game over

Do you remember when cellphones did one thing? Well, perhaps two. If you’re old enough you’ll remember when it was JUST a phone, and roughly the size of a backpack – but for a long time all our phones could really do was call and SMS. I’m talking about the glory days of the Nokia 3310, back when a game of Snake could actually hold our attention.

But of course, as electronics tend to do, they’ve evolved. My cellphone is kind of crappy, and yet it’s still an internet browser, e-mailer, camera, instant messager, handheld game device and social networker – oh, I do also occasionally speak to people on it.

The point is, things are becoming integrated to the point that single-function devices become obsolete – perhaps you see where I’m going with this.

Consoles, as they currently stand, are basically single-function devices. Sure you can watch Blu-rays on your PS3 or access the internet, but these functions are very much secondary, and a large percentage of the user base doesn’t bother using them at all. This idea is starting to enter the public consciousness, and already the internet is starting to whisper prophecies of doom… “The next generation will be the last.”

But is there some credibility to this statement? Let’s break it down. If we take a console’s lifespan as roughly five years, that means it’ll be around 2018 when we could expect to see the PS5 or the Xbox 1020 or whatever. So what do we have right now in 2013?

We have wireless headsets, wireless keyboards, wireless controllers and wireless internet and network connectivity. We have cloud gaming on the brink of becoming viable; we have the rise of digital distribution and free-to-play sales models.

With these things in mind, isn’t it reasonable to assume that we could, by 2018, have one machine that does everything? Our computer could sit in one room in our house, but be accessible as a media or gaming device in the living room, or a work/browsing device anywhere else. We could access all our media content from anywhere in our house. We could play games on a cloud service, with no need for expensive hardware. We could play anywhere we have a monitor, with any type of input device we like, be it mouse and keyboard or a more traditional console controller.

Any kind of mobile gaming would likely be done on our cellphones, which should easily be able to support the type of games we want to be playing by then. Cellphone and tablet gaming has already started to edge out the handheld market (it no doubt has no small influence on the Vita’s lackluster sales).

That blue really brings out your poor sales figures.

That blue really brings out your poor sales figures.

Imagine the cost savings for developers – games could be designed for a single platform only, which for us as gamers would mean better, more refined and polished games with smaller gaps between conception and release. The digital distribution model and lower development costs would also mean we’d be paying less for our AAA titles – it could also mean free-to-play models may become more commercially viable.

This isn’t a new idea either – back in June of 2012 God of War designer David Jaffe said, “I’ll go on the record and say that the next generation of hardware will be the last consoles. And they should be.”

But let’s step out of 2018 and come back to 2013 for a moment, the land of crappy internet and overpriced games. There have been rumblings around the world wide web that even this year’s new generation of consoles may be in trouble.

Last week on the NeoGaf forums, Sidhe Studios developer Mario Wynands allegedly said, “At DICE, nobody has been talking about the new Wii U projects they have started, only the Wii U projects that have just been cancelled. Platform is in serious trouble.”

It’s no secret that Wii U sales have been disappointing for Nintendo (past the release boom), and a lot of that can be attributed to poor game support thus far from developers. To be fair, the Wii has always sat in a somewhat awkward spot in the console trio, with Nintendo having to produce most of their own AAA titles for their platform – Call of Duty doesn’t really play nicely on the Wii.

Not exactly tailored for core gamers.

Not exactly tailored for core gamers.

But there’s another issue as well – this new set of consoles just won’t be as good as the last ones. When the PS3 and Xbox 360 were released, their capabilities were far ahead of computers, although it did take developers some time to squeeze out all that potential. However, with the new generation of consoles, that isn’t the case. In fact, the capabilities of the next-gen hardware are going to pale in comparison to what can be achieved on a PC right now. For today’s standards, the hardware on the next-gen consoles is said to be pretty conservative. This opinion has been echoed by both Nvidia and Crytek in the last few months.

Let’s be fair about this though – Crytek love making games that melt computers and Nvidia, well, the death of consoles would surely be in their best interest – these opinions have to be taken with a grain of salt. There are definite advantages to consoles – you don’t have to worry about hardware requirements in the first place, and in general it’s a cheaper option than a high end computer. A lot of people really value having a dedicated gaming machine that they know will “just work”. They like sitting on the couch when they play games and they like having a controller that feels like a controller.

My own thoughts are that the PS5 and Xbox 720 are going to be just fine. There are more than enough console fans out there to get adequate sales, and AAA developers are likely to keep pumping out big titles as long as it keeps pumping in money, which it will. As for the Wii U, I’m not sure. There’ve been some dangerous rumours going around that it’s not that fantastic to develop for, and while there are a couple of big titles in the pipeline, it seems like it might be the odd one out once again. Despite Nintendo’s insistence that the Wii U is suitable for core gamers, no one wants to get stuck with the console that can’t play the new Call of Duty/Battlefield/Gears of War. I think it’s definitely going to be the worst of the three in terms of sales, if not a serious flop.

As for the next-next-gen, I do believe that this will be the last of them, at least in their current form. The idea of a console is already becoming a little outdated, it’s hard to believe that by the time 2018 rolls around we won’t have an integrated, all-in-one solution. But if we’re all playing on the same device, what will fanboys have to argue about?

I’m sure they’ll think of something.