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Tuesday, 01 December 2009 06:38

No future for game consoles

By
The head of one of the world’s most successful game developers has stated that his company is ready for the demise of the home entertainment game console as we know it today.  Could it be another entry in an expanding conspiracy that will become clearer as time goes by?

The UK based video game web site MCV is  running an interview with Yoichi Wada, CEO of Square Enix, the company that has given the world the Final Fantasy series of Role Playing Games.

Part of the interview touches on the future of home entertainment hardware, including the vanishing of game consoles as we know them today.  According to Yoichi San; “In ten years’ time a lot of what we call ‘gaming consoles’ won’t exist,”

Supposedly Microsoft and Sony have been aware of this fact for some time:“Somewhere around 2005 the console manufacturers’ strategy shifted,” he said.

“In the past the platform was hardware, but it has switched to the network. A time will come when the hardware isn’t even needed anymore.

“With that, any kind of terminal becomes a potential platform on which games can be played – that’s exponential growth in the potential of gaming. The potential size of the market is enormous.”

Accordingly Square Enix is looking towards social networking and browser based platforms as the next ‘big thing’ in gaming, shifting resources into products that cater for those markets and presumably away from traditional disc-based formats.

Of course this is great in a connected world, but despite what those on the cutting edge of what the technological world can deliver think, there is a significant proportion of the population - or as Sony and Microsoft should see them - market place, that are far from ready to make a jump into digital distribution as a sole source of entertainment.

Indeed there is nothing stopping these companies subtly nudging the marketplace in the desired direction.  Sony has been most overt in this recently with the release of the digital distribution only PSP Go.  So far the market reception to this has been luke-warm.  It is difficult to gauge this failure simply on the structure of content delivery mechanism in isolation.  The PSP Go has, after all, got a number of acceptance hurdles to overcome apart from its online only approach.  Being sold with its UMD (The Sony only disc format of the original PSP) equipped and much cheaper brethren, the PSP-3000 being the most significant.

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Gaming conspiracy theorists are also pointing to recent shifts by big players in the industry to also shift the mind set of their audience.  After all, getting a totally controlled online experience has significant advantages, not least in the area of piracy, obviously a desirable target of the business.

Infinity Wards decision to not give a dedicated server option to PC players of the phenomenally successful Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 may be the thin end of the wedge as an approach by major publishers. 

By ultimately controlling the delivery mechanism as well as the playground (servers), companies can assure themselves that the return on their investment in a title can be maximised.  That assurance cannot be total until they also remove the sophistication of the end-point, that is, the home gaming console.

A device such as an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 can be altered to bypass security systems to allow offline playing of pirated software.  By taking control of the hardware in house, make the gaming experience a cloud-based software only offering publishers will eliminate the piracy threat.  This must be awfully attractive to companies such as Electronic Arts or Activision, but perhaps not so much to Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft.

The Onlive scenario proposed at E3 this year , offering just such a cloud based gaming solution.  As expected many game developers and publishers think this is a good idea.  Many gaming support communities including modders (those innovative folks that take game code and manipulate it into new ideas or functions) are not really supportive of taking away their craft and the ability to easily run clan events.

Online only is also the model being employed by the consortium backing the Zeebo game console .  A cheap-end product aiming for the mass markets of Brazil, Russia, India, China and the immediate surrounds of those regions.  The Zeebo idea is reminiscent of the failed Phantom console, the idea to bring gaming content in a controlled way into households with limited budgets.

Much of the success of these corporate online nudging will come from network adoption of the target audience.  Nintendo has shown just how successful a largely offline gaming set-up can be.  So we imagine that despite the ostentatious (in some cases) urging by companies for consumers to adopt a connected approach to their entertainment, chances are it will take a long time to become the norm.  There will indeed be another iteration and generation of home entertainment consoles, and they will be as sophisticated as ever.  What comes after the PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720 (!?!) will be another story.


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Mike Bantick

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Having failed to grow up Bantick continues to pursue his childish passions for creative writing, interactive entertainment and showing-off through adulthood. In 1994 Bantick began doing radio at Melbourne’s 102.7 3RRRFM, in 1997 transferring to become a core member of the technology show Byte Into It. In 2003 he wrote briefly for the The Age newspaper’s Green Guide, providing video game reviews. In 2004 Bantick wrote the news section of PC GameZone magazine. Since 2006 Bantick has provided gaming and tech lifestyle stories for iTWire.com, including interviews and opinion in the RadioactivIT section.

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