August 18, 2006

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The Power of Portable Gaming

I just discovered an article in the Sankei news that says that this year, for the first time, portable game devices outsold stationary consoles in Japan. This was because of the overwhelming popularity of the Nintendo DS. Over 10 million units have been sold in Japan. Games such as Brain Age, that have crossed the boundaries of age and gender are a cornerstone of the growth of the handheld gaming market. By contrast, the PSP is struggling, and has only a fraction of the market of the DS.

Although the article does not mention this, it is probably worth noting that households are likely to make an investment in multiple portable game devices though not more than one of each brand of stationary console. It is quite common for sibs to each have their own DS, but probably less common to have their own PS2. This trend seems to mirror the relation between the PC and the mobile phone in Japan. The PC is often shared between household members and is the more powerful multi-function device. But the mobile device is the personal one-per-person device that ends up seeing the most use.

This summer I loaded up on new games for my DS. In addition to Brain Age, I also picked up the new DS interactive cookbook and the kanji training game. These are rounding out the more standard stable of games like Super Mario Brothers, Yugioh, Animal Crossing, Naruto RPGs and Pheonix Wright Ace Attourney that have also been keeping me happy on my plan rides. My daughter is currently hooked on the Tamagotchi DS game which is a twist on an Animal Crossing-like play mechanic. She is waiting eagerly for the Oshare Majo DS game which debuts this fall, and features a hardware attachment so kids can swipe their fashion item trading cards to dress up the two girl characters. I'm debating whether it is worth getting the wifi connector so that I can use my DS as a browser, but my guess is I'll probably continue to rely on my laptop for that set of functions.

Its exciting to see that handheld gaming space expand into new genres, demographics, and play formats. The current developments with the DS may be a preview of some interesting trends in device convergence and portable computing in the coming years.

Posted by Mizuko Ito at August 18, 2006 3:06 PM

 
Comments

I am fascinated by your area of work and cannot help but wonder where the mobile revolution will stop and to what extent it will change the way we live our lives. I find work being conducted in Japan relating to mobile technologies in generally (cellphones more specifically) enormously insightful in guiding my own interest in the Australian context. It is almost like Japan gives us a vision of what we might be like in 5-10 years times. But by then, how far down the road towards Tiffin and Terashima's 'HyperReality' (2001) will Japanese socity be?
Sophisticated portable game consoles (like the PSP) are still relatively new in Australia, and relatively scarce, especially by comparison to mobile phones. Therefore this work provides an excellent insight and line of guidance for future research in other societies and cultures. I will bookmark this page and continue to read.

2- Mimi Ito

Thanks for your comment Calvin. It does seem like Japan tends to be an incubator for new portable technologies/media. But I'm also very curious about uptake in other parts of the world and how Japan-origin tech does or does not fit in.

I do agree Mimi!
It’s very interesting to see how Japan truly is a incubator for great game development and innovation in terms of user interface, game metaphor and themes. And its great fun to see how the world slowly but surely takes it to its heart.
Cause that is very much what its all about when it comes to what happens in the world. To get used to the lingo, the metaphor and the expressions. To understand a media language, to understand an art form.

When I first started to read Manga it felt fun.. but very alien.. there was so many new and uncommon expressions, differences in way of telling a story and design of the universes then what I was used to. Still, being European (Swedish) and not American, I think it was easy for me to adopt. Having the great French, Belgium and central European comic culture as my breast milk, reading the excellent Metal Hurlant, since I ever got my hand of a copy, reading all the European folklore and novels I ever could get my hands on, I was used to strange storytelling and twisted and complicated plots and stories just told due to the share beauty of storytelling. But still, it was a few years of training and adjusting of mindset before I truly and fully started to understand Manga and Anime, Japanese games and toys.

I think the great need for content today. The many cable channels, the DVD explosion, the game console development, the mobile media needs and the internet innovations of the nest gen net, demands so much content that the west just can’t supply the needs. The Japanese market has been ready for almost 2 decades now and the wave, the backlist of manga and anime just flows like a bulked up tsunami over the western world. During the 80:s I read that Japan had about 80 000 professional artists working in the media industry with Manga and Anime. This was before the real explosion coming from Japan. The numbers of professional artists today must be enormous.

Still, when Animal Crossing first reached the US, no one seemed to like it or even understand it. It was a game without action, violence (something that most US-Americans can’t live without ironic enough) and it had no real goal. And in Europe no one even dared to bring it on. Probably because the strange reactions from the US.
And this is typical Europe. I often wonder; Why on earth does Europeans sometimes think that what is well received by the US audience will be equally received in Europe ?
Europeans do not share so much with the US in common taste and overall culture as most people seem to believe. After working for 21 years in this business on a global scale ( games, toys, comics, books, internet, mobile media etc) I think there are so many local rules for all and every parts of the world, that very few things really correlates with each other. All things, all branches, all genres and all places has its own sets of rules.

But things have changed. A lot.
New and crazy games are hot now.
Animal Crossing finally made it through, and it is a world known brand, with a great following and new versions out. More and more people looks towards Japan to be able to spot the next game or trend coming from the incubator country no 1 of games and new innovations.

This also means that most young people are used to the very language of the young media of Japan. This also means that does daring enough to try out even the most crazy games, will probably have a small if not a big success.

The audience is ready.
Bring it on.

4- Samara Maia Mattos

Hi Ms. Ito,

I'm a brazilian design student, and one of my deepest interest is eletronic games. I would like to study more this subject, but here in Brazil, just now that we are having this kind of approuch to video games. Even the government is starting to see the power that game has.

But, you know, I'm a little lost on how I should start reseaching. I was thinking about a master degree, but I don't know about what yet.

So, I'm posting here to ask you for some advice, and, if possible, that you could sent you email contact to me. Maybe you can show me where to start preparing myself to have an idea for the master degree.

thank you for your time.

ps: sorry for my english...

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