By hallwaygiant 3 Comments
Is it too soon to be calling much of anything at this point? Perhaps. Do I still have very strong opinions on the future of gaming and the future of the industry as a whole? Absolutely. In fact, I feel that the unveiling of the PS4 is the ideal time to finally write up a bit on why I feel that consoles are playing to an inclusive audience and how the positioning of these consoles will more than likely cause the downfall of the modern games industry. But more on that.
The problem is both unfathomably complex and incredibly simple all at once. On one hand you have the concept of a game, something that is inarguably part of our (aka the 'developed' parts of the world) collective culture. Where there are people their is entertainment, where there is entertainment their is a media and within that you have games. Consoles came to fruition because hardware makers saw the amount of interest in games and moved to capitalize on the notion of bringing the arcade experience home. While certainly Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have long since moved passed this mindset, I feel this point is absolutely still a valid one to make.
In this loose metaphor, the consoles are the arcades and the smartphone and tablets are the home video game consoles. The consoles are the bulky expensive dust gathering machines, while the smartphones/tablets bring that experience home just enough to be bearable. Obviously the timelines are far more accelerated and the hyperbole is perhaps overdone, but even still I honestly feel that the modern game console has more to learn historically from the arcade cabinet of the 70-80's than the home console of its day. Gaming consoles, despite their finest efforts will always be caddy-corned into the niche category of hardware. When a $70 box can play virtually any movie on the planet and a $500 tablet can do anything else, why would anyone want to spend just as much on a console that does both of those things 'OK' and in the wrong places? What the industry has succeeded in doing thus far is entrenching themselves on the wrong side of history, the 'Core Gamer'.
I like to think of modern console situation as a small unincorporated township of 8,000. A population of that size allows for all sorts of businesses, practices, and services to exist to a variety of customers and be fairly sustainable doing so. At the same time though this isn't a town that grows, its not nice enough for people to move in or bad enough to move away, it just works. The modern console is that, a small intensely loyal, if not stagnant, community of people who feed of each other. This is not a industry with growth, it is both exclusionary and alienating. This incestuous relationship between producer and consumer benefits no one. The loyal fanbase of Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo is going to buy whatever comes out, whatever box or service or game they put in front of them, their really is no such thing as marketing to that person in a wrong way. Those people are easy to impress, but what about the hundreds of millions of people who play games but who would never pick of a controller and sit down in front of a TV?
These are the people and Microsoft and Nintendo (pre-Wii U) targeted. The Wii and Kinect were the opening salvo of the diversification of consoles. These pieces of hardware introduced the concept of accessibility to the millions of non-console gaming players out there. And this is why in all likely hood Microsoft may very well come out on top in the next generation. That's hypocrisy you might say, how can you say that a unannounced unknown console will "come out on top"? Because by default, they have to, again, if one is to assume consoles are sustainable. It's clear to me that Sony and Nintendo have given up on non-console gamers. Clearly this is the case because of the continued focus on very traditional gaming experiences. Microsoft on the other hand has done its best to focus on everything else. They have created a controller free peripheral and they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to bring a variety of video and music services to their services. Microsoft has given up on the core gamer for a reason.For several E3's past, the gaming media shuns Microsoft for focusing on non-gaming applications and services, yet in the U.S. the Xbox 360 continues to sell beyond the scope of traditional video game player. It has to be, because 8 years later, 'gamers' aren't walking into Best Buy buying their first 360, these are fringe buyers.
No to counteract this point I'll say that Microsoft still has the ability to completely screw the pooch just as well as anyone. For as much good will and brand recognition, they could just as easily loose through a iterative, unimpressive console launch this year. They will suffer the same fate as their competitors if they do not find more ways to make the Xbox the center of the living room. Otherwise, as previously stated the industry as we know it will not go away this year or the next, but slowly and surely, as the dedicated gaming audience grows up and grows out of games. It is already happening and the gaming industry needs to see that they are going to have to be far more creative to survive.