As a well-rounded reader of all things tech who prides themselves on having seen every possible attempt to shamelessly attention grab, you’ll surely have encountered the headlined question of “Is So-and-so-software/hardware/company/device dead?”.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be exposed to an interesting take on just how some new technology might just supplant an older, more established form. If you’re unlucky, you’ll find yourself reading what’s essentially an obit piece putting the boot into some poor tech variant – that the author proclaims – has come to the end of its shelf-life.
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In this piece, however, I’m at least committed to exploring just how game consoles (and the control-based systems they’re based on) are about to face a substantial slap in the relevancy-face, rather than simply proclaiming their complete obsolescence.
Consoles or Bust
Consoles loom large in video game history and mythology, with one of the earliest consoles to hit the commercial market being the Magnavox Odyssey. This console setup connected directly to a television and employed a type of primitive controller, one complete with twirling knobs (“Look Ma! It TWIRLS!”).
Such early versions of these controllers would help define the console as integral to the home entertainment gaming “gold rush”. Since the days of Atari’s commercial success in the 1970’s, companies rushed to produce devices that could corner their share of the home entertainment market, with latter generations including versions of the iconic Saturn (Sega), Xbox (Microsoft), Playstation (Sony) and the Gamecube/Wii (Nintendo).
The key feature of these types of consoles was an obvious reliance on their hand-held control component (controllers). These systems showcased games that emphasized hand-eye coordination as a necessity for kickass gameplay.
And then came the Kinect…
The Gestures Have It
The Kinect presents users with a “controllerless” way of navigating games (“Look Ma! NO CONTROLLER!”) through pairing a motion-sensing device with an Xbox 360. The Kinect takes traditional console controls and replaces them with a spatial gestures and voice based instructions. Such gesture-based gaming paves the way for modified systems that rely on natural user interfaces, as opposed to those relying on manual input through hand-oriented devices.
These natural user interfaces tap into hardwired human abilities related to motion and speech, and resulting in a (hopefully) more intuitive and seamless gaming experience. The theory behind the employment of such interfaces is that the more invisible, or less noticeable, the control system is while game playing, the more a user becomes immersed. Whereas controllers seem highly artificial, setups like the Kinect ensure a smoother learning curve whilst navigating – and adapting to – new game mechanics.
Just like the motion sensing capabilities of the Kinect, mobile gaming allows players significant freedom by shifting gaming beyond the living room and into the big bad world (“Look Ma, No WALLS!”). Users no longer depend on manual input via standard controllers, hand-helds, or traditional keyboard and mouse controls.
This increased mobility opens up new possibilities regarding how and where games can be played. Platforms become more pliable, with different gaming forms and formats resulting – think: Google’s Ingress Alternate/Augmented Reality Game, Cloud based and console quality streamed gaming, or Free-To-Play games competing with paid subscription models.
With smartphone adoption increasing by roughly 25% in 2012 and with a growth prediction of 18% in 2013 (or so says the research company eMarketer), mobile based gaming is an obvious contender when it comes to console alternatives. In fact, mobile games are only one of the problems that console based systems are facing in terms of maintaining market viability.
Wearable Computers present a significant challenge to consoles. As established game interfaces are gradually revamped through the implementation of brain-computer interfaces and augmented reality tech (think: Google Glass), the need for games to be bundled with external control components will be radically reduced.
Another direct challenge to stationery gaming technology is wearable gadgets that operate by gamifying everyday activities. Gamification works by adopting typical gaming variables and reworking them as goal-driven behaviour that affects day-to-day activities.
An example of such gamification is the feedback loops created by fitness apps and life-tracking sensors like Jawbone’s UP wristband. Gamifying such personal actions – think of it as “levelling up” your life – pushes the concept of gaming beyond entertainment towards something else entirely.
Thankfully, many console companies aren’t just sitting idly by: console makers are striving to adapt to the rigors of a changing marketplace by evolving their products to suit contemporary demand. And let’s face it: even such futuristic HUD-based devices like the Occulus RIFT are still stuck at the prototype stage using a controller as a main input device.
You’d have to look long and hard to find a dedicated gamer who hasn’t at least dabbled with console based games, and fewer still who don’t actively list them as being instrumental in their gaming evolution.
They’ve helped shape how a specific generation relates to gaming in general, as well as assisting in moving the games industry from a niche market towards an unassailable entertainment force. Let’s hope the survival of the game console is ensured with new iterations that combine the power of gesture-based and wearable tech, rather than simply abandoning the good old console to languish in a lazy journalist’s “Is X-and-Y Dead” file.