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My Take: When the Consoles Die, What Comes Next?

On 03/15/2012 at 06:59 PM by Mike Wall

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I ask a lot of question, in hope of stumbling upon some answers.

Are consoles standing with one foot int he grave?

In Ben Cousins’ GDC presentation “When the Consoles Die, What Will Come Next?”, he goes on to explain the probable dissipation of the gaming console market in favor of new more accessible platforms (namely tablets and smartphones). Before you even go on to read what I have to say I suggest you go ahead and watch it for yourselves (listed below); it’s a great video that offers some quirky humor, a few history lessons, and plethora of insightful information.

While I’ll admit at first glance the title appears to be a bit hyperbolic, after listening to what Ben has to say, it’s clear that his predicted trends are all to probable. In fact, I’m not writing this post to question his idea, I agree … sort of. We’re certainly one the tide of some major shifts in the gaming industry. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say that the industry is heading towards a market dominated by mobile gaming. However, with the possibilities of direct downloadable content through Xbox Live and Steam or even directly uploaded content from services like On Live, It’s naïve to think that gaming will continue to live in its current form – no matter how impressive recent titles have been.

As I previously said I don’t believe that mobile gaming is ready to support AAA titles at least in the relative short term. Don’t get me wrong, Ben is right in assuming that the mobile market is going to continue to grow exponentially in the future, but are we going to see the next Call of Duty directly developed for the iPhone 5, probably not. Instead I think we’ll see more games generated for mobile play – and I’m not talking about more tower defense games or some crappy interactive app. We’re going to see real, well thought out games that are made with this medium specifically in mind. Even now were seeing talented developers such as David Jaffe, look to this new frontier as the future of games. Thus while the mobile market may not currently be ready to insulate big budget AAA titles, the foundation for the mobile market is already well under way.

But what’s going to happen to our beloved triple AAA titles?

Well to be honest, I’m not so sure. As one of my colleagues Jesse Miller explains, there is a problem with the AAA market. The current formula doesn’t work. Sure we see big budgets hits, but for every success story there are countless expensive failures. The truth is that this system (in its oversaturated state) hemorrhages money and plays a large part in the current fiscal troubles that Ben describes in his presentation.

Is it possible that we’ll see the AAA games market disintegrate?

No, I think that’s too extreme. It’s more realistic that we’ll see game development diversify itself. What I mean by this is that we’ll see some big budget games, but not every game will have to be a multi-million dollar behemoth. In fact, I think we’re already seeing the catalyst for this kind of thinking with the recent kickstarter craze, and the continued success of the Indie games market. It would seem that the industry is finally starting to realize that ingenuity is their greatest resource not an oversized budget – and as a fan of gaming I couldn’t be more excited about this.

Where will these games go?

Well the consoles aren’t dead yet, and I think they’ll remain the main vehicle for gaming for at least a few more years to come (likely throughout the next generation). After that, I think we’ll see streaming devices become the next means of gaming. Whether it’s Apple TV, Google, or On-Live I think the next means of obtaining our gaming experiences will occur digitally. Interestingly enough with technology like On-Live, it is possible to stream games onto mobile devices such as tablets, thus even if I’m correct in my assumptions, so is Ben … well played sir.

Then What?

After that I think we’ll finally see phones/tablets/computer chips in our heads (a boy can dream cant he?) become the next means of gaming. Honestly with discussions of computers going the way of the typewriter thanks to mobile phones, the idea that gaming consoles suffering the same fate is tame. The important thing to understand is, while the vehicle might change good games will continue to drive the industry just as they always have.

Okay so let’s say this does happen, when will it happen?

This my friends, is the million dollar question. In college I had one strangely brilliant college professor who predicated the mortgage crisis before there was even an inkling of trouble. While I was undoubtedly impressed he told me, “Predicting the trend is inconsequential. Predicting when the trend will occur, that is what is important”.

Unfortunately I do not possess even a modicum of the intelligence needed predict such a thing, but I will try to point out some issues that could stall the developments of these alternatives.

Streaming Devices

Streaming devices are almost technologically sound enough to be a viable replacement for Consoles. On-Live has shown that the smooth upload times make it easy for players to jump into a wide array of games at their choosing. However, the current input lag that exists still makes online play problematic. Sufficient wide-spread high-speed internet would also be required for services like On-Live to be the norm.

The real issue with streaming devices though, is consumer trust. While additions like DLC and online stores such as Steam have made people much more tolerant of digital content, many gamers still insist on buying tangible copies of their games. Until gamers at large are willing to give up games in their tangible form, streaming devices will have a hard time replacing the home console.

