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Consoles Will Live On: Part One

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Nintendo has shattered the idea of what consoles used to be, and what they can become. We’ve been hearing quite the talk from different parts of the gaming industry that the console is on it’s way out, and that consoles are holding back gaming due to the PC. Arguments such as why do you need a console when a PC can easily be connected to a television, and controllers can easily be used from the console arena. You get the benefit of much more powerful tech, and games that push hardware. All good things you may believe, but the irony is that PC tech is used not just for gaming. Although you don’t really need a gaming rig, or new graphic card to use Microsoft Word. The one thing PC’s have not done is revolutionize gaming from a hardware perspective. Yeah it’s about to get hot.

The Nintendo Wii is a combination of off the shelf technology, and older components with an emphasis on interaction via the Wiimote. A remote control device, that has single handlily changed gaming in the eyes of the world. This single user interface has changed the entire way gamers, non gamers associate themselves with gaming. ?Nintendo made grandmothers feel young, (and talk smack). It isn’t the most powerful piece of console hardware out there, but it’s the most influential this generation. In the world of high powered PC’s, 3d television, and big screens you have the Wii winning over the world. ?The Nintendo Wii is the reason consoles are distinct, and why they can continue to be. The fact that they are made with the intent, and purpose of gaming shields it from being a messy unidentifiable concoction of chips, and lights. Sure you have the Xbox 360, and PS3 which are becoming entertainment hubs. Both are great, and present different ways to approach gaming. Except they are similar to PC’s, even though they’re anchor is rooted in gaming. ?We just can no longer fool ourselves into believing that this is what Microsoft, and Sony only want to do with gaming consoles (You may include Apple in this discussion as well). Again both consoles have similar components like a PC. The Cell processor is multicore, it is an outgrowth of the PowerPC line of chips IBM had created. You can upgrade your GPU (Graphics card ),along with other areas essentially transforming your PC. Where consoles are closed architectures. Once the components are set, they won’t change for an entire generation. Since the PC market upgrades on a yearly basis, its very easy for a PS3, and Xbox 360 to be outdated. This isn’t something that should affect gamers, but it is starting to. The after market segment of PC’s, and Mac’s is big business. It’s money that most people who own consoles don’t spend. It’s what’s made the console an attractive gaming device. Even with all the benefits of PC gaming tech, consoles have pushed gaming into the lexicon of mainstream populace. If it wasn’t for the Wii this generation, our next generation of gaming would just be a television fused with a PC. You may ask what about mobile devices? Have they not impacted gaming? Absolutely.

The mobile space is a different beast, and I think people have really lost sight about it. Mobile devices have become more powerful, and central to peoples lives. In fact you can even make the argument that they are changing our attitudes about work, and the usefulness of a personal computer. What you get with the PC is an evolutionary platform, not a revolutionary one. What you get with mobile devices is versatility, and freedom. In a world steep with virtual interaction the mobile device is primed to be like a wallet you carry everyday. Containing all the essentials you need to survive. Gaming is part of it, but again its not its sole purpose.

The Wii presented a paradigm shift with regards to how the gaming console can both evolve, and be revolutionary. Forever altering the landscape of what console gaming, and why it will still be viable. If you don’t believe this, than look at how both Sony, and Microsoft have decided to get into what many term “casual gaming” with motion controls. “Casual gaming” is a term that I despise, because it’s marketing spiel for “we have no idea what to call a gamer who plays on a bus”. What Nintendo did was focus on the game experience, not what they can put in a box to sell us. In doing so they have opened up new quarters to gaming. For all the PC’s vaunted tech, and the mobility of mobile devices they have not changed the way we play games. In fact the PSP is the perfect example of how on a mobile device if not supported will not live up to it’s potential. Consoles live, and thrive on growing support for an entire generation. The reason consoles have a future now more than ever is because companies must now think about the gaming experience holistically. Thinking outside the box on how to bring technologies together to create a true lifestyle change is what the consoles next plateau must continue to be. Graphics, and high speed processors are all well and good, but we know they have shelf life. Fun does not.

One of the main reasons why this particular console generation is going to last longer than any previous, is because gaming companies don’t have a clue about what’s next. They don’t want to spend the billions it would take to be in a market where technology is changing rapidly. There is no clear indication of exactly what gamers will want. The amount of ways a gamer can play, where they can play offers up a fragmented industry. So the investment is very high, with failure for an new console launching a high potential. There’s no playing around in getting it right. The hope though is ironically in this fragmentation. A new console from any manufacture has to take this new gaming reality into account. They have to support communities of gaming in all areas, from the developer, to the movie buff. What they don’t have to do is stick to tried and true ideas of more power, more widgets, all equal a great platform. Nintendo has stated that with the Wii 2 their goal is to create a platform that marries technology uniquely. If there is any company in gaming that can say this, and not sound crazy it’s Nintendo. With their faults the question will always be how far will Nintendo go? Therefore Sony, and Microsoft have to think the same way. Apple is, especially with it’s introduction of the Ipad. Which again is to bring the PC/Mac experience to users on a different level. They know just like Microsoft that there is a ceiling in the PC space. A console is generational. The PS2 is the PS2, just like the N64 is the N64. There is an identity with these consoles that’s not there with a PC. You can’t say man I’d love to play with my 3dfx PC. What you’d like to do with your PC is be able to upgrade your hardware to play those classics. Mobile is so new that people don’t know what the true experience will become. Therefore the console space has a huge window to redefine our idea of what gaming is. In my second part I will highlight some of the technologies, and just what are the benefits of the new era of the console. Stay tuned…

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