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Why Are Microsoft scared of the handheld market?

In an age where being first is everything, keeping up with your competitors in the market is perhaps the most vital aspect of getting ahead. This logic applies to the market of gaming, which is dominated by the three juggernaut companies: Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. Nintendo are famous for providing us with the most revolutionary consoles and whilst it doesn’t always get it right, as a company, it always show us the future of gaming. As for Sony, it’s always been a dominant figure in the business, expanding off Nintendo’s ideas, and ultimately elevating them. Then we’re left with Microsoft, which seems to be last off the start line, yet still somehow crosses the finish first.

Aside from motion control, the hottest addition in the market right now is without a doubt, portable consoles. Nintendo were quick to jump in that area with their Gameboy, then DS, which allowed gamers to have a host of games at their very finger tips, and now there’s the revolutionary 3DS. So too were Sony, with its highly impressive PSP, and now its upcoming PS Vita. So where is Microsoft in regards to portable consoles, almost six years since the commercial conception of the Nintendo DS and PSP? Nowhere…Six years on, Microsoft has yet to express any intent towards the portable market, and personally I feel that it’s missing out on a massive opportunity. So what could potentially be the reasons why such a big company is not interested in portable gaming?

Well the most prominent answer seems to be that it’s simply too late. The development of a portable console can take years and no doubt Microsoft wants a USP (unique selling point), that none of its competitor’s offer – which is something it simply can’t brew. If Microsoft could identify a adequate USP, then we could see it potentially break in to the market like a bull in a China shop, smashing sales records like the Nintendo DS did all those years ago. At that time (and even now) Nintendo’s DS systems have only aimed predominantly at the under 12 market, with kids games such as Pokemon. On the other hand Sony’s PSP system aimed at the more casual teenage market, where we seen shooter hits such as Killzone, while the Vita is taking a firm aim at all categories. So what’s left for Microsoft? The answer is the hardcore gamers market; which holds the age bracket of mostly 15 years and above. This niche demographic is perhaps one of the most valuable of them all, as the rise of competitiveness in gaming has seen a massive influx of hardcore gamers to consoles such as Microsoft’s Xbox 360 system.

If we look back at Microsoft’s decorated marketing records in the portable market, then we can devise yet another answer: Microsoft are bad at it. It’s no secret that it backed Zune and the Windows Phone 7, yet both have been far from successful. With flops such as the aforementioned, we can only assume that Microsoft is hesitant to try and break in to a market which its had such a tainted history with. In addition to that, Sony has stated that it expects to be at a loss for at least three years after the release of the PlayStation Vita device. Costs play a massive role in decision such as this, it’s obvious that to make money you need to spend some, but is it the right idea for Microsoft to break into such a difficult market, lose millions and potentially make a tiny margin? Evidently it doesn’t think so.

Whilst you may argue that the portable market is simply too over-saturated by Nintendo and Sony, if Microsoft were to push ahead with a USP aimed towards hardcore gamers, I believe that with time, its sales could smash records, and dominate each quarter with an iron fist. Another important aspect of this all would the advertisement behind it. There’s no doubt that Microsoft could back its product with a very convincing advertisement campaign, just look at the adverts currently for Kinect and how they convey that it’s shaping the future. With a strong campaign, such as the one for Kinect, that elaborates and plays around with their USP, I’m confident that it could draw in a mass of customers.

In the end, we’re left with the lingering fantasy of what could have been, or what may yet happen. With the right ideas, advertisements and demographics, a Microsoft handheld console could potentially sell millions of units worldwide, appealing to the niche, yet massive demographic known as hardcore gamers. With E3 round the corner, there’s still space for optimism to take play, as we’re all expecting Microsoft to announce something new. Being the dreamer that I am, I have a gut instinct that it may be in relation to this article, and that Microsoft may yet break into the portable market. Whilst you may quickly write my theory off, look at the sales and projections for the Xbox 360 – the announcement of a new console in the upcoming year would be senseless, as the 360 still has another a few years left in it yet.  As they say: Better seven years late, than never! Just remember, you heard it here first.

Edited On 09 Dec, 2011

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