Why Does the iPad Need to Kill Consoles?

Rovio's Angry Birds is huge. Cultural touchpoint. The sort of thing Jon Stewart can joke about on The Daily Show without qualification. But that doesn't make Rovio executive Peter Vesterbacka an expert on the videogame market. iPads aren't killing consoles.

All credit where it's due: Angry Birds is a great game, worthy of its success. But let's not forget that it's the first hit of any size that Rovio's ever had. Instead of following up that hit with a new game, they've worked to put their hit game on every mobile platform that will have them: iOS, Android, Windows Phone 7.

And it's certain that mobile gaming-on Apple's iOS platform in particular-is changing the videogame market, making it possible for small developers like Rovio to get a game into the hands of millions of people with relatively low overhead.

But "dying" (to quote Vesterbacka's take on consoles) would imply that these different platforms are a closed system, that for mobile gaming to take off it would have to steal time and money from another market.

Sound familiar?

It's the same argument levied for years against the PC game market, which while considerably different than it was a decade ago is doing just fine.

Vesterbacka is right that triple-A, multimillion-dollar titles-the sort of big budget titles like Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto on which the console market thrives-are increasingly risky for publishers. (Which is why they're matched with Hollywood-sized marketing budgets.) But nobody is looking at a $.99 game on iTunes and thinking, "You know, I don't want to play Halo now that I've got a copy of Angry Birds."

Mobile is a huge new space for game development. If I may toot my own dick a little here, I was championing iOS gaming long before it was clear it was going to make an impact, if only because it seemed a great platform for casual and indie innovation wedded to a one-click, over-the-air download platform more simple than anything Nintendo or Sony had ever put together. I've had some great experiences on my iPhone. (I'm still waiting for the killer iPad game, but I have no doubt it's coming.)

But just like the "dying" PC brought us Minecraft last year, consoles will continue chugging along as a business just fine. Changed, for certain: longer time between console upgrade cycles; a greater stratification between triple-A and "mid-tier" titles; more reliance on gimmicky hardware.

Portable consoles have the roughest row to hoe. No doubt the era when Nintendo could print hats made of money every time they launched a new iteration of their portable console is over. The more Nintendo and Sony can match tablet and phone strengths-easy downloads; inexpensive casual games-the more of their fiduciary millinery they'll retain.

But the only people sure that consoles are dying seem to be pundits and executives who make their money making mobile games. Who then sell them on consoles, too.