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PS Vita's good start heralds slim pickings for the console haters

Ever considered that the rise of mobile phone games might be due to the recent -- soon to be rectified -- lack of new consoles?

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MORE CONSOLES, PLEASE

So, the PS Vita offers some evidence that the current stagnation of the console market is just as likely to be due to not having any new hardware for half a decade as to the rise of mobile phone and "social" gaming. And, of course, we've got three new consoles waiting in the wings. Will that be enough to bring boom times to the games industry once more?

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That, of course, is the key question - we're entering squeaky-bum time for Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony. Particularly for Nintendo: we know that the Wii U will be the first new console to appear, before the end of the year. Which gives its rivals plenty of time to copy its best bits: we're already hearing that the next Xbox (they'll give it a snappier name than the meaningless "720") might have a Wii U-style touchscreen and Sony's Shuhei Yoshida maintains the PS Vita could fulfil a similar role for Sony's fixed consoles.

Luckily, Nintendo still has Shigeru Miyamoto, and the Wii U will, for once, have a decent amount of under-the-bonnet power, putting it in the frame for some of the multi-platform franchises the wheezingly underpowered Wii lacks. But Nintendo's perennial Achilles heel - an unwillingness or inability to schmooze third-party developers like its rivals do - will become more obvious than ever, because of that reason.

We've got first-hand experience of how surprisingly compelling the Wii U's so-called asymmetric gaming is, and while that controller may look weird, it actually feels good in the hand, so there's no doubt that it will bring new gameplay experiences to the party. And those are precisely what the next crop of consoles need to do in order to highlight the basic nature of the gaming that mobiles, tablets and Facebook offer.

XBOX 720 AND PS4 PREPARE TO EMERGE

One of 2012's most fascinating questions is whether Microsoft's Xbox 360 replacement will break cover - we're expecting it to, given that its devkits are now out and about and rumours of developer briefings and the like are flying around. Although, like Sony with the PS3, Microsoft has now reached the stage of the Xbox 360's life-cycle in which it is extremely profitable, so both companies, for economic reasons, would love to delay the introduction of their next consoles as long as possible.

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The downside of that weird quirk of the business of making consoles, though, is that the longer you go without a new console, the more pundits emerge from under rocks to postulate that consoles have had their day and will be replaced by something new. Which brings us back to where we started.

However, the PS Vita's promising start to life suggests that the general public hasn't suddenly lost its appetite for full-blown, deep, rich gameplay experiences. And the impending arrival of another console-rivalry soap opera, with three new contenders, can only remind the general public of that - and relegate mobile and social games to the bit-part status they deserve.

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