We've talked about the gaming industry and denial before, because it's a rich, constantly renewable resource within the gaming industry. Only Nintendo, for example, seems to have grasped that if you're going to compete with the iPhone for gaming attention, you'd better offer something to portable gamers they can't get elsewhere. Hence the 3DS, which has turned things around and is starting to sell, while the PS Vita discovers nobody gives a crap about it because they have an iPhone, thanks.
But by and large, especially at E3, it was all about denial. Denial that the current method of updating consoles every five to seven years was about die, denial that the $60 price point could remain viable, denial that the entire industry is on the verge of truly shocking amounts of change.
Unfortunately for the gaming industry, change has a funny way of happening whether you want it to or not. Here are five things that will change the gaming industry, for better or worse.
image courtesy Infinitec
Here's a Kickstarter that should really have everybody, but especially Nintendo, defecating large pieces of masonry: The Pocket TV.
It's a computer that runs Android that's roughly the size of your thumb, and for under $200, you basically get that and a Wiimote with a keyboard embedded in it to control it. Or if you want something else, there's the FXI Cotton Candy, using Linux. Or a just-as-powerful Android thumbstick that can play GTAIII and will cost you $75.
So why should we care if it doesn't play nice with Unreal Engine 4? Because these things cost under $200, and make the "smart" TV modular. Basically, any modern TV can now be a much more flexible and useful PS2 with a computer you can put on your keychain. And consider that Sony, ten years later, is still selling the PS2. Which brings us to the next problem...
image courtesy Nyko
The problem with people who aren't conditioned to mindlessly accept planned obsolescense buying game consoles is that they expect that game console to not be a disposable hunk of garbage once the new game system comes out. Especially if people think that the current console is just fine for their Netflix streaming, "Just Dance" playing needs, thank you.
It's going to put the game industry in a bind, because the hardcore gamers will have migrated to the new system, but the casuals won't. In fact, why should they? We just pointed out they can get a suitable experience for about half of what Microsoft and Sony will be asking for their new consoles, and it's not like they care about "Watch Dogs". Sony and Microsoft will find themselves supporting the 360 and the PS3 well after they wanted to stop, and it might create an entirely new class of developers and publishers happily making games for "obsolete technology". It'll become a money drain, and fast. Even worse, they'll desperately need the casuals for their new consoles because of...
image courtesy Epic Games
Unreal Engine 4 does look incredibly beautiful. And it's got a lot of powerful features that make it appealing to developers.
Unfortunately, it also demands top-of-the-line graphics hardware, and apparently the minimums run something along the lines of 2.5 teraflops. You literally need a supercomputer to run this engine, and everybody is going to develop games using Unreal.
So the consoles will be expensive. It's just a given. Even Sony and Microsoft eating a loss on these doesn't mean that installing supercomputers will become cheaper. And it's going to put the game industry in a bind, especially when...
Look, it's really simple. Do you want to pay ten bucks a month for all the games you can play, or do you want to risk sixty bucks on a game that might stink?
It's going to become a more relevant question, fast: Gaikai struck a deal with Samsung to stream current console games to its high-end TVs. OnLive already streams to tablets. And as we pointed out, Valve is developing Steam for Linux because that's the first step to bringing it to Android.
And, realistically, if these companies can position themselves as the difference between GameStop collecting billions while cutting them off from that cash entirely, or the company getting twenty bucks for their game streamed over their networks, most companies are going to choose the streaming. And once gamers learn they can wait six months and just start streaming the game on, say, their Pocket TV, it's going to get incredibly disruptive, incredibly fast. Suddenly $60 is going to seem even more overpriced to gamers than it already is.
It's going to put a lot of developers, and publishers, on notice to deliver better games. But those will cost more, so...
image courtesy Microsoft Games
Microsoft has been testing selling the 360 on a "subscription" basis; that is, buy a 360 and a Kinect for $99, but go on a contract for XBox Live, like a cellphone. Ultimately it's a bit of a rip, costing $460 over two years.
But, with that supercomputer cost problem, and the fact that Sony and Microsoft have to take losses on consoles, the subscription is probably going to be standard in the next generation.
It's going to do two things: one, put more consoles into more homes. And two, force game developers to develop for a broader swath of gamers.
Once again, it's inevitable that casual gamers are going to outnumber hardcore gamers, for the second generation in a row. And the problem is: the casuals have a lot more money and are ultimately a lot more fickle. They don't care, at all, about games like "Skyrim" or "Watch Dogs".
So this creates a problem: do you make cheap games you can sell to lots of people, or do you make deep, complex games you can sell to a smaller audience?
Ask anybody who studies the history of film how that one turned out.
Gaming is headed for change...what do you think will happen?