I’ve been thinking lately, what’s the future of the games console? I think we’ll see some dramatic changes when the next generation is announced, due to the massive and always accelerating rate that technology advances. Of course, those halcyon days of just put the cartridge in and it just works are long gone now. With things like day one patches and ongoing system updates modern consoles are more and more like PCs than ever before, and that trend looks to increase.
Steam machines the future of gaming?
This new raft of Steam machines and SFF gaming PCs is an incredible thing to behold. Simple, tidy PCs that don’t look out of place in the living room points to PC gaming being a very viable option for the average consumer. PC gaming used to be a stuffy, trollish pastime which only attracted the fringes of society. Due to the difficulty curve and and other hurdles, the barrier for entry to PC gaming was something most consumers were not willing to event attempt to straddle. But those days are gone now. The days of long boot times, autoexec.bat manipulation, confusing operating systems and hardware conflicts are largely behind us. Buying or even assembling a PC nowadays is almost as simple as buying a PS4. PCs and consoles are meeting somewhere in the middle.
We’ve watched Microsoft’s Xbox become more and more a gaming PC since its inception. DirectX, almost off-the-shelf PC innards and crosss-platform play. And why not? Microsoft have enormous authority in the PC space. This model is proven to work, so merging the PC and console experience is an obvious move for a company whose heartland has always been in personal computers. Sony though have little authority in the desktop PC space. Outside of a few attempts to enter the desktop space and admittedly a very good stance in the laptop and tablet market, it would be fair to say Sony’s heartland is in TVs. The Bravia experience has evolved since its launch, adding in digital services, networking and recently the addition of streaming. Sony’s PlayStation Now directly rivals Netflix and Amazon. Whilst perhaps it doesn’t have the market share of either, there is a concerted effort for Sony to bring TV and gaming together into the same space. The addition of Gaikai game streaming to Bravia TVs turns Sony’s offering into a tempting multimedia feast. With Sony pushing PlayStation Now content into a smart TV experience, it makes me wonder if the need for a physical PlayStation will be wholly necessary in a generation’s time.
Xbox could end up as living room gaming PCs, PlayStation might cease to exist in any physical sense. More like a PlayStation experience, included with the purchase of a new TV.
Nintendo and the future of games consoles
Now that leaves Nintendo. The company who historically have refused to take part in the arms race for faster, smarter machines. Fittingly now the last console standing. Never interested in bundling in a DVD or BluRay player, never forcing their hardware developers to shoehorn in the beefiest graphics card or the most cutting-edge hardware. Nintendo’s heartland is arguably games and that has shown in their thirty years of console development. Combining console and handheld gaming experiences has seemingly been Nintendo’s only motivation. Something which I’ve seen them do more and more with each passing generation and they are now embarking into with smartphones. Gunpei Yokoi’s philosophy of Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology has remained a core influence on Nintendo’s output. Never really pushing the envelope, but capitalising on the successes of others and adapting existing technology in a fun and innovative way. Nurturing their loyal, niche fanbase and serving gaming experiences, nothing more. After all after all these years, do we actually need more? Is it broke? Does it need fixing?
The world is changing very fast. Faster with each passing year. As times change, neither PlayStation or Xbox want to limit their financial opportunities. As new markets emerge, so they diversify, conglomerate and re-coalesce their businesses into something new. Adding in more technology and more features to corral more and more mainstream buyers into making a purchase. Nintendo have never really done that. They’ve always kept it simple – a games machine is a games machine. It can never be out of fashion if it never slavishly followed it. By placing sensible bets, picking their battles and crucially – listening to their fanbase, Nintendo have remained synonymous with video gaming and will most likely do so long into the future. Whilst I can see Sony and Microsoft changing more and more over time, I can’t see Nintendo going anywhere. The more things change, the more *they* stay the same.