The Comeback of Consoles

Computers, smartphones, tablets, phablets… Thanks to the diverse range of platforms now available to video game fans, consoles have been repeatedly told that they may have legitimate reason to tremble for their future. The outlook at the start of 2013 was gloomy to say the least, with worldwide sales plummeting by 37% according to the NPD Group. However, the excitement surrounding the imminent launch of next-generation consoles has clearly shown an attachment of devoted gamers to dedicated devices.

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Console sales typically experience slowdowns at the end of each generation, but this time things are different. In the past few years, competing technologies and ways of gaming have emerged and have considerably changed the playing field – and gaming companies needed to recognize this. When January sales proved disappointing, Nintendo cut its expectations for the Wii U, launched in November 2012, from 5.5 million down to 4 million units sold by 31st March 2013 – which it did not reach. So the question is, will consoles keep their place on shelves, in stores and at home?
Problems facing consoles…

Mobile gaming has presented a somewhat huge obstacle for consoles, diverting the attention of the more casual gamer with cheap prices, a constant stream of new games, and fewer demands on the player’s time. An entire segment of the console market has ceased to spend their hard earned cash on the latest $400 console, impacting drastically on development funds. “My relationship with my TV is changing. It is no longer the first screen. My primary screen is my tablet or mobile, so where does the console hardware fit?” asked games designer and consultant Oscar Clark in The Guardian, February, 2013.

Other types of platforms are coming out of the woodwork to answer this question, shaking the dominance of current console giants Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft. After all, if the once mighty Sega was able to be knocked off its console perch, there is no reason to stop it happening again. This year has seen the release of Ouya and GameStick to name a few: open-source micro consoles powered by Android, priced at under $100 USD (73 EUR) – a steal when compared to the price tags of the latest PS4 or Xbox, setting you back just shy of $499.99 USD.

Valve is the latest to join the line of rivals with the Steam Box; a small and affordable piece of hardware enabling players to download games and either plug the machine into their TV or use a wireless connection to transmit simultaneously on various screens. The clear distinction between devices has, until now, kept the gaming channels relatively separate and competitive in their own field. ‘Cross-platform play’ will drastically change gaming, eliminating the need to choose between console, computer or mobile.

What’s more, it’s not just the new faces that are troubling your PS3 and Xbox 360. Compared to PCs, consoles find it more difficult to support player-generated content, which can aid faster game development and pass fewer costs down to the gamer. Team Fortress 2 by Valve has benefitted hugely from this open-door policy to creative players – despite many reports, “The PC games market is clearly still thriving” according to NPD Group Analyst Anita Frazier. With many F2P and MMOs such as League of Legends and Guild Wars 2 raising the bar, we can see why!

Game Over for the Console?

Even with the hype surrounding the latest consoles, the question is, with so many other devices vying for our free time, will consoles make a comeback?

The console giants haven’t laid down their weapons yet! Investment has been made into cross platform play by both Sony and Microsoft with their latest consoles. The PlayStation 4 is compatible with the handheld console PlayStation Vita, allowing remote play, and the new ‘Share’ button on the PS4 will also allow players to upload their gaming experience immediately to social media channels. The Xbox One is very likely to be compatible with Windows 8 computers and mobiles, however Microsoft is still keeping its cards close to its chest. Finally, both the PS4 and the new Xbox embrace cloud-based technology, all the more so as last year Sony bought Gaikai, a company that developed a system intended to place games in the cloud and stream them on the Web.

Another button to their controller is the fact that the mobile gaming market is largely saturated due to extreme competition and the loss of novelty. Its continued growth relies principally on emerging tablet/smartphone markets and a constant supply of new games. Tech blogger Robin Wauters writes, “It used to be that you could ask people to share that they were playing a game, and people would. Now it feels like spam so they don’t”. Lite or Freemium mobile games (and many PC games too), although popular for their price, are riddled with ads and popups, which have started to grate on the general populace of gamedom.

Console gamers seem to have recognized this frustration and changed their ways for the better: “What we realised is our customers […] don’t really want to be barraged with sponsorship or advertising“, said Bobby Kotick of publishing company Activision Blizzard back in early 2011. Having been around for so long holds one huge advantage for console gaming companies: knowing your market.

The Game Begins…

What we can be certain about is the loyalty of many, many gamers out there to their consoles and the VR experience that only a console can give. Grand Theft Auto V, released on 17th September for Xbox and PS3, hit the $1 billion mark within 72 hours. That’s a new world record at a time when many voices say that console gaming has had its moment on the podium. The arrival of competing devices and technologies has clearly rekindled a dimming fire in the console hearts of Microsoft and Sony to make another stride forward.

With the arrival of the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4, we know where our eyes, and thumbs, will be at for the foreseeable future!

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James Norman, Copywriter, MO Group International.

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