Outdated: Can Consoles remain relevant in a changing gaming market?
Consoles being outdated? Is this really a question to be asking? How can something that drives gaming today lose relevancy? I mean, c’mon man, how can you not love the rampant fanboying following the start of the next generation console wars?
While most of those questions are fair (and it’s fun to watch the fires of fanboys rage on), it’s odd to me most of us aren’t considering the possibility that consoles could lose relevancy in the future of gaming. I think it’s imperative to examine the possibility when there are signs suggesting consoles could become obsolete. Especially because we’re in a fascinating age where technology is constantly advancing like a kid’s energy from a sugar rush. This can be seen with how fast technology has immersed itself to become part of our everday lives.
How often do we see people on their phones or mobile devices doing one of the following things; texting, checking Facebook or other social apps, listening to music or playing a quick game of the newest popular mobile game? What about that game Flappy Bird that trended every day for more than three weeks? More importantly, how often do we see children on their parents’ phones playing games, while the parents use it as a way to keep the kids at bay? In every general, video game or toy store is a lot of merchandise geared towards children who play popular “casual” gaming franchises like Angry Birds.
None of that includes the cool, integrated social networking features Nintendo put into its 3DS with the Street Pass or Nintendo Zone. Look at the cross-platform play feature between the Playstation Vita and Playstation 4 to allow you to play a game from your console on the go. Not to mention, how many games have a multiplayer component to them for the Vita and 3DS? More and more, gaming has adopted the mentality that we’re constantly “on-the-go” because we can’t afford to slow down. It’s rarely we sit down, take a moment to settle, and sink hours into a single player game.
Another major point that’s more the elephant in the room is the continual increase in price with each new console. For me, the cost of a new system has been getting harder to justify every time and takes longer to determine if it’s justified. How long am I going to enjoy $499.99 system like the Xbox One (or $399.99 for the Playstation4)? It’s a hefty investment for a machine that has more to currently offer in its apps than it does in game library and will most likely only have a 5 year lifespan. Or, if you’re really into the hardware, can you justify spending on specs already outdated before they hit retail? Factor in hidden costs like warranty, replacement models, the games themselves, the list can go on but it all adds up.
Finally, the biggest point of contention would be games (i.e. the titular “AAA” games) being rushed out for production with game breaking bugs, incomplete game components and all sorts of problems. Then, because most games are built to work on one specific system, porting the game to other systems is another issue. Most ports, if not all, come out with a myriad of other problems. In the last few years we’ve heard of many developers closing because sales didn’t meet expectations even though their game sold millions of units. Could it be the gameplay is something we’ve done before? Is it because of mishandled marketing? Sales expectations? Production? Could it be a culmination of all those factors? Most, if not all of these signs indicate a troubling path the current gaming industry is heading down. It also indicates a series of questions most developers have to consider when developing a game for current consoles.
All these points lead to debates I’ve with several people over the last year about consoles remaining relevant in gaming. There’s a lot of stress placed on the fact “successful” studios are dissolving or laying off exorbitant amounts of staff. Gaming franchises that have a bright future oftentimes die out before they begin. Franchises hitting fatigue are getting pushed out to where the brand has little shine to it. New games are getting pushed out so fast players have to accept that a game having to be patched on release day. Sometimes publishers push their developers to work on future “DLC” instead of onslaught of problems players discover over time. Major gaming studios once revered are now mired in disdain thanks to horrible customer service, business models and concepts (yes, I’m looking at you EA and Activision).
Are consoles losing relevancy? Thanks to outdated business models and shoddy practices currently in use, yes. Can they remain relevant? Absolutely.
One of the biggest things that will give consoles gaming a strong improvement is the re-emphasis of the single player experience over multiplayer. One of the pieces I wrote last year with fellow writer Chris called “The Multiplayer Effect” discussed how console gaming has shifted from being single-player oriented to multiplayer. While it’s certainly fun to enjoy competition (who doesn’t love competition?) there are moments when we want to be immersed in a world of our own. Most of the memorable gaming experiences I’ve had were from some solid campaigns that I immediately wanted to replay. Currently, the gaming market is heavily saturated with games placing heavy emphasis on multiplayer aspects that are clones of previously successful games. This is evident when a game is known as a “Halo clone” or “the next Call of Duty.” It’s made it hard for games enough to stand on their own merit and not what they’ve copied.
We also need to change the approach taken towards creating “AAA” title games. Let’s be honest here, games have become more about polish and shine than depth and content. This is evident in commercials that place emphasis on sharp graphics and resolution over gameplay mechanics. Some games have found a successful medium (The Last of Us and the Mass Effect come to mind), but ultimately most go for how good the game is going to look. Then there’s the expectations publishers place on developers to sell huge numbers and become the next Halo or Call of Duty. This is compounded with the demand to create a game that reaches a wide, vague, general audience blending “casual” and “hardcore” gamers. Ultimately, it leads to developers sacrificing risk-taking and innovative gameplay in order to secure some sales for the major publisher. Worst of all, most of these games receive positive remarks because of how familiar gameplay is, continuing to reinforce the idea that safe == success. Finally, while it’s been a continual debate within the gaming industry itself, Metacritic has heavily affected the way we determine a game being “good” or “bad” by some numerical value and not on what the reviews say.
Consoles need to let go of the thing that has been their biggest selling point: non-upgradeable hardware. If console gaming is going to really remain relevant and keep its staple as the cheaper, go-to option instead of building a new PC, it has to shy away from not giving players the ability to manually upgrade parts if they want to. Hear me out on this one; I get that what makes up a huge part of the “console wars” is the different specs in each system and how much better they are because of that. When one console has superior specs over another, it gives the fans something to gloat about incessantly to hurl at others. However, it shifts focus from what should really be on the minds of players; software handling. Could that hurt console sales? I don’t think so.
I say that believing consoles are more about brand/marketability than the product even though it may seem otherwise. If you were to look closely at the specs for both current gen (PS4 and Xbox One) systems, they’re different parts from the same companies. Instead of a competition over who has the better specs for better graphics, allowing people the ability to manually upgrade their system would force the companies to place more emphasis on creating a better experience for the gamer in its software.
Finally, while I personally also love having physical disks of games (and collecting them), going digital is a solution to curb the problem of developers not making enough money to stay afloat. By offering it at a cheaper price and making it a digital copy you own that’s transferrable to any new console, it creates an incentive for players to buy that format. It also puts more money into both the developer and publisher’s pocket. The success of the game’s sale will actually be felt by both companies.
Right now, console gaming is in a bit of a flux. The list of concerns needs to be addressed but no one wants to deal with them. However, if we don’t at least acknowledge the idea that console gaming can lose relevancy, we would be doing it a disservice. There’s a lot going wrong for it, stemming from the emphasis of hardware over software, graphics over gameplay, porting and safety over risk taking. Console gaming has always been about the experiences these consoles provide someone in the comfort of their home, not about how pretty the game is going to look on a brand-spankin’-new high definition television, and console game developers need to start believing that. Otherwise, I fear that consoles are going to be relics of the past for the relatively short history of gaming.