Battle for the Living Room
Daniel Weinell / Oct 14th, 2013 No Comments
Big changes are coming to the living room and everyone wants a piece of the action. A new generation of gaming consoles releases this November, it ushers in a new era of big screen action. The two main contenders in this upcoming battle are Sony’s PlayStation 4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One. While they are the companies with the most mind share at present, they aren’t the only ones interested in total living room domination. The third pillar comes in the form of Nintendo’s Wii U, even though it was early to the party and Nintendo refuses to admit it’s in a competition. There are some smaller names who have dipped their toes into couch-front gaming, the most publicized being the Ouya. And bringing up the rear, ever envious of the living room territory, is Valve with a recently announced ploy for power. There will be no real losers in the upcoming battle because competition drives innovation. War is coming and the fallout will come in the form of wonderful new experiences for gamers.
The Early Bird
The previous generation of console gaming was dominated by the big three – Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo – and they will remain at the forefront in the coming months and years. Unlike the previous generation, Nintendo was the first out of the gate bringing about the eighth console generation a year before the competition, though many would argue that the Wii U isn’t truly a next generation gaming rig. Its visuals and processing power are about on par with the current Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. When the PS4 and Xbox One hit shelves a month from now, the Wii U will be visually left in the dust. Specs aside, Nintendo has once again opted for innovation over top of the line internals. The Wii U places its fancy new tablet controller at the forefront of its innovation. It offers unique new gameplay experiences such as what Nintendo is calling asynchronous multiplayer – which entails one player using the tablet while the others use Wii remotes or pro controllers. Nintendo has an uphill battle in terms of driving their install base but even if Nintendo is a bit behind in terms of hardware, they aren’t going anywhere – their franchises are among the most beloved in all of gaming.
The Prize Fighters
Playstation 4 and Xbox One, more so than the Wii U will be pushing the boundaries of graphics and gameplay. While there are subtle differences between the two consoles, gamers can expect to have a relatively similar experience across the board. Microsoft has Kinect 2.0, Smart Glass, and a slew of exclusive partnerships while Sony has the PS Vita cross-play, Gaikai integration, and Playstation Plus. The Playstation 4 may be the reportedly better console in terms of specs but the difference is minor. What it all comes down to is games and both consoles have a lot to offer. The problem for Microsoft is that Sony started this generation strong with an undivided message that the PlayStation 4 is a console by gamers, for gamers. Microsoft missed the mark early on in how they presented their new console and what it would offer consumers. They have since backtracked on their message and in all likelihood gamers will be experiencing near ubiquity between the consoles. Sony has forged partnerships with independent developers in a move that is leaving Microsoft once again playing catch up. Indie games became an important part of this past generation and PlayStation 4 will be a comfortable home for indie developers. Microsoft has announced plans for similar strategies but will not be able to invoke them as quickly as Sony. In terms of exclusives, Sony has 20 exclusive games that will launch in PS4’s first year. Microsoft will have its fair share of exclusives as well but again, Sony has a message for gamers. In the long run, both consoles will do well. There will be reasons to own both an Xbox One and a PS4, rest assured.
A New Challenger Approaches
[adsense250itp]Valve has long been a contender in the gaming scene, but has never made serious headway into becoming a living room champion. The company that gave the world Portal, Half Life, and Counter Strike has gradually become the go-to service for PC game downloads. That wasn’t enough for Valve – they want what the big three have. Valve recently revealed their plan for making Steam a true competitor as a living room based service in a series of three announcements. The first of the three announcements was SteamOS, a Linux base operating system built around Steam. The second announcement was that Valve will be partnering with hardware manufacturers to produce machines with Steam OS preinstalled, a Steam Box if you will. The third and final announcement – and subsequently the strangest – was a special controller. Instead of traditional thumb-sticks, Valve’s controller offers two convex touch-pads that also serve as buttons. They supposedly offer much higher resolution than a traditional controller in an attempt to replicate a keyboard and mouse. While it remains to be seen just how well this new controller works, it is nonetheless very tantalizing.
These announcements are a step in the right direction but Valve is still fighting an uphill battle. Opting to use Linux as their default operating system is a controversial decision. Linux is the least supported OS in terms of games currently behind Windows and MacOS. In order to convince publishers to port their games to Linux, Valve will need to prove that there is an install base for the OS. It’s the same Catch-22 that Nintendo is facing, they must sell units to move games but they can’t move games without selling units. However, if anyone is up to the challenge, it’s Valve. What they really need is a system selling exclusive game to move units, perhaps something with a three in its title. Certainly there were some gamers on their edge of their seats when Valve revealed there would be three announcements coming. Most hoped for a reveal of the long awaited Half Life 3 – a game that would surly move hardware for Valve – but alas, it was nowhere to be seen. The controller was a handy consolation prize. It will be hard to pass judgment on the device without a hands-on experience, but developers who have used it have positive things to say. Valve has been moving in the direction of the living room for a while and its only a matter of time until there are four big names in the console business.
Ouya was the result of an incredibly effective Kickstarter Campaign. The little device runs on a modified Android operating system and offers some exclusive experiences for gamers. But there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the little console that could. There were issues with getting hardware into the hands of backers early on and recently the company announced a fund to double the proceeds of successful Kickstarter campaigns for games exclusive to Ouya. There was suspicious activity on some of the projects such as a low number of backers providing a bulk of the money. Controversy aside, the system is nowhere near as powerful as the other players in console gaming and the device suffers from a sub-par controller and game performance issues. Ouya does offer some innovations to the scene such as its free-to-play nature. All games on Ouya must have some free element, be it a free trial or an entirely free-to-play service. Then there is the Gamestick offers a similar service as Ouya. There have been other attempts to merge mobile gaming with living room gaming, but none have proven as successful as a dedicated console.
Paths of Glory
This is an exciting time to be a console gamer. A new generation is upon us and new devices are being introduced. Whether you enjoy casual games, hardcore experiences or simply want an all purpose entertainment device for your television, this next generation has something for everyone. It is great to see what will come next. There are still new experiences to be had and new hardware to be developed. Long live the living room!
tags: Next-Gen , opinion , ps4 , steam box , steamos , valve , wii-u , xbox one