Feature Story

Charting the Rise of Tablet Gaming

by Jason Deign

Tablets are now being looked at for their potential as gaming consoles.

His parents are not happy about it. But Hugo Deign, eight, is hooked on video games. He knows all the Nintendo consoles inside out. Give him a PC and he will track down games sites in seconds. He will even ask adults he barely knows if he can play on their smart phones.

When he gets a little older, though, the chances are he will not be playing games on any of these. There is a new device on the block that is taking the gaming sector by storm. And if you are a business executive, you probably have one already. It is your tablet computer.

Originally dreamt up as something of a halfway house between the decidedly business-oriented PDA and notebook computer device classes, tablets began to cross over into the consumer mainstream with the arrival of the Apple iPad in 2010.

"The tablet computers that were around before the iPad were very much business-oriented," says Charlotte Miller, an analyst at the technology consultancy Juniper Research and the author of Mobile Games: Downloads, In-Game Purchasing & Advertising Strategies 2011-2016.

"Apple changed that and made it much more oriented towards consuming content," she says. "As people have gotten used to the idea of tablets, they are becoming a more ‘family' device. People share them with the kids. It is something that fits in the lounge."

Disqus: While on business travel do you play video games on your tablet?

Thanks to that transformation (and possibly the impact of frustrated ‘executive gamers' looking to while away some time on business trips), tablets have increasingly come to the attention of video game fans. And they have plenty to be interested in.

"Tablets are just great for gaming," writes New York Times games reviewer Seth Schiesel  in his Personal Tech column. "Everything that modern cell phones bring to games—touch screens, tilt sensitivity, and of course constant Internet access—the tablets do better."

Miller adds: "The way that you use an iPad, and the Android tablets that have followed, is intuitive, so it is easy for everyone to use. They are portable. They have large screens. The graphics chips in the latest tablets are very, very good. And vendors update tablets yearly."

As a result, she expects the worldwide market for tablet-based games to mushroom from US $491 million last year to $3.1 billion by 2014. Already, she says, game developers such as Redwood, Calif.-based Electronic Arts are adapting mobile titles for the tablet market.

"They have cottoned onto the fact that mobile games are a big deal," states Miller. "They are really pushing into the mobile market, and tablets as well. The tablet allows the developer to show more on the screen; you can make the games more complex."

Not only that, but at the 2012 International CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas, Nev., this January, the games hardware maker Razer unveiled a super-charged tablet code-named Project Fiona that is designed purely for gaming.

Min-Liang Tan, Razer's CEO, says: "The user interface we have designed for Project Fiona allows all existing PC games to be played right out of the box and also provides game developers new opportunities as they develop next-gen games on a highly-intuitive platform."

Where does all this leave traditional games consoles? Miller is adamant that high-end platforms such as the Xbox or PlayStation will not be affected.

"I think there is always going to be a space in the market for a game console, purely because you cannot play more hardcore games for hours on end; your battery will run out," she says. "A tablet's graphics capability is not going to match a proper games console."

When it comes to handheld games consoles, though, it is a different matter. The graphics on tablets are easily a match for a handheld console, and the games cost a fraction of the price.

Consequently, Miller says: "You do wonder why as many people would spend a substantial amount of money on the hardware and then another GBP£30 [$45] or so on a game."

There are also considerations for network owners.

While the traffic likely to arise from gaming is only a fraction of the traffic online videobrings in that which flood networks as a result ofonline video, network operators may need to be alert to the security implications of gaming downloads, particularly in corporate environments with a bring-your-own-device policy.

What is certain is that the impact of tablet gaming cannot be ignored. To borrow a much-overused cliché of the IT world, this really is a game-changer.


Jason Deign is a freelance writer located in Barcelona, Spain.

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