Mobile Devices

The obstacle for mobile gaming is battery life. For Mobile gaming to become the main instrument of playing games it needs a battery that could sustain continuous play. As it currently stands if one wants to play a phone game for an extended length of time then they better be within reach of an outlet. Mobil gaming’s main appeal is that it’s mobile (go figure). Thus, until gamers can game for longer periods of time uninterrupted, mobile gaming cannot provide a serviceable replacement to home consoles.

We’ll just have to see

I know that what I’ve given you is in no way shape or form definitive, and I apologize for that. The truth is that until Warren Buffet wants to take an interest in games and then give me a projection, I’ll remain skeptical. No one can really tell us what’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen.

One thing is for sure though, things will change. Gaming will change, and our means of gaming will change. We as human beings always want to grasp the idea of stability, even though everything around us in constant flux. The world of gaming is no different, but while things may change I’m optimistic that the future of gaming, regardless of what we play on looks bright.




03/16/2012 at 12:38 PM

Amazing stuff Mike, thanks for bringing this out and putting Cousins' presentation up with it. I thought his analysis was really interesting and the conclusions he made are logical. It's really striking how much the companies and platforms have been suffering and hemorraging over the long term. You honestly, and in every sense, wouldn't know that the industry was changing if you just lived normally away from news articles and presentations like this. The industry paints a picture of itself, and the picture leads you to believe consoles, AAA games, and the way things are now, are only getting bigger, better, more lucrative, successful, and stable. You see fancy Sony, Micro, and Nintendo logos, sleek consoles, men in suits, new games like MW3 breaking entertainment records, and you assume, "These guys are on top of the world, they're not going anywhere, things will always be like this, everything is stable, right?"

You would never guess that behind the scenes the truth of the industry is the exact opposite and things couldn't be more conflicted, ever changing, and remenescent of the change from arcade to console. I never looked at mobile devices as disruptive tech till now, but people said the same about consoles. The established incumbent has never taken the disruptive tech seriously. Over the last few years whenever I'd hear people in gaming journalism (especially on G4) talk about mobile devices they'd laugh and write these devices off as if they wouldn't have a chance in hell. We are comfortable with our consoles the way arcades people were comfortable with their cabinets. When the iPad and iPhone started showing up a few years ago, people were tossing around the question, "How will this impact the gaming market? Can this even impact gaming at all, does this platform matter?" and across the board everybody wrote it off and laughed when the topic came up. It's only now that I notice people taking it more seriously, looking at the data, and trying to figure out what's going on. That fact by itself is an indicator that we could be looking at mobile devices as disruptive tech in this situation. It's disruptive enough to finally be getting everybodies attention and make people question, "What's wrong with gaming? What's happening with consoles, discs, downloadables, mobiles, iOS, etc?" Nobody took it serously because it wasn't up to snuff in its inception, and now it's beginning to reach parity with some console expectations.

I agree with the points you made yourself Mike. Things will change, platforms will change, distribution will change, dedicated consoles and software on discs aren't always going to be the hot ticket and most importanlty the only ticket, they will be an option. I've been saying for the last couple years that we need to diversify and explode not only as an industry but as an art as well. I just haven't been sure what will happen, none of us can be sure. If you look at the data the change between arcades and consoles didn't happen overnight, nothing ever happens overnight. It gradually changes like the change from cassette to DVD, from SD to HD, arcade to console, etc. I think you are on the right track Mike when you guess that this next generation won't just change the system immediatly. It will be more of a transition. Gaming divisions, developers, and publishers are trying to stay afloat and be successful in the gaming business, and right now with the current system it's not working so they will be transitioning to try new things out. They won't want to alienate gamers and leave people confused, but they will need to coax people into new ways of gaming, distribution, platform, etc. The industry has to tread new waters, abandon the status quo, and just see what works. Throw science at the wall and see what sticks. In the end the games and content are what matters most.

I for one didn't become a gamer because of a console, controller, cartidge, or disc. I became a gamer because of the content, the company logo and the platform couldn't be more irrelevant. I'm really comfortable with my 360, the controller, and the experience I get, but I'm not complacent enough with it to think it's the only way, or the best way. If some other company like Apple or anybody else presented me with a controller that was fun to play with, great games, and a convienient, affordable system of distribution and everything, I would use it. When I first saw the OnLive setup, the controller, streaming, etc, I thought it was really cool. It's not perfect and has plenty of kinks to work out and it depends on the state of internet speeds among other things, but it's really cool in concept so far. One thing I'm worried about is loosing our state of controllers. The 360 controller is my favorite of all time and not because of the company behind it, but because of the design of it. I'm skeptical of transitions like the Wii U tablet controller because it doesn't look fun to play on or hold. I don't want to game on a tablet, I want joysticks, buttons, the works.

