It’s a strange world we live in right now. Home consoles are selling very well (at least in the West), with the PlayStation 4 reaching approximately 35 million units sold worldwide as of January of this year, and is projected to have almost 70 million units in homes by 2019, with the Xbox One doing a little over half that. But despite these sales figures, neither company seems to want to focus a lot on what is clearly still a huge market.
Many of the next Xbox One exclusive titles – such as the latest entires in the Forza Motorsport and Gears of War series – are coming to PC, while Sony is considering bringing the PlayStation VR to PC as well. But if console exclusives — as anti-consumer as they may be — are what drive the console market, why would companies risk consumers forgoing the purchase of their consoles in lieu of the PC platform? Could it be that console gaming is still the most affordable option for most gamers and both Sony and Microsoft feel it’s safe to expand to the PC market without it heavily impacting their sales? Or could it be that they see the writing on the wall and a lack of future for console gaming? Meanwhile, Nintendo, who relies heavily on first-party exclusives to sell their consoles, has been jumping on the mobile bandwagon, with Pokémon GO as one of their first examples of this.
This doesn’t completely spell doom and gloom for fans of consoles. There’s still seemingly a large enough market to justify publishers developing and releasing AAA console titles, and the experience of playing a game with a controller isn’t dying, it’s moving to new, exciting platforms. It’s very likely that consoles will still be around for several years. Here are five of the different places console gaming could go:
Background: When Valve launched their Steam Machine platform, they seemed like an excellent if confusing idea. Between this and their joint work with HTC on the Vive for VR, Valve have been pushing for innovation in the hardware space. However, neither Steam Machines nor their Steam Controller really took off. Whether that’s because consumers didn’t find them useful, or because of Valve’s stubborn philosophy that they shouldn’t market products because a good product will sell itself through word of mouth is up for debate, and it may be a mix of both, but they’ve hardly set the world on fire.
How it would work: Even if the format of what is essentially a PC running a Linux or Windows operating system in the living room hasn’t taken off yet, that doesn’t make it a bad idea. The specs for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One already essentially make them PCs, and Microsoft has been doing its best to very closely tie Xbox and Windows together. So the idea of either company moving away from purely a console format isn’t too far off. Many even argue that we would have already embraced this as a reality were it not for exclusives keeping consoles alive.
Why it would be good: There are many advantages to owning a gaming PC: you can play any game that you have the specs for, no need to worry about backwards compatibility. It will incrementally improve over time, and indeed, many PC gamers like to make note of superior quality on top-range PCs, so long as the ports are good. And with rumors of Sony coming out with its updated PlayStation 4.5 to allow for 4K resolution gaming, it appears they have realized this fault, too. So there are many advantages to this approach.
Background: Between products like the Apple TV, Android TV, and the Amazon Fire, small devices that can be plugged into a TV to have access to the internet and its vast on-demand content have been slowly taking off. Many TVs are even coming with such operating systems built in. And many of them can already access games and cloud gaming (more on that below). TVs are a lot more expensive than smartphones and tablets, and replaced much less often, which means none of the formats have had a hugely widespread adoption. However, there have been incremental moves towards a very pleasant TV experience that may show up in many homes in the near future.
How it would work: The specs of a smartphone are already in many cases as powerful as many PCs are, so harnessing that power for a bigger screen, and hooking up a controller to it may just produce the same experience one could find on a console. Just imagine being able to play Grand Theft Auto on a large screen with a 4K resolution without needing to plug a PlayStation into it, or anything at all.
Why it would be good: Affordability is a large part of the reason why consoles are still the preferred platform of many gamers. Being able to purchase a TV that could not only stream movies and watch cable TV, but could play games, would be much cheaper than buying both a TV and a console. That, and there would be far fewer wires to deal with, and fewer HDMI slots taken up on your TV.
Background: As previously mentioned, many smartphones already have the power of PCs. Tablets are much the same, to a greater extent. And both products like the iPad Pro and Android Pixel C (and indeed the new Android OS update) appear to directly be challenging PCs, while more tablets are advertising their specs and strengths for gaming. What many people don’t realize is that it’s already easy to hook up a controller to these devices and play games.
How it would work: Tablets are improving in specs rapidly, as are both the iOS and Android operating systems. If they continue to improve at their current rate, it’s perceivable that they could produce console-quality experiences if one hooks up a controller to play games on them. Likewise, though smartphones have a screen too small for many gamers compared to a home console experience, if they could be hooked up to a larger screen, they could essentially serve as a small, but very powerful, console in what could be a nearer future than we may know.
Why it would be good: Tablets and smartphones are widely used already, because of how portable they are, how easy they are to use and just how many tasks they can perform. If specs were to improve at the rate they are, without prices spiking too heavily, then one could easily add AAA gaming to that list. Byond just being able to play Clash of Clans with a controller – imagine if we could play genuine console experiences with just a small device and a controller. If developers, publishers and big gaming platforms adopt it, and the consumer perception of mobile devices only being able to play free-to-play games were to be replaced, they could be a strong contender.
Cloud Gaming Platforms
Background: Many companies have been playing with on-demand content streaming for a long time. Having all music available via a monthly subscription through services such as Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and Google Play Music has been widely adopted. Meanwhile, film streaming through services such as Netflix, Amazon Fire, and Google Play Movies & TV has also taken off. But as revolutionary as cloud gaming has been, through services such as OnLive and, most notably, PlayStation Now, it hasn’t taken the world by storm yet – and indeed, many cloud gaming services have had to shut down their servers.
How it would work: Essentially, this one works as the best “all of the above” option for a possible future, but it’s contingent not just on the technology being there, but on the infrastructure of the internet improving globally in speed and affordability. PlayStation Now is still in its early days, and if it proves successful, we could see many formats like it. More likely, it’s going to be a few years — or maybe even a decade or so — for the uptake to slowly rise to the point where streaming games start to eat into digital or physical sales of games.
Why it would be good: The idea of never needing anything beyond just a controller of a run of the mill internet device (PC, smartphone, tablet, TV, TV plugin) to access a large number of AAA games from practically anywhere is a very exciting idea. The streaming experience is currently not adequate for many gamers, but with improvements internet infrastructure, and more developers and publishers pushing for it, cloud gaming services could be an extremely exciting future.
There’s no way of knowing where gaming will take us. Though it’s looking likely that fragmented, closed-platform consoles with dated specs could see an end somewhere down the line, it’s hard to tell whether this will be the last generation or many more will follow. It’s hard to tell if any one future platform becomes dominant for gamers. But this isn’t a time to fear for the death of gaming to mobile, it’s time to look forward to where gaming goes from here. And it’ll be very exciting, and intriguing, to watch.