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Kwalee CEO David Darling asks, are handhelds on death row?

Codemasters founder lays out mobile revolution
Kwalee CEO David Darling asks, are handhelds on death row?

David Darling CBE co-founded British games developer and publisher Codemasters in the mid-eighties along with his brother, Richard.

In 2011, David founded Kwalee, a mobile developer focused on social multiplayer games.

Recently, I wrote a blog article on the Kwalee website, which was widely reported, describing consoles that use physical media as dinosaurs heading for extinction.

New devices using digital distribution will take up their mantle and create better gaming experiences, and this applies just as much to handheld gaming as it does to gaming in the living room.

The first problem with these console dinosaurs is the way that they distribute games in cardboard and plastic that's shipped around the world. This makes no sense, since mobile devices these days have wi-fi and/or mobile data connectivity.

But even though you can download Vita titles and the 3DS will soon offer full-game downloads selling games in a box forces the consoles to adopt silly pricing. These games are often sold for more than £30/$40, but they should be so much cheaper, or even free.

Gamers of the future will want to just download a game, play for free, and then have the option of paying for enhancements to the gaming experience that they are already enjoying.

Survival of the fittest

Of course this already happens with iOS, Android, and Windows Phone devices. Together they sell by hundreds of millions of units, so when a game goes big on these platforms, it goes very big.

A billion Angry Birds downloads says it all, when compared to only 150 million Nintendo DS consoles sold in total.

As for the Vita, that has only sold around two and a half million units, so it is hardly worth developing for.

It just doesn't make much sense for Kwalee to work on a game for a machine with such a relatively small installed base when we can make a game for over a billion potential customers on mobile.

Sony has had its fingers badly burnt with the Vita and it may never make another dedicated handheld gaming console. Nintendo will also learn from this and the 3DS could well be its last dedicated handheld gaming console.

Talkin' tablets

Of course, it is not just phones that make up the revolution in pocket gaming there are also tablets. The iPad has been a phenomenal success, well beyond what anyone expected, but now there is a new generation of powerful 7-inch tablets appearing that are far more pocketable.

The Google Nexus 7 has a quad-core CPU and a 12 core GPU for $200, and has generated so much buzz that it is sold out everywhere. Asus cannot make enough to keep up with demand.

This is likely to be followed by a new 7-inch Kindle Fire and similar sized tablets from other hardware manufacturers. And there's always the possibility that Apple could launch its own 7-inch slate.

Head in the cloud

Furthermore, the great thing about the future of mobile gaming is that it will happen largely in the cloud.

Soon you will be able to play the same game on your desktop PC, smart television, phone, or tablet, wherever and whenever you want. Being constantly connected allows these games to contain rich social experiences too, which makes dedicated handheld gaming consoles look outdated by comparison.

Aside from their portability, mobile phones have a lot more functions than an under-the-TV console box. In a recent study, smartphone users spend only 12 minutes a day on phone calls, but 15 minutes on playing games.

A mobile is a Swiss Army Knife of features. A console is not.

And since mobile devices live with you 24/7, they have the potential to be far bigger than desktop and living room gaming combined. This allows for a far more satisfying gaming experience too, in everything from turn-based games through to RTS, RPG and many other genres.

It is massively exciting to be a part of this revolution, just as I was a part of the original 8-bit home computer revolution and then the console revolution. This time it's even more exciting because it has unleashed a wave of creativity where anything is possible.

As I browse the App Store I continually find brilliant products that amaze me with their innovation. This truly is the golden age of gaming.

You can find out more about Kwalee on the company's website, read more of David's writings on his blog, or follow him on Twitter.