New portable consoles turn gamers into hardware agnostics

I’m not the player I used to be. Over the past year, my gaming habits have undergone a fundamental shift. Where I used to spend my game time lounging on the couch immersed in the blue and white glow of the TV, these days I’m more often found in odd corners of the house or outdoors, playing games in the palm of my hand. palm. It’s all thanks to a new device in my life: the Steam Deck.

Released at the beginning of the year, this portable gaming PC has finished the job that Nintendo Switch started in 2017 – and revolutionized handheld gaming. While mobile devices were the mainstays of gaming during the 90s and 2000s, the arrival of the smartphone seemed to mark the end of that era — why have a separate device for games when you can play them on your phone? A decade later, everything has changed. Mobile devices are on the upside again. At least six companies have announced or released portable consoles this year alone. But why do people choose handheld devices over powerful smartphones or home consoles? And what does this tell us about the future of media consumption?

The first Game Boy in 1989 was a revelation. This was the device that released games for free. Now you can decide what and where you want to play. It only had two main buttons and a black and green screen, but that was enough – you could play Super Mario Land or Tetris while riding the bus to school and nothing could be more magical than that. Sony did come out with two stylish and attractive portable consoles, the PSP (2004) and Vita (2011), but when the latter fell out of favor, it fell out of the handheld market.

Nintendo had more success with the DS, a strange device that had a hinge and two screens and could be triggered by blowing into a microphone. It was the epitome of the quirky hardware innovations that still define the company today. This year’s retro Playdate controller, which can be controlled with a windable crank, is a throwback to that era.

With the advent of powerful smartphones around 2010, it seemed like handheld game consoles would be usurped just like clocks, calendars, calculators, and MP3 players. However, the early promise of mobile gaming is yet to be realized. Mobile games are making more money than PC and console games (although the market has shrunk this year), but they haven’t earned a reputation for quality gaming experiences because the mainstream free-to-play business model encourages the creation of shallow, money-hungry games. Meanwhile, many gamers lament the lack of buttons — touchscreens aren’t for many types — and the fact that notifications can interrupt their sacred gaming time. Instead of replacing handheld game consoles, phones have created a neighborhood market for casual gamers.

Nintendo Switch redefined mobile gaming in 2017 © Wachiwit / Alamy

It took the Nintendo Switch in 2017 to redefine mobile gaming. The company’s innovation was to offer a hybrid console that could be played on the go or inserted into a dock and played on TVs at home. The long-established boundaries between blockbuster home console games and essential portable games have been broken: now Nintendo’s best talent is creating ambitious games like Super Mario Odyssey And the The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild which can be played anywhere.

The Switch was innovative, but its hardware is weak by today’s standards and only operates within Nintendo’s closed ecosystem. This year’s Steam Deck addresses both of those problems by offering an (albeit bulky) gaming laptop, powerful enough to play Sheikh’s ring. It’s also radically open – you can use it to access your entire existing PC game library, emulate older consoles and even use Netflix or Xbox Game Pass.

Logitech and Razer, two hardware makers with strong assets in gaming, are now planning to enter the mobile market with hardware dedicated to cloud gaming, which means gameplay is processed on a remote computer and you can simply broadcast the results. These developments indicate a growing consumer expectation that our media should be readily available on any of our devices. We have become device agnostic.

Even at home with my own TV available, I find myself drawn to the smaller screen. While to some, multiple screens may seem like a harbinger of the tech world, I find it soothing to curl up on the couch and play a game while my housemates watch TV, knowing I’m not dominating the room with gunshots and blood splatters. If we’re going to spend some of our free time alone, buried in our screens, we might be alone at least.

#portable #consoles #turn #gamers #hardware #agnostics

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