Handheld gaming was a huge part of growing up for me. Before I got my consoles it was all about Nintendo. Gameboys, DS’es; most of us have fond memories of taking our favourite games in our bags ready to play anywhere. Even the PSP and its Vita successor will hold fond memories for many gamers…

…But has the reign of the handheld game come to an end?

To start with, we just have to look at the dwindling figures of handhelds of the past. The Nintendo DS sold 154 million units globally whilst it’s successor, the 3DS, sold only half of that at 74 million worldwide. We see the same trend with the PSP and Vita pulling in 80 million and just over 15 million respectively. I expect if further handhelds in this vein were sold we would see even less sold.

To put it simply, the era of the handheld is over. Now, I know we’ve just gotten the Switch Lite announcement, which is in effect a handheld only Switch… But I’m certainly not expecting it to pull in numbers even close to it’s handheld predecessors or console alternative. Gamers these days want more – Bigger, better, and more beautiful options. I personally think huge advancements in mobile gaming are to blame. Why carry round a phone, a tablet AND a handheld, when you can get your on-the-go gaming just by using your phone. It’s convienient, its accessible, it doesn’t require an extra purchase, and furthermore there are now tons of amazing games you can get right to your mobile device. Take for example the wildly popular Stardew Valley!

Mario maker for Nintendo 3ds

Mobile gaming just makes more sense these days. Yes, I am separating mobile gaming from handheld gaming, and this is because I’m defining handheld gaming as something you play on something that is purpose-made for gaming solely. Sony has already given up on pursuing handheld gaming, partly because competing with Nintendo in this market is like going up against a giant, and likely because mobile gaming stops it’s viability dead in the water.

Games are expensive to develop, so it makes no sense to pursue an avenue that holds relatively low income. Focusing on mobile gaming is a far smarter business avenue. There’s a large range of people you can reach, and it’s where the more casual gamer now resides – This casual gamer is who handhelds have always appealed to; a cheap, easy way to play fun and simple games.

These days, handheld gaming has more of a nostalgia appeal than a big moneymaker, hence why we are seeing things like the Playdate come to market. Something that’s not going to be a huge moneymaker but will make enough due to its cute simple and nostalgic design. It makes no sense for the big guns in the business to continue pursuing it… It belongs to the indie market now!

…However I don’t see this as a big loss. As I already mentioned, mobile gaming is becoming increasingly popular and it’s here to fill the handheld sized hole in our gaming lives. Whilst different companies work on and master this new market, the big boys are free to work on the masterpieces in our lives. Big beautiful games to go on high powered consoles and big screens. Adventures we can sit down at home to be comfortable with and enjoy. Sony and Nintendo can direct their time and energy into bringing us more Horizon Zero Dawns, Spidermans and Breath of the Wilds.

…And yes, I know Nintendo are starting to tackle the mobile market; I think this is one of the biggest indicators that handheld gaming is dead. All in all… My obvious conclusion is handheld gaming is of the past. But I really think it’s for the best… It was fun whilst it lasted!

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