This is a long post, hence I’ve structured it out. I highly advise reading it in its entirety, but the TL;DR is at the end in the “The Future” section.
EDIT: It seems that post caused a bit of confusion. I am NOT comparing the PC, XBox One, PS4 or Wii. I am looking and comparing other handhelds and consoles being introduced this year. I am also comparing the possibility of Amazon, Google & Apple introducing consoles and how they would fare against these new additional consoles.
The first digital game I ever played was on a handheld. It had only one game – Tetris. From there I moved to consoles, discovering the world of Contra, Mario and Bomberman. And then I discovered gaming on the PC. From playing the old Apogee games, moving on to DOS games such as Prince of Persia 1 and Paratrooper, to discovering how cool it was to play Prince of Persia 2 in color! And then came the Win 3.1 games, Chips Challenge and Rodents Revenge which paved the way for Bio-Menace, Jazz Jackrabbit, Raptor, Wolf-3D and Doom on Win ’95! And after that I finally discovered the modern era of gaming – from Roadrash to NFS 3, from Dink Smallwood to Age of Empires.
The point of my gaming background above? I love games and have played them on every device through the years – Portable, Console and PC. And it seems that now we have arrived at a juncture in gaming hardware, wherein we are restarting the hardware cycle all over again.
Initially, when computer hardware was expensive, handhelds with cartridges were the way to go. As hardware improved, so did the graphics and that ushered in the era of Atari and Nintendo. Soon after, the PC came up to par with the hardware necessities requisite for gaming and also gave a new experience to gamers introducing genres like RTS and MMORPG.
Today, we have extremely powerful PC hardware, but it costs a pretty penny to keep upgrading it every 2-3 years (Believe me, I know since I’ve build my own rig for the past ~15 years). A console helps in that regard since this years Xbox One and PS4 refresh comes after 7-8 years.
What seems to happening this year is that everyone is hoping for a piece of the console refresh pie and we have a slew of new hardware products coming out this year. So I wanted to quickly compare and contrast all of them.
Microsoft: Nothing really. Unless you count Windows Phone / Win 8 tablets as an extension.
Sony: Sony is hoping for the PS4 to revitalize (pun intended) the Vita, especially since you can continue gaming on the handheld from the same point where you left it on the console. It sounds like a pretty interesting concept, especially for hardcore gamers who want to finish that level before being banished by parents to the bedroom or someone who wants to finish during their public commutes.
Check out a clip of this functionality, shown during the PS4 console reveal demo:
Nintendo: I am not too familiar with Nintendo, but whatever I have experienced on the Wii, seems to be focused on Tween gamers. Especially since most major AAA titles are not on the Wii which are what avid hardcore gamers prefer. And the USP of the Wii, which was motion based accessories, has since been eclipsed by the Kinect. So I believe the 3DS and Wii focus on another market segment completely.
Ouya: This was the rage when it was announced last year, but it seems that the hype has fizzled out. Yes, its an interesting idea to have a cheap console. But why would someone really want to play mobile quality games on a TV when you have your phone for that? Plus it seems most owners aren’t really spending on the games. I give props to the product for an innovative idea but it needs some major titles to come on board asap, especially ones that would be paid or at least have a good freemium model.
Amazon, Apple and Google: It seems that all these technology heavyweights are rumored to be developing their own consoles, similar to how they are all developing their own media boxes. Since they have the Fire, iPad and Android tablets respectively, it seems that they want to basically create a port to a console, similar to how the iPad adapted iPhone apps. It’s an interesting idea and the Me-too concept may make some money since these products will come with a big brand name behind them. However, as I discuss in the next section, there are different verticals that gaming falls into and these address only one of them – Casual.
Some links with details about these rumored consoles:
According to me, there are currently 3 verticals to gaming: Kids, Casual and Mainstream.
Kids: Consoles such as a Wii address these needs and games produced by Disney, Microsoft and Nintendo cater well to this audience.
Casual: This is what Mobile gaming is addressing today. Everyone loves to play games. There are some with mass appeal such as Angry Birds but most prefer to play a quick game while traveling or waiting in lines.
Mainstream: This has always been the main source of revenue for the gaming industry. This is where titles such as GTA, Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty fall into.
I believe that there are very few games that appeal to mass audiences. And hence, there is specific hardware for each audience.
For Kids, we have the Wii, 3DS and Kinect.
For Casual, we have mobile games.
For Mainstream, we have the PC, Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita and possibly the Shield.
This is my primary concern with the heavyweights coming out with their own consoles. Which market segment are they addressing? Considering the quality of games available, they are addressing the Kids and Casual markets.
Casual will definitely not work since most folks play those games because of the portability and accessibility factor which will not be there for a console sitting at home.
Kids may work to a decent extent, but that would be highly dependent on which publishers have their games on which console. Since the Kids market is dominated by a few major publishers, they actually wield a lot of power since the success of the consoles may depend on which console the publishers choose to publish on.
I believe the market will continue as it is, with the major consoles and PC leading the mainstream market and mobile games dominating the casual market. The new consoles will not changes the status quo much. The next big market shakeup will most probably be 3D gaming, as detailed in my earlier post about the Oculus Rift (http://geeksmirage.blogspot.com/2013/08/oculus-rift.html).