With developers, publishers and analysts predicting the death of the console, what’s next?
The PlayStation 4 and NeXtbox are obviously real, going to come out in 2013 or 14 and have a 6 or so year cycle. But after that, many wonder whether an expensive, core focused, static-graphic processing powered device will have a place in the jetpack-filled future of 2020. So if consoles are to die, what’s going to replace them?
Even at the moment, cloud is an entirely possible and marketable product – to see if your internet can handle it, head over to Gaikai’s site right now and play a quick game of Trackmania Canyon. But if you can’t stream games, don’t worry, by the end of the PS4’s lifecycle there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to far more. In the U.S., the FCC pushed its National Broadband Plan in March 2010, which aims to increase speeds and connectivity, such as installing 100-megabit-per-second download speeds for 100 million American households by 2020. The Digital Agenda for Europe by the Europe 2020 strategy also aims to ensure that all Europeans have access to internet speeds of above 30 Mbit/s and half or more of European households have above 100 Mbit/s by 2020. Broadband plans like this might not be fully carried out and speeds might not go as high as 100 Mbit/s, but they don’t need to. Gaikai and Onlive work at 3 Mbit/s, and 5 Mbit/s is recommended.
Ok, so cloud gaming is possible, but is it desirable? Once you take the issue of slow speeds and download caps, cloud becomes an increasingly intriguing prospect. It’ll take you less than 30 seconds to start playing a new large-scale game, you don’t have to juggle space on your HDD, you don’t have to buy a full game – you could just buy a few hours to try it out, you don’t have to buy an expensive console, there are no retailer costs, your ‘console’ doesn’t have static specs for 10 years, you don’t need to keep buying the latest tech for your PC and you could stream to any platform.
In the eyes of many, OnLive/Gaikai could displace consoles just as Netflix displaced Blockbuster. Both convenience and price are on the side of the cloud, and the only thing holding it back is public perception and general internet speeds. As speeds improve, so will people’s standpoint on cloud gaming.
Expect this to be a serious threat to console gaming in the coming years.
Browser based games are a very similar story to cloud gaming, with ease, ubiquity and potential market helping make this an incredibly powerful platform. And they’ll be powerful as a gaming platform too – Epic Games’ CEO Tim Sweeney told Gamasutra:
We’re slowly heading in that direction as an industry. You should be able to take any game — a PlayStation 3 or iOS game, for example — and just go to that and play it from any web browser.
HTML5 will also be cross platform, something that will make it appealing and easy to pick up and play.
Kevin Moore from Pixel Lab said:
In 18 months or 2 years, the question isn’t going to be, ‘Can we do this in the browser?’ It’s going to be, ‘Do we have to do it out of the browser?
While browser based gaming is still in its earliest stages, and formats and development platforms are still to be standardized, you can already play games like From Dust on your browser.
At their WWDC conference today, Apple announced that there are 400 million apple accounts with one click pay systems set up with their credit card info. That’s an insane number – the largest of any company – and one that any publisher or developer wants to sell to. More and more developers and publishers are moving to it, focusing resources on it, and investing their futures in it. There’s a reason why Microsoft unveiled their half-assed SmartGlass platform, they’re desperate for people to use the 360 while fulfilling their insatiable desire to fiddle with a phone or tablet.
As consoles lose their relevance, the number of games and the scale of games will shrink, leading to less sales and less consoles.
And the rate at which smartphone and tablet hardware iterates – fueled by intense competition between Apple and Android smartphones, and Android and Android smartphones – means that these devices are nothing to be sniffed at. Id software’s John Carmack believes that it is “unquestionable” that mobile will surpass current consoles.
But mobiles are arguably a bigger killer of dedicated handhelds than of consoles – there’s a huge difference to playing a game on your 2.4″ mobile to your 42″ TV. That is, until you factor in stuff like Airplay, where you can play games from your iPad and iPhone – and they’ll be immensely powerful in 2020 – on your TV by streaming it. TVs themselves may be game compatible, with Apple heavily rumored to bring out an iTV or iPanel. If it’s capable of playing games, you may think that it won’t be able to compete with the PS3/PS4 in power, but it will be able to compete with them in market share. For the younger generations, many parents won’t buy a console if the children have a perfectly capable (in their eyes) gaming device – just like how they won’t buy a 3DS or Vita, now that they have iTouches.
Facebook, Twitter and Google+ probably won’t be able to kill consoles, but they’ll be helping drive the knives into the PS and Xbox’s back. Every platform that isn’t a console takes away gaming focus and developer focus, as well as training a generation on very un-console like games.
Companies like Google, Apple and Amazon all already have a position in the games market, but they want more. Apple didn’t originally plan to be such a big player in the games market, and almost stumbled into it. Now, they’re making money over fist and are starting to realize how much more they could make. Google also has a strong position in mobile gaming, as well as in the browser gaming market with the best HTML5 browser, Google Chrome. Amazon’s obviously got a strong presence as a games retailer, and PC download retailer, but they’ve also got a small market in mobile games with the Kindle Fire. Amazon has aggressively pushed to own the digital books market, the digital video market, the cloud music storage market and more, as they know that physical entertainment is dying. Expect them to have their eyes set on getting into games strongly.
Each of these players have some of the best minds and the deepest wallets. It’s hard to know what they might do, but with a roughly $60 billion market up for grabs, there are sure to be some radical developments.
Even without all these increasing threats, the console market is a danger to itself. As download speeds increase, the ability for pirates to download large games – even Blu-ray filling games – becomes far easier, making the platforms at risk of going the way of the PSP. Another issue is the constant push to increase graphics and features, making console games far more expensive for publishers and a far less attractive investment. Increased costs may also be passed onto the consumer (again), meaning less games will sell.
A final problem is that console makers might simply make a bad product. The Wii U might be as bad as some think, be a terrible selling product and push Nintendo into obscurity. The PS4 might be another expensive mistake for Sony, but this time while they are already losing billions. And Microsoft might suffer third-time bad luck, like Sony did with the PS3.
Reading this, you might be thinking: “I don’t care what competitors or newcomers bring out, I like my buttons, I like my Uncharted/Halo, nothing is going to change that”. Fair enough, but that’s a similar statement that was made before the Vita launched, yet it struggles to sell while iOS dominates. The fact is that the majority of gamers are happy to play what’s convenient or cheap, and wouldn’t mind cloud streaming, playing in a browser, or on super-powered mobiles. Once the number of console-purchasing gamers falls to a level where the system is no longer profitable or receives strong development support, it will simply fade away, much like how many believe the Vita will be Sony’s last dedicated handheld.