Golden era of handheld

Many will balk at the idea that GameBoy-era handheld gaming wasn’t the pinnacle of the genre. Or maybe even the later age with PSP (which took a while to properly take off).

But I would argue that today, in 2022, we’re entering a genuine golden age of handheld gaming. I think this is because of three main demographic changes:

  1. The gamers who recall the GameBoy era were young, and are now yearning for that while also being primary net contributors economically (which is to say that they’re somewhere in the prime of their working lives, have disposable income, probably have kids, etc. etc.).
    • Highlighted by the demographics here, as the age of gamers in 2022 hit that 18-34 year old sweet spot economically.
    • I’ll also argue that this age group are busy now. Settling into their careers, relationships, etc. Have kids or are more likely to now than in the future or past, and busy. Handheld lends itself so much better to this lifestyle than a desktop PC or, in many instances, home console experience.
  2. Technology has improved. A lot. We have a few different form-factors for handheld gaming. Primarily, even though we tend not to admit it, it’s mobile phones running Android and iOS. But then we have Steam Deck, which is a PC-in-a-small-box. Analogue Pocket is an emulation dream, and quirky and relatively inexpensive options like PlayDate from Panic.
  3. There’s acres of content. Between emulating your favourite 90s titles, to mobile ports of more recent (or even new games) alongside an ever-expanding library of made-for-handheld titles, there’s so much choice. Steam Deck really blew the door off of it with a huge swathe of the Steam library available to play. The game has completely changed, and it’s leaning heavily in the favour of handheld.

So while we’re likely to see a bumper Christmas for PS5 and Xbox Series S/X sales, I think discretely, handheld is winning the war.