Throughout the year talk of the all-digital future of gaming has been a hot topic. Many believe that the next generation of consoles will be the last and that games will become a digital market only, much like the ancient CD single. It makes sense. With PC gaming almost entirely based online, companies like Valve with Steam and EA with Origin, it has become more efficient and cheaper to purchase the game online, rather than the boxed copy. Though consoles are definitely behind the times, with Xbox 360 providing Live Arcade, Play Station 3 offering PSN and Wii U now hopping into the online space finally, is this truly the last era of heading down to the brick and mortar store for the latest retail release?
There are several factors in play at the moment that contradict the gaming market going online only and consoles becoming extinct. I have heard many hypothesize the possibility of there being one unified gaming console, maybe even a device that is included with TVs. You can purchase all your games from the system, download them and play them all from the one TV game box; turning Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony into publishers, rather than actual console developers. This theory is out of this world, the idea of any of these three companies coming together seems crazy, let alone even two of them seems like a fantasy land. What is even more intriguing about this console-less future is the fact that now, more than ever, we are receiving more and more console esque options.
For example, let’s go through some of the new console-like experiences and actual consoles coming our way:
The free-to-play gaming system that took Kickstarter by storm. It is now available to pre-order sitting at a very cheap $99. Built on Android software, this system is going to offer a brand new way games get into the hands of console gamers. The free-to-play model on consoles has been barely touched and those that have, well they haven’t seen much success. How will the OUYA do? That remains to be seen. I know from personal conversations I have had with many “casual gamers”, nobody knows or seems to understand what exactly the system will do. Sure the hardcore may understand and some may love the idea, but if nobody knows what this system is and it barely offers the range of games the other console offerings do, who will jump aboard?
The Steam Box
It was rumoured for months on end that Steam was jumping into the console market and it has now been confirmed. Valve will offer gamers an easy to manage PC option that will provide gamers with their own gaming PC. No word if these will be customizable, but many would assume that it would be limited. The fact that Gabe Newell wants to get these into people’s homes as an easy to use option means they must be affordable, and with affordability comes small specs compared to some gaming rigs. The real tasty detail of this device is the ability to cash-in on those crazy Steam sales and I personally believe this function in itself will sell the console. So with Steam jumping into the console market during the apparent “last days”, is this really the last era? Especially if the Steam Box sells like wildfire, knowing Valve I would not hesitate to jump onboard.
We reported about the OTON awhile back. The apparent console that would basically make its own games. Apart from that we barely know much more about the system. How would these games be made anyway? Well one would assume they would basically be sprite changes. Want a space racing game? There you go. A first person shooter set in the jungle? There you go. This is another unique idea on the gaming console and would, all-in-all, cut out the need to ever buy anything more than the console itself. With such a radical idea could something like this catch on? Especially with gamers who are looking for that AAA experience, will this be able to capture their attention? Until we know the kind of game quality we will receive it is hard to answer, but this is now adding another dimension into this console era. With another variation of console heading our way, it is getting harder and harder to think that this is the end of an era.
The Mobile Gaming market
This market may not be officially considered as a console but it’s definitely trying to replicate the console experience. We have the MOGA gaming controller which connects Android 2.3+ smartphones and allows gamers to play their mobile games with a controller. From all accounts it works very well and this itself could rival the handheld gaming market, since let’s be honest a majority of people already own the smartphone; all they need is the device. Then you have the Greenthrottle gaming application which you download, then via some cables connect to your TV and be able to play your mobile games on your big screen TV via a separate controller. This is all well and good and offers gamers another option in terms of gaming, but do mobile gamers really want to play their mobile games on the TV? And even though these are both Android based at the moment, what if Apple were to jump into this market, could we finally see mobile games really take off?
Personally the idea of losing the console and those boxed goodies saddens me, having grown up with the excitement of buying a brand new game and then going home to unwrap that bundle of joy, it’s weird to think of online being the norm. With the idea of consoles going away and the reliance of online, pricing is one factor that really needs to be strengthened, it is too varied between regions and it is unfair on certain marketplaces (such as Australia) who pay a lot more games in general. The fact that the retailer is out of the question, the boxed copy doesn’t need to be printed, designers are left saving time without having to design a disc cover and boxart, and this should mean cheaper games. But so far it doesn’t seem to reflect those prices within online console stores. Pricing, midnight launches, being able to pre-download the game to play on the day of release, all these factors need to be addressed before we bid farewell to consoles. Hopefully these are easy to smooth out, but until then, online just cannot be the primary method for console gamers.
The thought of consoles going away anytime soon seems farfetched, with all these new options, new methods of gaming and the idea of next generation hardware on the horizon. Could the upcoming console cycle be the last? Possibly, but the look of options being released makes me think if any of these consoles takes off, maybe consoles will still be around, just in various forms. Could the 720 really have an Arcade unit that specializes in XBLA gaming? Could Sony release a PS5 that is primarily download-specific, but with the option of retail game discs still apparent? These are all just guesses and I could be way off the mark, but those thinking that the online-only, console-less future is close, well I sincerely beg to differ.
But until we see how well the Wii U sells and how much the next generation iterations of PlayStation and Xbox do when released in the wild, the idea of a next generation is still up in the air. Gaming will never go away, the way we play, the methods of getting said games and how exactly those games are made might all change, but gaming will be forever.
Jamie Briggs manages Analog Addiction where you can find all his latest reviews, interviews and features and also like them on Facebook. Also follow his daily life on Twitter @AnalogAddiction and their videos on YouTube.