Over the past year, gap Intelligence has seen a rise in the availability of gaming laptops in retail channels. These niche devices are usually sold alongside and often compared to traditional notebooks designed for more casual use. In this analyst’s opinion, the gaming laptop market should be working to be compared to its gaming console competitors rather than against its notebook alumni or gaming desktop counterparts.
A Level Playing Field
Popular gaming franchises often have games paired with their intended consoles including both physical bundles to be purchased in stores, not including those games that many consumers already have in mind which naturally influences what gaming consoles they are likely to purchase. I believe that this same level association between a console and a particular game can also occur within the gaming laptop market. What else is needed for gaming laptops to stack up with consoles?
The simple answer is price point. However, implications of a lower price point extend beyond the general appeal of a budget-friendly device. A lower price point could help put gaming laptops on a similar playing field as that of gaming consoles, which are considered more mainstream (and therefore more wide-reaching) than PC gaming devices. A lower price point could also justify the purchase of a gaming notebook as a mobile option, in addition to any dedicated desktop PC gaming device already owned.
With current gaming consoles marked down to $349 at most retailers, it would be hard to consider gaming laptops a close competitor (with some of the most modest models starting around $800). However, the closer in price that gaming laptops and consoles get, the more likely it will be for mainstream consumers to consider a laptop as their gaming device (not to mention purchasers would get a laptop as well as a gaming console in one). It may not be possible for the price points of any current gaming laptops to compete with a $349 console, but given that new consoles have been released on average every 6 years, it is very possible that the price gap between gaming laptops and consoles will shrink by 2019.
The reality is that most PC gamers are an extremely tech-savvy and particular bunch, and usually prefer to build their own desktop gaming machines. Attempts to sway this group into buying a gaming laptop OVER their personally created device may be a lost cause. Futhermore, suggesting vendors reduce the price of their high value products may also be futile. However, if gaming laptops are able to achieve lower price points (a natural event of CE products over time), then perhaps they could be marketed as a mobile option in addition to existing desktop set-ups. The appeal of mobility will ring more true in the years to come as availability of WiFi becomes standard and the usage of cloud storage for many in-game data storage becomes more common.
Console gaming has arguably become more and more mainstream over the past decade, largely due to the widespread popularity of well-known gaming franchises such as Halo and Call of Duty. These franchises have helped to drive the purchases of consoles by consumers that may have not traditionally bought them (it is not at all unheard of for people to buy a $400 console with the sole intent of playing a single game). So if a single game (or franchise) can drive the sales of a particular console, why not try to apply that same concept to the gaming notebook segment?
Blizzard Entertainment has developed and published top selling PC games for over 20 years that have done well to branch out to main-stream consumers. The company’s main franchises of WarCraft, StarCraft, and Diablo have been around since the mid 90’s, building up a large fan-base while also securing newcomers along the way. It seems that if any company was going to be able to influence the purchase of gaming laptops in the mainstream, it would be Blizzard. The idea is that if one was to walk into a retail store, see a popular PC game (perhaps one from a franchise they have been familiar with for decades), and the single item they needed to play that game, it would simplify the steps – “If I buy this, I can play that.” The concept is to appeal to those who have experience with PC games, but not necessarily the know-how to build their own set-up, or perhaps even the knowledge to decipher the specs needed to play specific games when purchasing a pre-built model.
Though there are currently game bundles available for gaming laptops that incorporate a newly-released game, it could be argued that the clout of the franchise attached weighs heavily on the mind of consumer in deciding whether not they would buy a device in order to play a specific game.
The Road Ahead
Regardless of the direction gaming laptops are heading, it will be exciting to see the developments in technology associated with such devices. The typical ebb and flow of the industry in which parts become more affordable to produce, countered with the introduction of new features and hardware that justify the existing price points will continue. However, if gaming notebook vendors can capitalize on that space in-between affordability and the latest technology, they could find a spot in competing with gaming consoles. That, along with the incorporation of a highly popular franchise, could very likely push gaming laptops into the mainstream. I look forward to seeing the the continuation of these game franchises that have such significant impacts on their industries, as well as the emergence of new franchises that may one day drive sales of their respective devices based on their popularity alone.