There’s been a lot of speculation over the past six months, that the upcoming generation of consoles from Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, will be the last the big three ever produce. The growth of mobile gaming, the sheer ridiculous numbers of people that now participate in social games, increased competition from the Ouya and Valve’s Big Picture, makes it seem like a potential reality.
Ben Cousins of NGmoco broke it down and showed that general purpose machines like tablets and smartphones are growing exponentially and that the sort of device that can do everything, usually take over those that are specialised. He has a point too, but he doesn’t take everything into consideration. Not everyone agrees and it’s worth bringing those points to the fore too.
First up, you have the fact that this generation of consoles has sold more than any that came before it. There’s more than 150 million 3DS machines out there, over 70 million Xbox 360s, 63 million PlayStation 3s and 100 million Wiis. To put this in perspective, the Gamecube only sold around 20 million and the original Xbox not much more than 25. While Sony might have sold 150 million PS2s, this generation smashed all those that went before it and this makes for a great springboard for the next. Now this might not be the billion people that have played Crush the Castle ripoff Angry Birds, but it’s more than enough to have an ongoing audience.
The point being, smartphones are growing in usage, but it’s not cutting into the console market as much as it is creating a new one. People that didn’t game before are doing so on phones and on Facebook, they’re not simply moving from consoles to mobiles.
Yesterday head at Team Ninja Yosuke Hayashi drew a different analogy, suggesting that Cinema was a perfect example of why consoles weren’t going away. Cinema has been around for a hundred years and people still go. He’s sort of right, in that yes there are still a fair number of movie goers, but TV did somewhat kill its original boom.
Back in the roaring 20s, a hundred million people a week went to the “pictures” in the US alone. With the advent of TV that number crashed down, as entertainment for the masses moved to the home.
However, cinema evolved. Not necessarily in what it offered, but in what it was used for. Sure there might have been additions like surround sound and Imax screens, but ultimately it was about watching on a display that was larger than what you could put in your house. So that’s what the cinema became, a premium experience and a social one. There are certain movies that are just better to watch with big groups of people.
And that’s the way it remains today. It might often be hideously overpriced – that’s another article altogether – but ticket revenue is huge. People are going.
So perhaps this is what consoles will become. They might not end up with the mass appeal they once had, but they’ll remain as the premium experience. Something that remains expensive and less accessible than a simple mobile title, but offers something that a phone will struggle to provide: a decent controller, a big screen TV and a platform specifically designed for gaming.
However that’s if consoles continue as they are. In recent years they’ve attempted to become far more like entertainment centres than just gaming machines. That’s not a dumb move either. It’s even been reported that the average Xbox 360 gets used for its other functions, like watching movies, more than actual gaming.
Then there’s the fact that these machines get updated so infrequently. New phones come out every year, so while the PlayStation 4 might end up being light years ahead of contemporary phones when it’s released, by the end of that 5 year+ life cycle, smartphones may have overtaken it.
All you’d need at that point is to wirelessly stream the image from your phone to your 50” TV and a plug in controller and what’s the difference?
Perhaps it’ll be the games themselves. A smartphone can get as powerful as it likes, but unless the latest Call of Duty is released for Android and iOS, no console gamers are going to play it on their mobile instead. Then again, look at Infinity Blade 2 or Galaxy on Fire 2. These are limited interpretations of big console and PC games, but they’re light-years ahead of what we had just a few years ago. Mobile is becoming more hardcore, it’s just not quite there yet.
So what is it that makes me feel like consoles aren’t really going away? Ultimately, I think it’s that consoles represent something more than what they actually do. Its the same reason that PC gamers will fight tooth and nail against their console counterparts, about how much better a mouse and keyboard is when compared to a control pad. A console is part of your childhood, part of your teens, part of your life, part of who you are. Consoles transcend generations of technology. They’re something more than just the hardware and the games themselves. They’re a hobby and an interest.
For the same reason I still break out my Megadrive and play hours of Bomberman and Micro Machines Turbo Tournament ’96 with friends. The gameplay is good sure, but it has that nostalgia factor. It represents my early love for gaming and consoles embody that in the current gen as much as previous ones.
So yes, the next-generation of consoles might be the last dominant console release – it’s not the biggest gaming platform in the world any more, but that doesn’t mean it’s going away. Tablets and mobile phones are growing as gaming platforms and will continue to do so, but I don’t think we’re going to see the true “death” of consoles because of it. They might change what they offer, we might perceive them a little differently, but with everyone that picked up a NES or Megadrive controller in their early, single digit years, it’s hard to imagine those people putting down a controller for good.
Times change, people change, but ultimately a gamer’s love for consoles and therefore the money made from the industry itself, isn’t going anywhere – and because of that, consoles are not going to die any time soon.
Long live the console.
PS. The PC is still better.