You wouldn’t have to be a reader for long to know that my preferred gaming platform is the PC but I’m pretty sure it comes as no surprise that I have all of the current generation consoles (apart from the WiiU, but I do have a Wii). I grew up with both platforms and arguably I was more of a console gamer when I was younger but as time went on I found that PC gaming just sat better with me. What I’m getting at here is that whilst I might be a PC gamer I’m certainly not one to call for the demise of the consoles and indeed believe that the platform will be around for quite a long time to come.
Others don’t share that view, in particular Ben Cousins who wrote this article on Kotaku outlining the reasons why consoles are going away:
Many people (me included) have been saying publicly that they think the ‘console’—dedicated hardware designed primarily for gaming—is on its way out.
I used to keep a list of famous developers and executives who shared my view, but it got too big to maintain!
He then goes on to list 5 data points and 2 assumptions that back up his claim and on the surface they appear plausible. Indeed many of the supporting points are based at least partially on ideas that everyone involved in the games industry knew about but I feel the conclusions drawn from them are a little over-reaching, enough so that his idea that consoles are going away is at the least premature and at the worst grossly misinformed.
Take for example the first data point about consoles being sold at a loss. This is no revelation as console makers have been doing this for decades prior and have still managed to turn a profitable business from them. Indeed while Nintendo might be breaking its usual rule of not selling consoles at a loss it doesn’t take much for them to become profitable with the sale of a single title enough to push it over the line. In fact if you look at the past 5 years things look pretty good for the major consoles, especially for Microsoft and Nintendo. I believe Cousins is being slightly unfair by going back further than that because those years were right at the beginning of the current generation console’s life and that’s arguably the point at which the greatest losses will be incurred.
I’m also not sure how 40% of the sales occurring after the price drops supports his idea that these people are somehow the mainstream gamers. Taken literally that means that the majority, I.E. >50% of current gen console owners, bought their console before these price drops/product revisions occurred. I’d also argue that a portion of those new sales were also current owners upgrading older consoles as in the case of the Xbox the original was something of a jet engine when used and the subsequent iterations vastly improved that experience. I’ve heard similar tales from PS3 Slim owners as well so I don’t feel the “mainstream gamer” argument holds up with console sale figures alone.
It’s not a secret that mobile devices are pervasive but it’s also quite known what they’re capable of and what their primary use is. Indeed console makers are aware of this and have been working to expand their console experience onto the mobile platform. Microsoft has long been working towards achieving their Three Screens idea which would see the experience between Xbox360, Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 unified together enabling developers to provide the same experience regardless of the platform. We’re still a long way from achieving that and whilst smartphones do a good job of getting close to the console experience they’re still not in the same league, something which console owners are acutely aware of.
The rest is speculation based off those points which I won’t bother digging into but suffice to say I don’t get the feeling that consoles are going to go anywhere in a hurry and I’m willing to say that there’ll definitely be several more generations to come. The mobile market might be growing but I believe it’s an additive market, one that’s bringing more gamers in not one that’s cannibalizing gamers away. There’s also the fact that consoles are increasingly becoming the media centre of the house, something that smartphones are going to have a hard time replacing. Still we’re both deep in speculation territory here so the only way to settle this will be to wait it out and hope that both our opinion pieces are still online in a decades time.