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Are You Ready For A Totally Portable Gaming Era?

October 13, 2010 Written by Ray Conley

Are you familiar with that saying “It’s so crazy that it just might work!?” Sure, we hear lots of crazy ideas that are spouted through the rumor mills and some from notable figures from the game industry. One far-fetched idea has been spoken before and we all scoffed at the idea simply because it was, well, crazy. Remember when Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima shared his belief that console gaming will come to an end?  We jeered at it. EA founder Trip Hawkins, voiced the same idea, and the proud console owners (including myself) thumbed our noses at him. However, lately I’ve been giving it more thought and perhaps, they are actually on to something. This idea of a console-less gaming future is so crazy that it just might work! In fact, it could be huge.

Sure, the idea of playing games without a console seems scores and decades away, something that my grandchildren would be immersing themselves in. Certainly, a disc-less gaming industry couldn’t exist in today’s industry with the advent of Blu-ray and physical media.  We see what works, but can’t really envision what “could” work. Think of the Wright brothers: people thought the idea of flying was impossible within their current times.  Nowadays, we are putting people in space! Would the people from the 1900′s believe that space was even achievable, let alone flying? The same could be said for a pure digital gaming world. The technology may not exist now, but we certainly have the capacity and the know-how of establishing a much different gaming future.

How can a console-less gaming industry take-off? More importantly, why should it exist? Simple: the consumers will demand it. Picture the current state of consumers – we all crave convenience. Convenience exists in everything that we do; everything has to be on-the-go. We want speed in delivery, from sending messages to our friends, even zap-frying a pop-tart in mere seconds to beat traffic hour. Currently, that technology of convenience hasn’t been implemented into the gaming biz, not yet at least. For now, we have to hop in our car (or get your parents), go the store, buy the game, run home, pop in the disc, install the base files, and then you finally get to party on your hard-earned purchase. Don’t you think that’s too much work compared to today’s standard of convenience?

Already, we can see some sort of console-less gaming taking off in the smart phone market. Albeit, it’s not very huge yet, but there is something that it has over the console. I’ve said it before: convenience. You don’t have to run to a store and buy physical media to play a phone game.  The purchase and play is done right at your fingertips, and it can all be done within a matter of minutes. Yes, I understand that production values are simplistic compared to console games, but it’s hard to deny that the technology is catching up.

Another huge leap towards pure-mobile gaming is the advent of cloud computing. The birth of OnLive uses cloud computing to handle the processing and rendering of games and only sends the visual data stream back to the end-user. This could potentially take a huge load off smaller compact hardware. The potential for using cloud computing is integral for a mobile gaming network. Netflix and Hulu have also shown that HD video (aka. “large amounts of data”) can be streamed to your living-room, saving you a trip to the video store. Netfilx streaming has also made it to the iPhone, which is another huge leap for convenience in the entertainment business on mobile devices.

Mobile phones are increasingly becoming the largest market for the purchase of casual games. The hardware on these phones is packing more of a punch and storage sizes are increasing. Some of the top phones on the market have an HDMI-out plug to view HD video on your flat-screen TVs.  Wireless networks are also increasing the speeds at which data can be transferred through 3G and 4G networks. Some cities have even begun to petition the FCC to unlock unused UHF/VHF signals to open up a city-wide mega Wi-Fi network. Do you see where this is going? Eventually, nabbing a 1GB file over a 4G network (dare I say 5G?) will be a thing of the past.

So what do you get when you put all of the above technology together?  Answer: one awesome PORTABLE gaming device.

I think Sony has already foreseen this. Earlier this year, they began to seek out talented people with Android experience, which, not surprisingly, lead to rumors of a PSP Phone. But let’s take that rumor a bit further. What if this is just a pre-emptive to the console-less gaming era?

If you’re still having a hard time coming to grips with the idea, then let me paint you a picture. The new Modern Warfare 7 has just been released.  I’m at work, and I don’t have time to go to the store. I flip on my PlayStation X-Droid and hop on the new PSN and purchase MW7 over the city Wi-Fi or 5G network, which will send the 5GB file to my 500GB portable device. Thankfully, I don’t have to wait for the whole download. The developers have ingeniously developed a cloud data platform that allows me to play the game while the remaining files download over the hi-speed network. Awesome, looks like I’ll be able to get some play time during lunch.

After work, I have to go visit a friend, but that’s not a problem. When I get to my friend’s place, I plug in my PSX-Droid to his HDTV via HDMI. We sync up his PlayStation controls to my PSX-Droid via Bluetooth and play a few rounds of MW7 and a few multiplayer sessions over the super network. For a break, we flip on the Netflix streaming app and watch a few episodes of our favorite TV show via the PSX-Droid. It’s now time to go home, so I unplug my PSX-Droid and take it home with me. I play a bit more MW7 on my HDTV via HDMI and my synced Bluetooth controller. When it’s time for bed, I unplug it and complete a few more missions while I’m lying under the covers.

Do you see it now? No matter where you go, your entertainment goes with you, without having to sacrifice any features of the current consoles that we play on today. This system also provides the hardcore gamers with convenience. You could be in the heat of a boss battle, and when it’s time to go to Sally’s birthday party, there is no need to pause and play it later. Rather, just unplug it and play in the car on the way to Sally’s house.

Again, that future is not here yet, but the technology to embrace it seems to be getting much closer.