We are about to enter upon a period of slow but thorough decline of consoles. If the SNES/Genesis saw consoles come into their own as established mediums, where “gaming” could grow and develop, the PS3/X360 mark the extended and exciting, but rapidly concluding final episode in the history of system playing.
Gaming will continue to infiltrate every niche of modern life, but the platform on which it occurs will not be a black or white hunk of plastic and metal that sits next to your television.
But sales are good, the games are great, and the party will never end right?
I’m sure they were thinking the same thing in Rome right before it was sacked.
There will be another generation in home gaming consoles, but it will be too little too late.
Console manufacturers will try to woo indie developers with better networks and less clunky digital distribution interfaces. They will try to offer better web browsing and increased storage capacity. So why the long face?
Because PCs already offer all of this. And their counterparts, smartphones and iPhones, netbooks and pads, tablets and slates, do so with efficiency and flexibility.
Console gaming developed over the past three decades in parallel with, but distinct from, the home computer, benefiting from advances in that technology while taking advantage of a close niche market. Home computing sought to enter the home through the front door and forced to appeal to mass audiences and casual users. The console slunk in through the back, not taken seriously by most, and needing only to appeal to anxious, aggressive, sexually aroused teenagers whose tastes were simple and time unlimited. My point? The console industry has only ever competed for a fraction of the potential gaming market, and with only one or two rival competitors at a time.
But when gaming does mainstream, the old industry practices won’t hold up.
What sane individual would have put up with Blu-ray vs. HD? Or imagine a third format? Imagine the Dark Knight releases on one, Inception on another, and the King’s Speech on a third?
What if Toshiba made special DVD players that would only play specific content according to prearranged agreements with studios? What if music you downloaded from iTunes didn’t play on anything but an Apple player?
Would any consumer stand for it? No other entertainment technology utilizes such a vertical monopolies over content. So why should video games?
Lot’s look at some recent console history.
Sony and Microsoft were forced only to compete with one another, and barely even that, sharing many of the same third-party titles and lacking any major distinction in their technical capabilities. Nintendo meanwhile benefited from selling to casual gamers, but casual gamers are capricious and flighty, and they quickly moved onto the next best and better thing: Smartphones and iPads. What this all adds up to is a stagnated gene pool lacking in strong diversity or striking innovation.
As a gamer I could own a cheap Wii in order to be entertained by all my favorite Nintendo IPs while also owning a PS3 or X360, and get access to great third party titles and clean HD graphics. And if I’m really serious I still tote around a PSP or DS. What could be better?
Simple: an open format technology that allows me to easily access and interact with content. No owning two or three different pieces of hardware that do more or less the same thing. It might make sense for me to own a PC for the home, a smartphone for on the go, and a tablet for leisurely gaming or web browsing. But not an X360 to play Gears of War, a PS3 to play God of War, and a Wii or DS to play the newest Zelda or Mario game. It simply doesn’t make any sense.
And not only that, but in the competitive market of mainstream entertainment, the one being entered by any system that offers web browsing, social networking, casual gaming and Netflix, this kind of craziness won’t be sustainable.
These kinds of hardware monopolies may have been feasible in the micro markets of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s, but no longer. And it’s not up to Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo either. Whether they invite the mainstream in or not, Apple, Google, and any number of other tech companies will bridge the gap.
PCs have always been technically superior in the past. Currently Angry Birds is what the average person wants to play. And somewhere between those two phenomenon is the future: A boundary-less field of interchangeable files and open format hardware that incorporates more power, greater flexibility, and a diverse array of gaming from light to hardcore.
If you disagree, tell me what I’m missing!