From the time the Wii U was first unveiled right through to today, the eve of the new Xbox’s unveiling, I’ve found myself feeling something very strange.
In years (and decades) past, the arrival of new hardware was exciting. Exciting because new consoles were the biggest and best, sure, but also because they were the latest step on a bigger journey, one blazing the way towards a brighter video gaming future. OK, yeah, this new console is amazing, but man, I wonder what comes next?
I don’t feel that this time. I don’t feel any excitement at all.
Instead, I’ve got an overbearing sense of melancholy. Maybe even ennui. Not at the machines themselves; the PS4 seems supremely capable, and I’ve no doubt the next Xbox will be similar. No, I’m sad about the fact that this feels like the last gasp. A final hurrah.
The end of console gaming as we know it.
Maybe I can’t see gaming’s forest for the trees. Maybe I’m just bleak. But I can’t see another round of console launches after this. OK, perhaps Nintendo can squeeze one more in, if only out of necessity, but the prospect of Sony and/or Microsoft having the will – or the money – to make a PS5 or Xbox 1080 in 5-8 years seems remote.
There’s so much talk of diminishing returns in the console market.
Studios have been closing and consolidating faster than new ones can spring up.
The costs of developing and marketing console games is out of control.
With the financial cost of failure too steep, too many series are diluted, pitched at everyone and truly resonating with nobody.
We used to get a new console every 4-5 years. This time around, it’s taken eight. Seriously. The Xbox 360 was released in 2005. If you need reminding on how long ago that was, watch this.
That “delay” hasn’t been for fun. It’s been because that’s how long it’s taken to draw a line under the current generation.
Many people who once would have purchased a PlayStation for idle gaming can now scratch that same itch on their phone. Or their tablet. Hell, they can even buy games for their browser.
Steam, the explosion of independent development and the focused clout of Kickstarter have transformed the PC from a sleeping giant into the most exciting platform on the planet. The buzz around stuff like the Oculus Rift only amplifies this.
Even Nintendo, a company once synonymous with the very idea of console gaming, is suffering through the most disastrous home console launch since the Dreamcast.
Sure, some could argue that consoles can recover, that there’s room for both skittles and steak. And in many ways, I hope they’re right. I really do, especially in Nintendo’s case. But, um, steak doesn’t cost $US500. And in that metaphor’s real world, people already own skittles, and they’re always in their pocket wherever they go.
What should be a time for parties, then – for excitement – instead for me feels like the band playing as the Titanic goes down. The home console business is just beset by so many problems, from without and within, that unless there are significant and drastic changes to its business model I can’t see it sticking around in its current form for another generation.
Which is why these launches seem so sad to me. They may well be the last ones I ever get to enjoy. Sure, as gaming changes other pleasures and experiences will no doubt arise to take their place, but they won’t be the same.
People won’t be lining up in the cold at midnight launches this holiday season for a piece of gaming’s future. They’ll be lining up to secure the final chapter of a piece of gaming’s past.