By Corey Conley
Last month marked a milestone of sorts for me. My subscription to World of Warcraft ended. Oh sure, I’ve taken a break before, but this one was different than my last lapse of Blizzard’s technicolor hamster wheel. This one could very well be permanent. What’s more, my incredible shrinking free time over the last year or so meant I had exclusively focused on WoW for my interactive entertainment needs, and other, non-MMOs have ceased to appeal to me.
For the first time since I received my Super NES at age 10, I was not interested in playing any particular video game.
My own subtle drift away from the formerly cherished medium got me thinking about the future of gaming as an industry. During the past two decades the companies vying for control of the home console market released new iterations of their flagship console about every four years. Players knew what to expect: flashier graphics, improved controllers, and a handful of new features.
Now, things aren’t so simple. Game development time and cost have shot through the roof. Home consoles are serving longer life cycles before their replacements arrive. Novel gaming ideas get sifted out of conventional game design, and sequels to killer franchises dominate the sales charts. Five years ago the Nintendo Wii proved that you could make big bucks without boasting the best graphics.
Nintendo’s Mario and Xbox’s Master Chief Still Duking it Out
But beneath where traditional titans like Mario and Master Chief duke it out, the world of smaller games is flourishing with bold new ideas and amazing artwork. App games are blurring the line between Tablets, Smartphones, and handheld consoles. Smaller, cheaper games are available to download on every console.
The appeal of these smaller games, running on devices that do much more than game, is already taking Pac-Man-sized chomps out of Nintendo’s bottom line. The profitable “casual players” market that Nintendo carved away with its mom-friendly Wii and DS systems has mostly ignored their 3DS system. The result? An $80 dollar price drop on the 3DS and the company’s first yearly loss in 30 years – a cool $534.6 million.
No doubt, the next generation of home consoles is on its way. Nintendo has already announced the Wii U, and surely Sony and Microsoft are readying their next salvos in the big-budget home console market. But after that? With the growing processing power of, well, everything, what will home console makers do to justify the big price tags on their dedicated home consoles?
It’s not hard to envision a world where many digital devices offer the kind of rich videogame experiences and graphics that were once the hallmark of dedicated consoles, and whether tablet, smartphone, or old-fashioned desktop PC, that’s not even their primary function. This world requires the dedicated home-console to multitask as well, a trend we’re already seeing among consoles who can stream music and movies wirelessly to home televisions.
If gamer-centric devices are to keep their cherished spot in the living room, they will have to pick up even more tricks to justify their price, like bringing the non-gaming riches of the web – video chat, social networking, streaming – into the living room. As well as continue to produce engaging innovative videogames. Otherwise, the non-gaming devices may take too big of a bite out of the traditional videogame market.
To succeed, their dedicated game consoles will have to stay far ahead, in both raw power and innovation, of casual gaming capable devices like tablets and smartphones.
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