A new generation of consoles for who?

The new consoles have been announced. The games were shown at E3. One of the manufacturers, Microsoft, even retracted a feature of the console before it was even on the market. On the balance, however, what do the new consoles bring to the living room other than more promise of the same? Faster processing. Better looking graphics. New franchises while adding roman or arabic numerals to existing ones. For Microsoft, an admission to use Blu-Ray for their disc media. And for everyone, better integration with the Internet, online media and television. This sounds, ominously, very much like the announcements that introduced the consoles of the current generation. The Wii U tried to tap into the current craze with tablets but it struggles to beat the sales numbers of its predecessor. One only has to look at the number of titles coming out for portable gaming in the PS Vita and 3DS to see that there isn’t much enthusiasm to eat into the much larger space of smartphones when it comes to mobile gaming. That begs a serious question as the initial salvos have been fired amongst the console manufacturers: Are consumers on the whole even interested in a new console? It almost feels like a tired automobile industry from decades ago – put in bigger engines, new paint schemes, better brakes, add a new year to the model and hope for people to come. Poignantly, Don Mattrick, the man who was heading up Xbox for Microsoft, has now moved to Zynga.

Console gaming was introduced initially to a young audience. A whole generation of elementary school students grew up with the likes of Mario, Sonic and saved countless quarters on games like Street Fighter. When the preorders stop and the big box stores open up, which demographic will stand in a queue waiting to get their hands on a Playstation 4 or Xbox One? Most likely, it’s the same people who were salivating over a Playstation 2 or Xbox. Having recently been at a wedding with children ranging from early teens to toddlers, most of them were infatuated with their iPods, Galaxies, iPhones or iPads playing their Angry Birds or whatever new game is in vogue. The touch interface is so intuitive even babies seem capable of being entertained by them. Twenty years ago, children would moan, cry, nag and wail for their parents to spend hundreds of dollars on a SNES – will they do it come this autumn? Or for the same price as an Xbox One, those same children can get the latest iPad. Forget the children, which is more palatable to the parents?

The uproar about purchasing used games from retail stores is further illustration of how the paradigm of the target console gaming audience is one of an older one. The kids mentioned above never visit a retail store to get the latest games. They purchase from the Apple or Android store or some other application market place. They never use physical media because their devices don’t even support it. Everything is downloaded. What is the best game today could be discarded with the next five dollar download tomorrow. There are no time immemorial shrines of plastic boxes in their bedrooms. Games can be rented for a time or games can be handed out for free with in game purchases driving publisher sales. Where do retail stores and second hand media come into play for this generation of gamers? It doesn’t. Simply look at what’s happening with music and video media in the physical space. HMV is not where kids are hanging out anymore.

This is not to say the next generation of video gaming is dead. Far from it, a new generation of consoles may spark some original ideas and ways to engage gamers. The Kinect single handedly gave the Xbox 360 its second legs on life and validated the approach from the Wii, although Nintendo appears to have gone another way with the Wii U. However, if the industry continues to keep churning out bigger and faster consoles with endless sequels and reboots for games, it may find itself facing an ever shrinking demographic. Then it would really be no different than automobile companies who have run out of ideas churning out yet another version of the Camaro, GTO, Mustang hoping to pine on the nostalgia of an older generation.

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