Nerd Rant: Is it the Beginning of the End for Home Video Game Consoles?
While I consider myself to be a gamer, I only play video games that fit within my disposable income budget, a budget that has been quite modest as of late. Thus, I have only been gaming within my financial means, playing discount or used games on a Nintendo Wii console that I bought a few years ago and playing older games on my PC. I've tried to play newer PC games, but my computer has an integrated graphics card that causes newer games to stutter; thus, I can’t play new PC titles until I can afford a new PC, and that won’t be for a while.
With my current financial limitations, I can only watch what’s currently happening in the video game industry from the sidelines. Nintendo’s latest system, the Wii U, isn't selling nearly as well as its predecessor, and the upcoming next generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft are causing concern among the gaming community due to their new restrictive features. For example, Microsoft’s upcoming Xbox One will require an Internet connection and a user account to play games--even single player games--which will limit the opportunities for gamers to share titles with their friends.
Another tidbit I've read is that the development costs for high-end titles for the game consoles are skyrocketing, while development costs for video games that are available for cell phones and tablets are cheaper and in turn are earning more revenue. In fact, the reason I've heard as to why the Wii U offered so few launch titles is that Nintendo management underestimated the cost and resources involved to make games for its new system and thus had to focus what it had available on the production of a handful of titles just to meet the scheduled launch date. The general consensus among many writers who cover the game industry is that the newer consoles are aiming to offer more than just games (e.g., Blu-ray disc playback capabilities and high-def TV viewing features) in order to convince consumers to buy them; in other words, in order to keep up with the new digital entertainment landscape, gaming consoles have to be more than just gaming consoles.
Being a gamer whose first home console was an Atari 2600, this has been fascinating to watch. In previous console wars, competing console companies only had to worry about each other because no other devices could do what their consoles could. Now, consoles have competition coming from the Internet, cell phones and digital tablets, mediums that can provide entertaining and addictive games at a fraction of the cost for a home console game. If this trend continues, home consoles could disappear altogether and high-end video games that are based on expansive virtual worlds and complicated game play mechanics could become limited to PCs and PC-based gaming services such as Steam. This reminds me of what happened to home video rental businesses such as Blockbuster in recent years: What used to be brick-and-mortar businesses have been replaced by online services and vending machines, venues that are cheaper to provide and sustain.
It should also be noted that many of the video games that are being offered in the alternate venues of the Internet, cell phones and tablets are following the design aesthetic of video games that used to populate the video game arcades of the 80s: simple, colorful and addictive instead of complex, detailed and immersive. I remember a time when arcade video games provided the quality standard that the home consoles aimed to emulate; now, the home consoles are being beaten by games that would have fit perfectly in an 80s-era arcade.
While video games will never go away as long as digital entertainment remains a profitable industry, I am disappointed to see the gaming consoles disappear. I am very satisfied with the gaming experiences I've had with the Wii and its motion-based controls such as the Wiimote and the Balance Board. Sure, many Wii games failed to creatively utilize the console's unique controls and instead only provided the notoriously irritating “Wii waggle” as a control system, and Nintendo itself provided limited support for its upgraded MotionPlus feature. Nevertheless, when Wii titles did something genuinely innovative with the hardware provided--titles such as Wii Sports Resort and Red Steel 2--the experience was rewarding and memorable. The Wii’s unique control system breathed new life into older games such as Bully, Resident Evil 4 and Okami, and it provided opportunities for video gaming to enter the realm of physical fitness with titles such as Wii Fit.
I’m convinced that devising new and creative ways to play games are just as vital to the video gaming experience as the production of quality titles, and I don’t see how anything other than a dedicated game console can provide new systems of play. Likewise, I’m hoping that Nintendo can turn things around with the Wii U and turn it into something other than a larger version of its handheld 3DS system. Yet while I would hate to see console-based attempts to make video gaming something more than just sitting in front of a screen with a controller go by the wayside, I don’t know how this can be avoided until game production and sales costs go down.