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Other Gaming Platforms

It's easy to imagine that consoles like Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's Xbox, along with PCs, are the only way to play videogames. But they're not: not by a long shot. Increasingly, games are everywhere. You'll find them on handheld game devices like Nintendo's DS and Sony's PSP. You'll find them on cellphones. You'll even find them buried amidst other "platforms," such as the Facebook social networking web site.

In fact, some of these "alternative" gaming platforms might just be the future of gaming - especially for "casual" gamers who aren't prepared to bury themselves in complex, extremely difficult game worlds for hours at a time. Let's take a look at these new ways to play videogames, starting with the handhelds...

Handheld Game Consoles

Handheld game consoles are lightweight, portable devices designed to play miniature video game cartridges. They contain everything that's needed to play, including controls, screens, and speakers.

Along with their smaller size, they have less powerful computing and video hardware than full-fledged game consoles. So their games tend to be simpler and less realistic looking. But, as players of games like The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass have learned, handheld games can be every bit as much fun as games running on bigger systems.

Originally, handheld game consoles were primarily popular amongst younger children, but they've gained popularity among older players, too.

Today, two leading handheld game devices virtually own the market. The Nintendo 2DS, available for around $129, dominates the market: various versions of the DS have sold more than 65 million units. Sony competes with the slicker, more multimedia-capable PSP (PlayStation Portable), which was once far more expensive than the DS, but is now widely available starting at $129 - $199.

Cell Phone Games

These days, most folks keep their cellphones handy virtually 24x7. If those cellphones could play games, wouldn't that be a great way to waste a few minutes while you've got nothing better to do? Heck, yes. In fact, according to the Gartner market research firm, that casual urge to play games on cellphones has already triggered the creation of a $4.3 billion business. (By 2011, we're looking at $9.6 billion!)

Most cellphone games are simple, quick, and easy to learn: they're designed to offer fun in small, brief chunks of time. Some games might come preloaded with your phone; others might be downloadable for use offline. Some can be purchased on flash memory cards that plug into your cellphone; others force you to stay connected to your carrier's network (often, using precious minutes). While it's sometimes possible to buy games from third-party web sites, most folks in the U.S. purchase or rent their games from their cellphone carriers.

With advances in cellphone technology, cellphone games are about to get more powerful and sophisticated - perhaps even rivaling those available on handheld gaming consoles. Apple's next-generation iPhone is likely to offer innovative games that will take full advantage of its improved video, faster Internet connections, and maybe even built-in GPS location information.

Facebook Games

You might think of Facebook purely as a social networking site, but it's also become one of the world's most popular gaming platforms. Just a few examples are the highly popular Farmville, Candy Crush, Words with Friends and Diamond Dash.

Facebook has made it technically easy for game developers to reach their audience, and they're creating new games in droves. But Facebook won't be the only social networking site with games: Google and several other companies are working together to simplify the development of games that can run on nearly any social networking site.

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