The Old Guard
Xbox One’s belligerent move to curb the pre-owned market, game ownership, and user privacy is still the boiling-over topic. What gamers, looking to play the attractive library of announced Xbox One games, must decide is what price their willing to pay out of their wallets and personal freedom. Being unable to sawdust over their deeply unpopular designs on how gamers should game with a strong portfolio of games at E3 set a self-inflicted precedent for console gaming.
It is that fallout that enabled a showboating Sony to pour themselves a big old bowl of adulation by renouncing the pre-owned principles and overbearing online check in-curfews. But that point scoring smokescreen also opened the door for Sony to bury bad news safe in the knowledge that they would not be bit in a backlash as deeply as Microsoft had been. The reality is that DRM may still be present on PS4 games as Sony have left that decision to the publishers. In addition to that, Sony will now be charging a fee for players to enjoy multiplayer games online for the first time, adopting Microsoft’s example (paying to play online is not a hard pill to swallow to keep the used status quo and get monthly free games).
There is still plenty of time for things to go sour. Especially after the colossal flip-flop by Microsoft that overthrew their DRM stance last week. Everything is in flux until November.
The New Kids
The games industry has undoubtedly accepted that console manufacturers are on a steady course to implement more and more financial practices into how the public uses games with even Nintendo adopting paid DLC. The days of putting in a game and simply playing it seem long gone and a large majority of people are understandably pretty disappointed by this – and have put their frustration to action (Siri, tweet this!). There are consoles on the horizon that look to buck the trend of high value systems and installing yet more monetary hurdles to game, Ouya and Gamestick are proof that you do not have to be one of the big boys to put a console out there in the market.
Ouya is an Android based console (using an adapted version of Android 4.1 called JellyBean). The main pull is that the $99 console offers every game ‘free-to-try’ and will launch on June 25 with over 140 games. Another unique aspect to Ouya is that the console makers actively encourage owners to use their device as a development kit, providing they publish their games as free-to-play. The system is easily accessible and offers room within its casing for modifications. Ouya is better measured on its own merits than compared to the top consoles of the 8th gen. In fact, Ouya is best compared against its nearest competitor; Gamestick.
On July 9 PlayJam will release the Gamestick. The flash drive sized console connects to a TV and is played through a wireless controller with online compatibility. The $79 price tag makes it a pocket money console. PlayJam is best known for making casual TV based games with comparatively low degrees of complexity. Bringing this relatively basic style of android gaming to a household console is ambitious (to say the least) and Ouya and Gamestick will not hold a candle when compared to the AAA masterworks that X1, PS4 and Wii U will house.
The cheap summer systems both offer HD visuals, something Nintendo only just adapted to with the Wii U. What these unseasoned consoles do is encourage a greater level of access to their content and as both systems were funded from successful kickstarter campaigns, can be cited as a public lead development in games production and marketing. Basically, these consoles are a reaction to a user demand for a more user intuitive experience at the cost of graphical and processing quality. And they are not the only new console to appear this summer, let alone this year. The Nvidia Shield is another Wi-Fi enabled Android based gaming system out this June. The handheld console is portable as it features its own 5-inch display screen, as well as on the go downloadable content from Google Play.
Mobile gaming is a huge industry now, it was only a matter of time before these ordinarily phone based games had a dedicated system, now they have three. Nothing is stopping Apple, Dell, Samsung or another tech giant with the clout to launch their own suped-up take on the Ouya, Gamestick or Shield and see it compete with, the once console game illiterate, Sony and Microsoft. After all, that is something intermediate standing tech company Nvidia have realized with the Shield. Whether Shield sinks like the Nokia N-Gage did or flies like Apple’s Walkman pretender the iPod did – we will have to wait and see. The simplified takes on console gaming should have the top brass taking notes, because they are catering for a plug in and play market that has been rejected.
The Next Level
The Ouya and Gamestick are crowd sourced systems, which deliver a user influenced experience, not a corporate one. Seems like an ideological premise but with enough gamers raging that they will sit this console gen out in favour of PC gaming, a more user conscious experience may need to be the change that Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo as console makers have to make to stay on top. Nvidia are moving into the portable gap in this market already, albeit in a more humble form.
The established games console makers will either continue to operate down a parallel path to new ventures or have to out achieve them, in service, user experience and technological performance to risk PC gaming and newcomer systems becoming more serious competition. Smaller scaled android games may not be the best platform for those major sales and award smashing event games. But an alternative to this is covered already by PC gaming. PC gaming used to be the realm of tech savvy gamers (usually adults) with disposable income to blow. Now it is not. Steam’s console interface on a PC with easy access to top quality titles is the fourth console to millions of gamers.
As far as where to go with hardware, Razer and Dell’s Alienware are household brands with gamers, with many more competitive PC gaming brands besides. With X1 and PS4 dropping for $399 and X1 for $499 ( X1 is far more expensive abroad) the price difference between consoles and PC is closer than ever. PCs can be used for everything and Microsoft no longer dominate that market to the degree they have done in the past. Pioneering brands like Ouya will not always be the upstarts in the car park receiving a (reportedly) ESA summoned police inspection. Eventually a new competitor will follow in Sony and Microsoft’s footsteps and be on stage inside the venue with the rest of the establishment, which is something that gamers may be more ready to see than the Entertainment Software Association (of which Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are all members).
Microsoft should be worried. Sony should be worried. Nintendo by now seem to have decided their own path is safer than joining the two tier race. What the new guys are doing explicitly is what the old guys do not want gamers to do anymore. If these new ventures and PC gaming successfully manage win gamers away then the big three cannot complain that the signs were not there.