Things may seem insufferably dire right now, what with the breakdown of capitalism, toxic banks and countries, global warming and so on, but at least these are boom times for one industry: doom-mongering. Pessimists have never had it so good, which must be confusing the hell out of them. But at least there's one consolatory haven from the global financial storm: videogames.
However, this year, even the games industry has received the attention of the prophets of apocalypse, with people queuing up to declare that Apple's App Store and Facebook will sound the death knell for conventional console and, especially, handheld gaming. We've had enough of such talk - it's time to elevate ourselves from this orgy of misery with some rational thought and argument.
True, this hasn't been a great year for the games industry, to say the least - sales have been down and, for the first time in living memory, a new Nintendo handheld flopped. I've heard countless snide remarks from industry insiders (most of whom have iOS games under their belts, it must be said) speculating about what a flop Sony's PlayStation Vita is going to be. Several conventional developers have bitten the dust. But are the App Store and Facebook really going to kill the consoles?
Sure, the App Store has been phenomenally successful, with some cottage-industry developers, operating along similar lines to the 8-bit days of gaming, becoming stupendously rich, and often being bought for frankly insane amounts of money. But if you actually try to navigate the App Store these days, you're left feeling that, while it might not yet have hit a brick wall, all you can see through your windscreen is clay and mortar approaching at a furious rate.
The App Store is hopelessly unwieldy - if you don't know anything about games, where do you start? There are the lists of top games, Apple's recommendations and countless examples of massive marketing spends bringing the richest companies' latest efforts to your attention, but when confronted by three games that are more or less identical, how to choose between them? Do you go for the one that's 50p cheaper than the others?
The App Store is no longer a meritocracy - like our prevailing warped 21st-century take on capitalism, those with the money run the shop, and the poor little developers with nothing but innovation, skill and creativity to draw from end up getting buried beneath a downloadable avalanche. Unless they give their games away free, which opens several other cans of worms: firstly, are they really free, or will end up having to pay loads more than you otherwise would in order to get some sort of half-decent gameplay experience? Or will they bombard you with ads?
Then there's the gameplay experience itself. Sure, you can find some incredibly addictive iOS games. But such games were all built to conform to the control system-constraints imposed by the iPad and iPhone. No matter how much Apple ramps up the graphical capabilities of its gadgets, the vast majority of what can only be described as proper games are unplayable on Apple kit, due to the absence of a control system that actually gives you fine control.
First-person shooters have to be on rails. There has never been a driving game with a tilt-based steering system that was anything other than a chore to play, nor will there ever be one. iOS games, admittedly, seem fantastic for those who have never played a game before, and for those who love puzzling, but there must come a time when, with games such a part of mainstream culture, they discover that there's so much more to be found on the consoles, fixed or portable.