I like my games and controllers, but I couldn't care less about the consoles, and to be honest I'm getting less and less attached to discs as time goes on. I wouldn't have said that a year ago, but recently I realized I don't love them as much as I use to. I've been playing Fable 3 and when I put the disc in the console gets loud, makes stupid noises, the disc didn't read one time, the load screens were ridiculous, I had to worry about scratching the disc, plenty of junk to worry about and the only upside to it was a sense of ownership. I ended up installing the disc on my HD and it was so much more convienient and it performed better. I still need the disc to play the game, but I honestly couldn't give less of a shit about my Fable 3 disc. The content is important to me, and I'm experiencing the content without the need to rely on the disc completely. It's not the best example of my own transition, but it does feel like something is transitioning slowly in my brain.

We need to diversify and expand in everyway. We need to evolve mechanics, animation, storytelling, create new genres, blend everything, and take risks like art should. Creatively we should do whatever we want with our games, and throw the AAA model out the window. Last year on 1UP I was in a talk with Julian about the future of gaming and I was saying that I want to make games, get them to as many people as possible, and see the industry grow in every way. I don't care about Sony stock prices or exclusives, I care about game design, games, and gamers. I want games on any and every platform, all around the world, giving access to as many people as possible. I think we should all share tech, and work together to evolve the art and industry. I don't give a shit about a single companies stock, I care about gaming, and world domination lol. Convienient, high-def, fun, inclusive, innovative, world domination. Some people will see these changes happen and act like the sky is falling, but I for one will keep looking to the horizon and look on the bright side of it. The content is king and to provide the best content you shouldn't follow the status quo. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Electronic Arts, Activision, and the AAA model (all of these things are apparently the only way to be "successful" these days, they are the status quo) are not the only way to do gaming. They are just one way to do gaming.

Mike Wall Staff Alumnus

03/16/2012 at 04:14 PM

Hey Mike,

Thanks for the insightful response as always. I’ll do my best to address most of the things you’re brought up here, but I may fail to address all of it. I definitely think that a universal platform is the ultimate destiny gaming, and like Ben speculates it most likely is mobile. However, like you pointed out this transition isn’t going to happen overnight. More to the point, as current technology stands right now I don’t think phones/tablets are ready to become the main vehicle of gaming. As it stands right now there are a few problems that cannot be overlooked. The first like you said yourself is controls, as is phone controls are not fluid enough for players to want to invest serious amounts of time on a phone as a gaming machine. The second that I stated in the blog was the limited battery life. 

How long is it going to take for these two issues to be adequately addressed? I honestly have no idea. I will say though that it will probably be quicker than I imagined. I mean look at the development of smartphones over the last 4-5 years, it’s simply amazing. The new iPhone is starting to resemble EDI from ME 2 (obviously a stretch), but still it’s enough to make us worry about sentient machines in the future.

However, really when you think about it, all of this is sort of irrelevant. You said it best “I don't care about Sony stock prices or exclusives, I care about game design, games, and gamers.” I think people get themselves worked up when they hear that consoles might die, because they think the console experience might die, or the games that they love might die. When they hear about mobile gaming becoming the new potential norm, they fear a dystopian future that revolves around Angry Birds 24/7.

Obliviously this is not the case. If the day does come where all of our gaming is delegated to mobile devices they will not look like anything like the mobile games we see today. As much bull as there is this industry, by far and large good games have driven the industry and they will continue to do so in the future.  Additionally I think we can expect things like controls, connectivity and the like to be worked out as well.

Even still I can relate to your woes about the Xbox 360 controller. I kind of mentioned this in the blog, but I wanted to lay off on going to in-depth on it for a fear of coming off as tacky, but we like stability and comfort. I’m with you; I love the design of the Xbox 360 controller and the way it rests in my hands. Other controls while suitable just don’t feel as natural to me. The only other gaming peripherals I can use with a real sense of comfort is a keyboard and mouse, but it took some serious mental will to make that the case, and still even today I crave the feel of the Xbox 360 controllers for certain games.

There’s no doubt about it, a transition away from consoles will be bittersweet. It will feel like we’re leaving a part of gaming behind, but I think that the returns that we get in exchange will certainly be worth it. Entering a world with one universal system would be great for gaming. For consumers it would open up avenues of games that were once unavailable due to exclusives. For developers it would allow them to utilize the technology of that given hardware to the fullest. Games are diluted today in favor of cross-platform titles and no developer is truly able to take full advantage of the tech that is at their feigner tips.


All I can say is it’s an exciting time to be a gamer and the industry is right on the cusp of all these changes. It certainly will be interesting to see where things go from here.

P.S. In all honesty though, what I’m more excited about is the deviation away from the AAA model as you mention. I think that Kickstarter and the mentality that its bringing to games may be the most important thing to happen to games in 2012. I’m thinking about writing something covering Kickstarter, but I’m still not as familiar with all of it as I’d like to be.

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