The State of Gaming Consoles in 2016: Are These the Last Days?
We already know that consoles appear in trouble. This generation of game consoles is selling less than before, and enduring more competition from mobile, VR, and PC. Is the age of the console over? Will the next generation of gamers think that consoles are a weird, obsolete tradition? Probably: Let’s take a look.
Brand by Brand
Three big console producers remain in business: Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo – plus a crowd of potential newcomers. Let’s take a look at where they are before deciding if consoles are doomed.
- Sony: With a big lead for the most consoles sold around the world, Sony is in an interesting place right now. The PS4 is a powerful machine, but despite advanced versions (the 4.5, for example) it’s difficult to upgrade over time. Because Sony knows that it has a strong customer base, the company is likely to release another console…and is probably already working on it.
- Microsoft: Microsoft’s Xbox One has sold well in North America but struggled against PlayStation globally. However, Microsoft is currently hard at work to lower prices and merge many Windows 10/Xbox features. There is a definite focus here on continuity and digital downloads. Microsoft isn’t anxious to create another console if they can avoid it – they would rather have an upgradeable, digital-based version of the One.
- Nintendo: Nintendo is a bit of a wildcard. The company has one year and one more console – the NX – to prove it can stay in the game after the amazing Wii and the disastrous Wii U. If the NX fails, expect Nintendo to move out of the console war and leave only two big contenders.
- Other: Here we have the other consoles, the smaller, often PC and cloud-focused machines from NVidia, Valve and others. They serve a niche market, but they are designed to be more long-lasting and upgradeable than other consoles. Expect the most innovation here…but this is also where the lines between console and PC become blurred.
The Self-Sufficient Console
Our glance at the primary console makers shows that gaming consoles aren’t quite dead yet – and are likely to last for another iteration. After that, things will get interesting. We’re already moving quickly toward an all-digital model, and this opens the door to what Microsoft and NVidia have been working on: A console that lives entirely by updates and is modular in nature, allowing it to be upgraded over time. That sort of console could easily last for a decade…and by that time, tech is likely to give us something to replace the console altogether.
So the era of the self-sufficient console is almost here, and it will herald a massive change in the console industry. Console gaming has certain strengths – more family friendliness, powerful exclusives, a strong market for controller gameplay, etc., and those are likely to remain. Consoles themselves, however, are becoming “fuzzier” in terms of focus. We see this with the Xbox One’s ability to control your cable channels, and PlayStation’s Vue’s ability to replace your cable altogether…and the commonplace ability to stream gameplay from your computer to a console and vice-versa. This includes backwards compatibility and emulation too – get ready to head over to The Old School Game Vault to sell your physical copies and make some profit, because you won’t need those any more to play your favorite past games.
Convergence: Are We All the “Master Race”?
The bottom line here: It’s no longer profitable for companies to create new consoles every several years (it was never that profitable to begin with). It may no longer be profitable to create consoles at all. So yes, we probably are seeing the last generation of “true” gaming consoles. The next options will be hybrid machines able to perform multiple tasks, even more similar to computers. What comes after that is more likely to be a gaming app or a game setting on your TV than a console.
Yep, that’s what we’re saying – in the end, we’ll all be computer gamers, to one degree or another. Our screens, receivers, set-top boxes, and phones are all computers, and they will all play games of varied complexity. So no more of this competition, okay? It’s going to look silly after a decade or so.