dedicated gaming platforms like the Nintendo DS family and the Sony PlayStation Portable are now facing. The main point is that the cost of the devices, along with the cost of a smartphone or tablet, will act as a barrier to adoption at the same rates as previous generations of the platforms.

What the author didn’t comment on, though, was the incremental cost of the content. This makes the case for the DS and PSP even worse: games for the DS and PSP are anywhere from two to nearly 10 times the cost of a similar game on the iPhone or iPad. Take, as an example, the Madden Football franchise. The upcoming Madden Football for the Nintendo 3DS is listed at CA$39.99 on the BestBuy.ca web site. On the Canadian iTunes App Store, Madden 11 (admittedly, a slightly different game) is listed at CA$4.99 for the iPhone version and CA$12.99 for the iPad version. Even buying the two apps (one for my iPhone and one for my iPad) is cheaper than buying the single copy for the 3DS.

This sort of price disadvantage can be found across a lot of games. A typical game for the PSP or DS can range in price anywhere from CA$25 up to CA$45, unless they happen to be on sale. Similar games on the iPhone range anywhere from CA$3 up to CA$15. The iPad versions are typically more expensive, coming in anywhere from CA$10 – CA$20, although most are closer to low end of that price range from what I’ve seen.

What does this mean for someone who wants portable gaming? That even the most expensive iPad (CA$879.99 for a 64GB with 3G) would be cheaper over the long run for gaming over an (estimated) CA$350 3DS, specifically because of the games. Consider someone who would end up buying around 50 games over a period of two years (basically a game or so each month). On the 3DS, assuming an average $30/game cost, that would mean a total cost of about $1,850 over two years. That same person with an iPad, assuming about $12/game, would have spent around $1,480, or just under $400 less. Now, for the 3G iPad owner with a data plan, that pushes the total cost to about $200 more over the two years.

If you work with the cheapest iPad at $549.99, then the cost difference is even bigger: the 3DS owner would have spent about $700 more. The most expensive WiFi-only iPad reduces that to a $500 differential, but in the end the iPad owner ends up spending less over the two years.

And in those two years, the iPad owner has had access to one of the largest media libraries available with iTunes, the ability to view movies and TV shows through services like NetFlix, and had all of the other benefits of a more general-purpose computing device that the 3DS owner either wouldn’t have, or would have in a more limited form. It is unclear if Skype will be available on the 3DS, but I can get it on the iPhone and iPad, and use it communicate with people on a variety of platforms.

Overall, like the dedicated eBook reader, I think that the dedicated portable game machine’s days are numbered. They won’t go away immediately, and there is still some life in them. But as the game libraries on platforms like iPad, iPhone and the Androids continue to grow, the case for having a dedicated machine (with another charger, and another system to maintain, and more space in the carry-on) becomes less viable.

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