Predicting the Apocalypse of Consoles
Every once in awhile, the subject of video game consoles coming to an abrupt end is brought up. Every few years critics would claim that consoles are on their way out and will be replaced by PCs. Only to be proven wrong when the next generation is released into retail. Some are even being lead to believe mobile will also contribute significantly to the demise of video game consoles, even though they appeal to different target markets. Obviously such statements are open to interpretation. If we are talking dominance in revenues and profits, that is a worthy debate but one replacing the other? A rather sensationalist conclusion. Although many are convinced consoles’ end is a matter of time with PC gaming regaining its crown and the masses embracing the “master race”. But what I don’t see being discussed is whether it could work the other way round. What is to stop consoles – that are gaining more of PC’s main attributes – from sucking substantial market share from the PC gaming market in the near future?
With the market share between PC and console gaming evenly split, it’s hard to see either one gaining a significant lead over the other. Since the beginning it has always been plug-n-play convenience vs. sheer power and performance and neither advantage has had enough pull to create a big enough lead in recent years. This could be about to change as new trends are about to shake up both markets significantly and we will finally learn what matters to consumers the most.
Neither market will suffer handheld’s fate
Firstly, every game console has its place, even the near extinct handheld consoles. With Super Mario coming to iOS, the fate of handheld surely lies in the hands of Nintendo. Video Game consoles are dedicated machines and easy to use while PCs are for the enthusiasts who don’t mind tinkering with their machines. These markets will never disappear completely but their market share can experience a heavy downturn similar to their portable cousins. So let’s explore the trends that could contribute to such a scenario.
Trends in favour of home console gaming
The end of traditional console life cycles
Xbox and PlayStation are finally attempting to shorten the product life cycles which would allow their products to close the gap between them and desktops in processing power and gaming performance. Originally, upgrading every 6 years gave PCs too heavy of a lead which may now be mitigated with more frequent releases. This combined with computing power taking longer to evolve would mean consoles have a better chance of catching up. There will always be a gap in graphics, frame rates and performance but the smaller the gap, the less significant it is.
Consoles are not only becoming more powerful but also more similar to PCs in terms of architecture.
Moving to x86 means that Sony and Microsoft can do just this and make their next consoles with newer and more powerful components and still retain the same operating system, online services and games library – The future of games consoles is evolutionary
The actions of the big console manufacturers is proof they are becoming more aggressive towards stopping consumers adopting PC gaming, hence why PS4 Pro was actually created.
Deeper Customisation, More Freedom
The PC modding community has always been the biggest draw with games such as the Fallout series. With them now arriving on consoles, we could be seeing the beginning of a new trend. The best mods eventually arriving on consoles gives gamers more options and access thus providing a more expansive experience. It still has a long way to go but it’s a very exciting prospect that could also prove a great unique selling point for console manufacturers and game publishers. Although whether this gains traction across other games is dependant on the cooperation of the likes of Sony.
Frame rate vs Resolution
Recently with the PS4 exclusive – NiOh alpha demo – there was an option for players to select between framerate and resolution. Also with the PS4 Pro, you can select such settings on Tomb Raider. If this becomes the norm with new AAA titles, it would potentially put to bed the heated discussions over what developers should prioritise with the limited power of consoles. By putting the decision in the hands of gamers, they can both empower them and also confirm what IS their preference if given the choice. Consoles are becoming more sophisticated at fitting the needs of gamers with attention to detail. An advantage that is known to be mainly reserved for PCs.
Neglecting the Master Race
You would think developers working on multi-platform titles would give PCs their best work. I mean they do love demoing on these high-spec machines during conferences. However this has not stopped Steam being plagued with bad ports to PC. No matter how superior PC is for their games, they are still seen as an afterthought to the more profitable console gamers.
It is not surprising if you consider that PC piracy is still an issue in 2016 alongside frugal customers who tend to hold their wallets for Steam Summer Sales. This all means smaller margins for developers and less incentive to deliver a quality product.
Trends favouring PCs
Cross-platform-play means more friends to play with
On the other hand, there is a lot more going for PC gaming. Firstly, cross-play between PC and consoles is officially a thing. A lot of PC gamers will tell you of the frustration of not being able to play with their real-life friends who have consoles. You can now play with your friends and also have access to bigger online communities.
Console games are no longer exclusives
Playstation Now coming to PC is another move by Sony to cater to the PC market. Xbox Play Anywhere may have forced their hand but there is one clear winner either way. With access to the previously forbidden game libraries, it is another reason to not buy a console.
Who knows how far Sony will take PS4’s Remote Play? I wouldn’t write off the idea of streaming directly from the Playstation ecosystem on your gaming machine rather than needing the console itself. Microsoft for example are not shying away from these possibilities so once they lose their market dominance, Sony could be forced to follow suit.
Phil Spencer’s Vision
Head of the Xbox division – Phil Spencer – has a big vision for the future of Xbox that includes unifying Xbox and Windows 10 into one huge gaming platform. Meaning Xbox gamers moving to PC even faster without missing out on Xbox exclusives. This is fine with Microsoft as they have always been more of Software-As-A-Service business and are continuing this company strategy in regards to their gaming division. But their plans are not without resistance. PC gamers may grow uncomfortable with Microsoft’s attempt at dominating both console and PC if the economic benefits favours one heavily over the other.
Virtual Reality could create a new power struggle
The tech industry is betting big on virtual reality and PC gamers are in prime position to embrace this new gaming experience. If it lives up to expectations, it would warrant investing in the hardware that can withstand high demands of virtual reality. It’s not as if consoles cannot compete effectively but this is completely new territory and forecasting who will win/lose/profit is very difficult. On the flip side, this pushes PC gaming’s price tag back up if VR becomes a must-have requirement.
Verdict – Console will eventually secure a big lead because economics
There will never be one winner but the advantage will eventually swing in one direction. Console manufacturers’ are almost giving away their main advantages over PC while also adopting the best parts of PC gaming. On the other end of things, PCs are becoming more accessible and affordable that may appeal to a growing tech savvy generation. Although if VR were to gain traction, it would prove how expensive the desktop experience can be. Many would say the ball is in the court of the gatekeepers – Sony and Microsoft and how much they wish to cooperate with these new industry changes but how the market moves is even more important. Console gamers remain the most profitable consumers and with everyone driven by economic incentives above all, market will dictate who reigns supreme in the end.