In 1989, ancient history in the video game era, Nintendo released a three and a half minute commercial for its new device. A child shouts angrily because he has to stop playing so the family can go on vacation; the car sags and his tire deflates when his father pushes a giant CRT TV into the backseat. “The secret to Nintendo’s success was bringing arcade games into homes,” the cheerful narrator explains. “Getting him out of the house is another story.”
And then, the big reveal: the Game Boy! The gaming system you can take with you. After that comes a song that I would classify somewhere in the category of “unreleased musical songs.” SNL sketch” in which our host talks about the Game Boy going to the lake, on a date, a movie theater, a baseball field, a plane, and more.
The song is terrible, the ad is spectacular, and the point is this: the people who make game consoles have understood for decades that the best console is the one you can have with you. But before, this required huge compromises: mobile consoles were bulky and underpowered; they needed their own games; and they were always at least a few generations behind the best home gaming systems.
There have been a few moments in gaming history where the industry thought it had solved this problem. When PlayStation launched the PSP and Nintendo abandoned the first DS, almost 20 years ago now, both companies made big promises about the wireless revolution and how it could change gaming. Then, everyone spent the next decade getting distracted by the rise of the smartphone and treating their handheld consoles like completely different devices.
But it’s different now. Thanks to devices like the Nintendo Switch (which Nintendo touted as the conclusion of a decades-long journey to create the perfect do-it-all gaming device) and Valve’s Steam Deck (the ultimate combo of power and portability to date), there is now proof in the market that you can have a console that does everything well and makes almost no compromises.
For this episode of The Vergecastthe first in our three-part series on the state and future of gaming, we take two of our friends from Polygon and find out why now is the time for portable gaming to truly take over. It’s a story about hardware and how the smartphone revolution has finally made it possible to create a very powerful mobile device. It’s also about taxes on cloud gaming and app stores, as well as the changing nature of games themselves.
The portable gaming hardware industry is suddenly full of innovation. The Switch and Steam Deck are still great devices, but Asus, Ayaneo, Logitech and others are going their own ways as dedicated portable systems. Analog consoles are so good that they are usually out of stock; Anbernic, Retroid and others create popular emulation devices; and even your phone is quickly becoming a much more serious gaming device. There will always be gamers who want the fastest, best, fastest gaming experiences, and PCs and dedicated consoles will always be made for them. But most gamers will be perfectly happy with the device in their hands.
You can take it to the lake! This is the future of video games.