With the great development from Nintendo DS in the 2000’s, handheld gaming continues to be a major force within the entertainment industry. The successes of today’s handheld platforms pay great tribute to the consoles that once dominated our lives, such as the Game Boy and the Game Gear. Sales on smart phone applications, PSP Go and Nintendo 3DS games continue to play a large role in the overall market for video games. A look back over the years proves that there have been plenty of different styles on the way to the current state of handheld gaming and just how far the sector of the market has come.
Milton Bradley released one of the first handheld gaming devices back in 1979 with the Microvision, a large machine with a black and white LCD screen. The system included ready-to-go versions of paddle games and limited play, which led to relatively poor sales. Even though it didn’t stick around, the system was used as a model for later designers of handheld games.
Throughout the mid 1980’s there were a couple more game machines, but none that really stood out. The Entex Select A Game Machine was released in 1981, but was still rather large. It was designed for two players to participate and was usually played on a table where both could sit down and see. The machine contained a vacuum fluorescent display which led to a number of sight issues and a limited amount of video games ultimately had a major effect on its downfall. In 1984, the Epoch Game Pocket Computer set the track for some future systems. It had a black and white LCD display which used cartridges. It was released in Japan, but failed to truly gain any steam, leaving the market open for others.
Before Nintendo really turned the handheld market in its favor, they developed the Game & Watch in the early 1980’s. These platforms are particularly interesting because of their striking resemblance to today’s current DS line. Individual games were released with their own LCD screen, as well as a clock and alarm. Over 60 game & watch titles were developed, as Nintendo has clearly taken strengths such as the dual screen and flip style formatting to develop their popular line today.
The industry was revolutionized in 1989 when Nintendo released the Game Boy platform. It had a long battery life, as well as a number of games available. With over 100 million units sold after its original release, Nintendo went on to develop Advance, Light and Color versions later in the 1990’s. With the upgrades made to the line, it became one of the longest running video game systems in history.
The Game Boy’s main competitor came about in 1990 when Sega released the Game Gear. Even though Atari ($179.95 Lynx at launch) and NEC ($249.99 TurboExpress at launch) had attempted to build systems to compete with Nintendo, they were largely unsuccessful. The Game Gear came in color and was considerably inexpensive with an initial price tage of $149.99 at launch. Also pushing its popularity was the fact that the Sega Genesis was widely popular at the time.
The mid 90’s saw another release from Sega with the Genesis Nomad in 1995. This came at a rough patch for Sega, when it had a number of other releases on the market. The system was one of a kind in that it actually played the same cartridges as a Genesis did, allowing for multiple platform game usage. The Nomad was widely ignored upon its release, leading to poor sales.
Nintendo developed the Virtual Boy in 1995 as the first video game console with true 3D graphics. While larger than most handheld systems, the Virtual Boy could still be towed around pretty easily. The system used LED pixels for a monochrome display, as well as controller built specifically for 3D game play. Unfortunately the reception from the public was pretty lackluster, as many critics panned that the device was ugly and the graphics were subpar.
Tiger Electronics started to become a force within the handheld gaming industry early with a series of handheld titles in the 1980’s similar to the Game & Watch. They became hugely successful with individual releases for a number of popular movies and character games throughout the 80’s and 90’s. These individual platforms were relatively inexpensive compared to other major consoles, making them very popular. During the late 1990’s, they began to try and cover other parts of the market by developing the game.com. This was the first handheld console to feature touch display and internet connectivity, but ultimately it fell flat with a lack of titles developed.
The market was saturated with smaller name systems throughout the early stages of the 2000’s including releases from Nokia, Bandai and Game Park which were all rather unsuccessful in the United States market. Nintendo released its first non-Gameboy portable device with the DS in 2004. This had two screens including one that was touch controlled. Although first viewed as a failure, the system has gone on to sell millions and stay one of the company’s major products.
PlayStation finally got into the act in 2004 as well with the release of its own Portable device. The PSP was originally viewed as a better product than the DS, but long term sales went against the grain. Even being viewed as somewhat of a competitor, the PSP has still done well sales wise because it still offers some different aspects, especially with updates throughout the last decade.
Today, much of the handheld gaming industry is focused in smart phones and portable music devices such as the iPod Touch. The application marketplace provided by smartphone developers like Apple and Android have allowed for easy access to games that are more than affordable. The availability to games has never been easier than it is now with today’s phones.
Nintendo and PlayStation have been forced to really improve their game play with the widespread availability in the smart phone sector. Nintendo continues to try and spike the initially poor reception of the 3DS by developing more games with online availability into the future. The DS itself went on to success after a slow start, but Nintendo seemed to really miss on the initial price and first party support of the 3DS, hurting its reception. If they would like to achieve the success of the DS over the long haul, Nintendo will likely have to allow for better virtual sales, as well as firmware updates to help convince gamers that there is value in not just playing games on their smartphones.
Article Author: Justin Taylor