Skip to main content

Are Console Games Dying?

Angry Birds says yes. Eurogamer investigates.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

When Rovio boss Peter Vesterbacka last month declared "console games are dying", the game industry raised its collective eyebrow. Here was the brains behind Angry Birds - one of mobile gaming's greatest weapons in the virtual battle for our hearts and minds - launching an attack on what has been, for many of us, our preferred method of engaging with our hobby for as long as we can remember.

Surely Vesterbacka is wrong. Surely face buttons and big screens and d-pads and analogue sticks will live forever. Surely console games are not dying. But is he just saying what everyone else is thinking - or should be thinking?

In 2010, UK video game product sales totalled £2.875 billion. That's 13 per cent down on 2009, and 29 per cent down on 2008's stunning £4.034 billion haul. Console software sales generated £1.45 billion last year, down 10.5 per cent from 2009, and 24 per cent from 2008.

63 million games were sold across all platforms during 2010, down from the 74.6 million in 2009. In the US, gaming's biggest market, it's a similar story. 2010 US video game software and hardware sales came in at $18.58 billion, down 6 per cent from the previous year. All the lines go down.

It must be noted that UKIE and NPD do not track digital downloads - the games sold on XBLA, PSN and Steam. They report the sales of boxed products - the games that you hold in your hand and pop in your disc drives. And it's exactly these games that Nicholas Lovell of GamesBrief believes are indeed dying.

"It really doesn't matter if a whole bunch of hardcore gamers want to play games on consoles," he says. "What matters is whether enough console gamers migrate to Facebook, or the browser, or the smartphone, or the tablet.

"Exactly how many? I don't know. 20 per cent? 50 per cent? Certainly if it becomes clear that half of console gamers are no longer buying games on console, that will make publishers think long and hard about whether supporting consoles is a viable strategy any more. And the same is true for console manufacturers considering a next multi-billion dollar investment in a new console."

Some believe publishers are already thinking about whether supporting consoles is a viable strategy. 2010 saw a number of console game disappointments - not in terms of quality, but sales. Bizarre Creations' Blur, Black Rock's Split/Second and Ninja Theory's Enslaved are just three high-profile, hardcore 2010 games that struggled to shift the numbers expected.

Still, publishers, developers and analysts tell Eurogamer that Vesterbacka is wrong. And some, such as Hogrocket managing director Ben Ward, you would expect would be the first to agree with him - Hogrocket was one of a handful of developers formed by former Bizarre Creations staffers after Activision binned the Liverpool studio.

"In general, more people are playing games now than ever before in history," he says. "The only difference is that it's not necessarily in front of their TV at home. I imagine that's why Zynga isn't going for Xbox Live Arcade - its business model is set to serve a completely different consumer in a completely different way. Yeah it's still the games industry, but it's so wide now that it's almost a disservice to just have one name for it.

"A nice way of looking at it is this: could you ever say that a particular piece of classical music is better (definitively better) than the latest hip-hop track? Of course not, it's completely subjective and depends entirely on who is making the judgement. That's where I think video games are going - there'll be such a huge range of genres/platforms/models available that it's almost silly to think about it as one industry. Saying that Facebook games are pointless is almost as ridiculous as saying that war game shooters are without merit. We need both."

Epic Games is one developer that is attempting to create both. With its Gears of War franchise it makes bombastic, big-budget Xbox 360 games designed to be played with controller firmly in hand. But it has also dabbled in the download space - with superb XBLA game Shadow Complex, and more recently on Apple devices with the Unreal Engine-powered Infinity Blade.