Opinion: The Future of GamingAugust 21, 2011
Will hardware really matter one day?
The video game industry has been just as much about the hardware as it’s been about the software. Graphics on each and every console have been scrutinized and compared, with specs and numbers being shot into the consumers’ faces like so many neon-blue hadokens. However, as technology accelerates, just how much do graphics matter and how much will they matter in the future? More broadly, how much will the hardware itself eventually matter? Let’s take a look at history.
Technology has improved and increased at a very fast rate. The speed with which the mass market received computers and other electro-gadgets has multiplied and compounded in a fragment of the time. Just think of it: how long did it take for the general consumer to get one of those nifty looking Zack Morris, microwave-sized cell phones they would see in the ‘80s and ‘90s? Ten, maybe fifteen years, correct? I know that I personally got my first cell phone in 2000. It was a green-screen, gray box that had such features as making phone calls AND adding contacts! Flash forward to present day and I can now run my entire clothing and design business on one single smart phone.
Now let’s jump back to gaming consoles. Graphics for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis were incredible compared to their predecessors. The Playstation and Nintendo 64 featured jaw-dropping three-dimensional worlds. The XBox, PS2, and Gamecube improved on things further and added online gaming. The XBox 360, PS3, and Wii …um… improved on things again. To their credit, Nintendo did have the foresight to recognize this trend and implemented motion controls, something all of the major companies now utilize, including the new guy to the dance, Apple.
The next level seems to include touch screens (thank you, DS …and eventually iPad,) motion controls, and even 3d gaming. Better graphics and online gaming are a given. And while the market will determine which of these novelties are just that and which are here to stay, the question still remains – how will the ‘Big 3 (or 4?)’ stand out from their competitors? If every new console will simply check off “all of the above” in its features list, what will encourage the consumer to purchase one over the other? The answer is software.
Software will tell the story. Which system features what game and character? Which studio will most creatively and entertainingly make use of the motion, touch screens, 3d, etc? Things like graphics will be taken for granted (as they already are,) and the gameplay itself will matter above all else.
So who will be the future winners and losers?
The two winners in this scenario are Nintendo and Apple. Nintendo has an enormous franchise base and has already proven that hardware is secondary to their success. Characters like Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Donkey Kong, Pokemon, etc. can only be found on Nintendo-built machines. The gameplay in most (although not all) of these games is spectacular. Assuming this standard continues, Nintendo will always have that ace up its million-dollar sleeve. As long as they own a plastic box to show and reincarnate these familiar faces, people will buy them.
Apple will win – and has been indirectly winning – through its continuing spread of iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs, and the like. Their strategy will be the direct opposite of Nintendo’s in fact. More people own apple devices than Playstations, Xboxes, or Wiis. As technology copies and overlaps, the consumer’s need to buy a Playstation AND an iPad will diminish. Only one will be needed, and since Apple has already been plugged into many of our heads, they will win.
To sum things up simply, Apple will control the hardware and Nintendo will exist mostly through its software, with possibly a device to back them up. This doesn’t bode well for the remaining two elephants in the room. As the industry is trending now, I don’t see a long term future for Sony and Microsoft in gaming. Their biggest games (Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, etc) are made by studios that are willing to deliver to anyone. This would certainly include Apple or (as they’ve promised with the Wii U) Nintendo. What then will be the selling feature for the Playstation or XBox? As it stands now, not too much.
This leaves a lot of work for Sony and Microsoft. They now face the challenge of adding true identities to their consoles. Games like God of War and Little Big Planet are a good start for Sony (Kratos is certainly a better mascot than Crash Bandicoot,) but both companies have a long way to go in the ‘exclusive’ franchise department. The Playstation Vita is a nice little device as well but, again, it seems to be stuck in a world between Apple and Nintendo. Sony is also trying to capitalize on their past glory with their Playstation Network’s own virtual console but whether the nostalgia of these games can rival the Ice Climbers and Excitebikers of old remain to be seen. XBox definitely has a great online presence with XBox Live but could it ever compete with the online gaming that Apple could potentially deliver?
Then of course there are the unknowns. Will we ever be playing video games on a Google Android console? Is there a new company or a new franchise on the horizon that will blow us away? What new technology advances have we yet to foresee? There are many questions to ponder along the way, any of which could change the landscape enormously.
Much of these projections are in the long term and all of these companies have plenty of time to change their trajectories. However, with the next generation of consoles now beginning to line up, I think we will begin seeing these changes sooner rather than later. Apple is continuing to build its already gargantuan momentum. Nintendo has revealed their next bad boy which, like it or not, does offer something new and unique to the consumer. So now all eyes will fall on Sony and Microsoft. Will the next Playstation and XBox deliver something new? For the sake of quality games and avid gamers everywhere, I do hope so.
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