online gaming reportSmartphone and tablet gaming is growing fast, so fast, in fact, that IDC forecasts the number of paying smartphone and tablet gamers will surpass that of gaming-optimized handsets (GOH), such as Nintendo’s 3DS and Sony’s PlayStation Vita, this year and continue growing rapidly through 2017.

GOH shipments will shrink as smartphone and tablet gaming continues to grow, according to IDC’s “Worldwide Gaming-Optimized Handheld, Smartphone, and Tablet Gaming 2013-2017.” Its forecast call for an average yearly drop of 7% in GOH shipments over the next five years.

There is at least one bright spot for GOH in coming years, one that’s derived from smartphones and tablets being used primarily for casual gaming. “The GOH category should lead in a crucial metric through 2017: average revenue per user (ARPU),” according to an IDC press release.

Overall, total mobile/portable gaming revenue, which for IDC includes digital and packaged game software, GOH hardware bundles, and direct advertising revenue to platform suppliers and game developers will reach nearly $23 billion in 2017.

“Android remains quite fragmented but the platform is on its way to becoming a massively popular gaming platform in Asia/Pacific in particular,” Lewis Ward, research manager of IDC’s Connected Consumer: Gaming service, commented. “In order for Nintendo’s and Sony’s gaming-optimized handhelds to remain ahead of smartphones and tablets on key metrics such as ARPU, these companies and their game card developer and publisher partners will have to redouble their efforts in a number of respects.

“Digital distribution has reached an inflection point in mobile and portable gaming, and future success will largely boil down to finding a unique balance of freemium business model excellence and that ability to deliver compelling social experiences.”