One thing was apparent when I attended E3 this year. The industry, for the most part, feels stagnant. Amongst the flashy booths and lights and other attractive elements trying to pull me into each individual company’s booth to see what they had to offer, there was an abundance of recycled ideas; underwhelming people trying to sell me on a concept I felt like I’d already seen before.
Although I’m always happy to see new entries into my favorite franchises like Castlevania, Metal Gear and Final Fantasy, the entire thing left me feeling like the show had never actually gotten started. Not unlike the feeling you’d probably get when watching an anticipated movie and never reaching that feeling of being blown away.
Ask anyone that knows the industry and they’ll probably all say something similar about the next generation of consoles. “It’s coming.” It probably is. After all, we know for sure Nintendo is kick-starting the next gen stuff this time around with their release of the Wii U later this year. Logic would state that Sony and Microsoft can’t be terribly far behind, right? We are technically overdue for a new wave of shiny boxes to make their way from store shelves to our homes. The current generation of consoles has become the longest in the history of the industry.
But hang on a moment. The big three hardware manufacturers are all in an interesting spot right now. It’s looking ever likely that, with the next generation of consoles, we won’t see all of these sides re-engage in the console wars. In fact, I’d wager that we’ll see at least one side drop out. Perhaps not immediately into the next gen, but the gears will be set into motion so that one of the consoles’ predecessors will not be a thing.
So, let’s explore for a moment. Let’s take a look at exactly what kind of situation would make any of the three console makers drop out of the race.
The folks from Nintendo are the ones to watch here. Although they’re the ones that already have invested time and money into the next generation of consoles, they also have the weakest recent history. I’ll always be a Nintendo fanboy at heart, and it was difficult to see them walk into E3, with the most eyes on them, with the best opportunity to blow everyone away with info we know they know, and they know we think we know, and….nothing. Their biggest announcement was Nintendo Land, an interesting concept of a game but one that’s widely speculated to be a pack-in with the Wii U. When your biggest announcement is the equivalent of Wii Sports, your console might be in trouble.
But, while Nintendo is confirmed to be invested into the next gen, there’s no telling where they’ll go from there. But that’s where the fun and speculation begins!
The Big N has made the kind of market it wants to go for very clear. Although the company (hopefully) still values its most hardcore fans, it’s obviously resonated with the casual gaming market more in the past several years. Who can blame them, though? They’ve found an untapped market of the gaming world and it’s changed the way everyone in the industry has done business. And while Microsoft and Sony haven’t quite found the same welcome in the casual market as Nintendo has, there is one company out there that’s more well known to not only casual gamers, but perhaps to the entire world.
How many iPhones, iPods and iPads are out there in the wild? How many dirt cheap games filled with micro-transactions galore do you think you’d find on the average iDevice? There’s a ton. If you could convert bits into something that actually had physical weight, it would probably be a metric ton.
So in a world where Nintendo completely abandons the thought of home consoles, it’s not impossible that they’d try to copy this business model. Nintendo still dominates the handheld market, and likely always will. So they’d use this platform to release their own version of the App Store, and use it as a platform for their own games.
This also means that, if there’s no Nintendo-branded console sitting next to our TVs anymore, Mario, Zelda, Samus, Star Fox and the Pikmin would have to find homes on Nintendo‘s equivalent of an iPod. Or they could pull a SEGA and become a third party developer in order to allow their games to be released on their former competitor’s own hardware.
How Likely Is This?
Not very, actually. Nintendo has enough money in the bank to support itself for about 30 years of steady losses, and it’s not exactly dumb enough to lose a ton of money on a single investment. *coughuDrawcough*
Although the House of Mario may branch into the mobile games market in the future (and that would actually be pretty cool,) Nintendo isn’t withdrawing from the home console market anytime soon. That would alienate way too many people. Nintendo likes to make its creations available to as many people as humanly possible, and making only handheld games or mobile games is a great way to appeal to the market they aren’t currently going for.
Oh, and the idea that Nintendo characters might show up on a rival console someday? Don’t expect that anytime soon either. Nintendo is far too proud of its first-party line-up to spread it around to its competitors. They’ve probably got the absolute strongest cast of any company out there. Very closely followed by…
Sony has enjoyed success for the most part this generation, and even managed to put out a serious contender to Nintendo‘s handheld throne in the Vita. The problem, however, is that Sony has recently suffered major financial losses. Not just the PlayStation branch, mind you. Everything Sony does. They own record labels, they make movies, they make other electronics other than game consoles, everything. They clearly have a bit of a disadvantage at not being a truly specialized company, however they’re up to three console generations without too many problems, so I say they know what they’re doing.
It’s unclear what the immediate future is when it comes to Sony releasing new consoles. Former PlayStation boss, now entire Sony CEO Kaz Hirai sticks to what he said before the PS3 was released. “I always said the PS3 would have a ten-year lifecycle and I meant it!” This means we shouldn’t expect a new console from Sony until at least 2016, considering the PS3 came out in 2006. Then again, it’s really tough to tell what kinds of things can happen between now and four years from now. A lot of things can change in that time.
But keep in mind Sony‘s recent acquisition of Gaikai, a cloud gaming service. This opens the door for a very cool possibility for the future of PlayStation.
You, PS3 owners. You see that shiny (or matte, I guess, if you’re a late adopter,) console sitting on your shelf/floor/TV/girlfriend? That might also be a PS4, or as it’s codenamed, Orbis. And it’s all thanks to this acquisition.
If you aren’t familiar with how cloud gaming works, a setup is made at a base location that can run games. Imagine this as someone who gets an ultra powerful computer that can basically run thousands of different games at the same time, from far away. You press the buttons on your controller, which signals the game from wherever it’s streaming from, and the result is sent to whatever screen you have plopped right in front of you. Which means that, as long as you have a stable high-speed internet connection, you can run games lightyears ahead of your current rig’s capabilities without needing something that can actually run that game.
Keeping this in mind, Sony could use the PS3 as a device to bring this service into your home with a simple firmware update. Although, it’d be smarter if they released some sort of new hardware capable of streaming without being six years old. If they really need to release updated hardware with the evolution of Internet and other technological advances, it wouldn’t need to be the same length of time as a console generation. Sony could easily go 10, 15, maybe even 20 years and beyond. Either way, that adds up to dramatically cutting down on manufacturing and R&D costs. They have a recent history of stumbling out of the gate when it comes to sales during console launches, so this would make things infinitely easier on them, and, theoretically, on consumers.
It’s not necessarily Sony dropping out of the console race, it’s beginning a new leg of the race. Breaking away from the traditional console cycle of development, release, post-release support, and starting over eventually.
How Likely Is This?
Eh…it’s a bit hard to tell at this point, to be quite honest.
Sony‘s intentions don’t exactly match up with most expert’s expectations. Sony, as stated, doesn’t want a new console on the market for another four years. Most people in the industry think we’ll see a new PlayStation and Xbox by Holiday 2013. As I said, it’s really hard to tell where technology for video games will be in four years. After all, four years ago, the Wii U wasn’t a thing. 3D gaming was an afterthought, and seen as expensive and unnecessary. The motion control in the Kinect was only a fantasy. A lot can happen for the PlayStation brand. Although I suspect we’ll start to see more starting next year.
Although, not everything is terribly cloudy. The final company on our list has been slowly heading in a predictable direction for quite a bit now…
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