LOS ANGELES -- Gaming consoles are showing signs of recovery at E3 2017, the world's largest gaming expo, where attendees flocked to the Nintendo Switch for experiences that cannot be had with smartphone games.
This is the first year E3 is open to the general public. As soon as the expo's doors opened on noon Tuesday, gamers from all over the the U.S. rushed to Nintendo's booth to play Super Mario Odyssey. The latest Super Mario installment will go on sale Oct. 27, Nintendo announced at an online news conference Tuesday morning. "Mario's jumping abilities are so smooth and fun," exclaimed one excited fan.
Nintendo's Switch, which went on sale in March, is plugged into a television like a typical console, but can also be taken outside through a detachable liquid crystal display screen and still be enjoyed with multiple players. There were only 13 Switch-compatible game titles being sold in stores in Japan as of last Thursday, but the device's initial popularity has so far topped expectations that there are shortages.
"People understand that this is a new way of gaming," said Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima. "The main factor is the popularity of the console's configuration." Adding to the popularity is the new Super Mario Odyssey game. Nintendo also revealed a new game for the Metroid series, which is popular in the U.S., as well as the development of a role-playing game for the Pokemon franchise. Nintendo is predicting sales of 10 million units in fiscal 2017 for the Switch.
Sony Interactive Entertainment's Playstation 4 has exceeded sales of 60 million units in the three and half years since the console was released. Some within the company want to aim for the Playstation 2's total sales of more than 150 million units.
Microsoft announced a new Xbox device for the second straight year. The Xbox One X, with 4K resolution, will be released in North America and elsewhere in November.
The worldwide game console market grew beyond expectations in 2016, according to Dutch research firm Newzoo. Newzoo expects the market to grow by another 3.6% to $33.5 billion in 2017. Although that is far from the nearly 20% growth rate of the smartphone game market, the Switch's sales are providing a tailwind for steady growth.
"The smartphone generation is using consoles for the first time, and more are seeing the light" about their ease of play and image display, said Haruhiro Tsujimoto, president of Capcom, which will release a new Monster Hunter game for PS4 and others in 2018. The population of smartphone gamers is believed to have reached 2.2 billion people globally.
New smartphone models also continue to be released, as well as new devices like smart speakers that incorporate artificial intelligence to respond to questions, requests and more. These devices are deepening their relationship to entertainment through music and video. Smart speaker technology could even be used to operate game consoles. The question is how far game makers can expand their customer base through captivating combinations of hardware and software.