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The “next gen” consoles are now current generation, and sales have been fairly disappointing. The largest problem is a two pronged attack from the worlds of mobile and PC gaming. Mobile gaming has completely decimated the Japanese home console market. At the same time, the gap between console and PC gaming performances at the time of a new console generation release is at an all time high. Consoles are striving more than ever to be like the modern PC, but at the rate technology advances that’s a fruitless endeavor.
Smart phones are the next step in the evolution of gaming, one that could completely erase the stigma surrounding the electronic past time. With over a billion smart phones out there, a wider audience than ever before has been introduced to gaming. The success of the Nintendo Wii came about because it appealed to a wide audience of casual gamers, but now mobile gaming has filled that niche and taken it to a whole new level. Any traditional gamer would scoff at the idea of mobile games being anything more than cheaply made garbage compared to something like The Last of Us, but the start of modern console gaming wasn’t exactly complex itself. By the time mobile gaming reaches its generational equivalent of the PS3, surely the games will have advanced beyond Angry Birds and Candy Crush.
In the future, socially acceptable mobile games, of much higher quality than we have today, will open gaming to an audience that dwarfs anything seen in today’s current market. It was never a stretch of the imagination to suggest that gaming would eventually surpass all other forms of entertainment, but the accessibility and lower barrier of entry provided by the smart phone may make that inevitability come about in a much shorter time frame than one would have reasonably predicted before. Mobile games encouraging people to experience traditional gaming is the greatest thing that could happen for the medium.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, a good PC is the most powerful gaming platform available. Each generation of consoles add more online features, more multimedia functions, and better graphics than the last, they act as miniature computers. The problem is that almost everyone already has a computer that can do multimedia and online play better, and with a little upgrade could possibly run games at higher visual settings as well. Before, people would argue that consoles have other benefits such as simplicity, security, or standardization, however as consoles become more like PCs those advantages are shrinking. New consoles push their resolutions and frame rates as selling points, but how long will it take gamers to realize that, if resolutions and frame rates are main selling points of these new consoles, the PC is vastly superior? The PS4 and XB1 have been struggling to reach a consistent 1080p and 60fps on games upper middle class gaming computers can run at higher resolutions and at over 120 fps.
How long will new consoles be able to ape PCs before their audience decides a PC is just a better investment? You can update a PC as time goes on, and use it for more purposes than any console. Newer consoles with a focus on their online elements become crippled when companies drop support for them. On top of that, the cost of PC gaming over time is markedly cheaper than on consoles, thanks especially to services like Steam, which provides a wider variety of games at almost universally cheaper prices.
If consoles from the PlayStation and Xbox brands don’t adapt and innovate, their graphics and multimedia war will have them run directly into the PC. They’ll either turn into PCs themselves or end up like the T-Rex in Jurassic Park III. Nintendo is less likely to fold from the pincer of smart phone and PC, even if their current position is pretty bad this generation. They have shifted their focus from the power wars they’ll never be able to win. With the Wii, Nintendo sought innovation and it worked so well that the Wii became the greatest selling home console in history. The Wii U has been a miss so far, but it’s going to introduce the amiibo this holiday season, with a game plan that seemingly revolves around becoming the standard for smart toy implementation, capturing a fairly massive audience. This an area where the Wii U has very little competition, as any competing platforms cost more, would require additional peripherals, and lack the star power of Nintendo’s new line of toys. It’s a gamble, but it has better odds than getting into a nuclear war with a knife.
If consoles want to survive, they must innovate and change course before they hit the dead end.