TGN Originals

May 26, 2011

Chris’ Controversial Corner: Understating Relevance


Welcome back, and to new readers, welcome for the first time. This here is Chris’ Controversial Corner. Here, I like to poke holes in some of the things said in this industry and in some of the things going on in it. Today, I want to talk to you about consoles. As most of you know, Nintendo is set to reveal their new console at E3, dubbed Project Café. This has sparked a bit of controversy. No, I’m not referring to whether or not Microsoft or Sony should push up the announcement of their new consoles. Rather I’m referring to a controversy regarding the relevance of consoles. Before we begin, I want to ensure PC enthusiasts that I am not disregarding the PC as a primary gaming platform, its omission is due to the fact that no one is saying that PCs are a dying breed.

A recent article by Fox News talks about how this next Nintendo console could be the last of its kind. First, I take offense to the fact that he implied only fanatics only play games for more than ten hours a week, or as much as 5-6 hours a day. It’s not being a fanatic, its being a gamer and doing something you enjoy. That’s like saying fanatics read books for 10 hours a week, or as much as 3-4 hours a day.

They're at it again…

My second gripe with this article comes when speaking to “avid gamer” Mark Ormond. Forgive me for being so bold, but who the hell is Mark Ormond. Is he just some random commenter? Did they skip over fifteen other comments because Mark said something they liked? Based on the article, they took him for his “expert opinion” before they go on to talk about fanatics. Does he play less than that? That could surely explain why he finds the iPhone more convenient, but brings into question why he owns the consoles if he doesn’t want to pay for the games. Whatever the case, yes, he prefers to game on his iPhone. Nothing wrong with that, but explain to me how that means the end of consoles.

Let me be as blunt as possible, mobile gaming cannot and will not overtake or replace consoles. Battery life is not nearly good enough at this time to support extended gaming sessions. Before you start reminding me that you can plug your phone or other mobile device in, we’re talking about mobile gaming, not three feet away from an outlet or computer. Also, before you mention consoles must be plugged in, that’s because they are meant to be played at home. No doubt things will be a bit different in a few years, but even then, phones will likely still lack in hardware compared to that generation of consoles.

iPhone gaming has come a long way, but it still can't do what consoles do.

Mobile platforms suffer another critical disadvantage; they cannot deliver a gaming experience equivalent to consoles. They lack the hardware to produce games like Uncharted, Gears of War, and Battlefield as console gamer know them. They cannot match the graphic fidelity and cannot offer the same features without compromise. To accept such a compromise would be a huge step backward for the industry. Games like Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, and N.O.V.A. all serve their purpose well on mobile platforms. There will always be a place for them, but until mobile platforms can be as powerful as consoles, and deliver the ability to survive prolonged gaming sessions, they will not take away the need for consoles.

On that note, not even the new handhelds will cause the end of consoles. The 3DS and NGP both offer much better visuals and promise much better games than their predecessors, they still won’t be able to compete. Again, battery life plays into it. Portable devices built solely to provide a more console like experience still cannot. They only last a few hours before needing to be charged. They have the hardware that phones need to compete, but they can’t even last as long as a phone that plays games consistently. However, they do have one distinct advantage over their mobile cousins. In the case of the NGP, it has a more PS3 like experience, and Sony is using that to their advantage. They want you to take you console experience with you. Play a game on PS3 and move the save to your NGP and continue. Being able to bring that console experience to a device in the future could bring the best of both worlds. However, it could be a while before we get anything like that. Even when we do, when you get home, you know as well as I do that you’ll switch right back to the big screen.

Of course we have yet to go over the biggest reason mobile gaming will not replace consoles. It isn’t trying to. It is mobile. It is meant to be done on the go. How is a platform based on mobility supposed to translate into the end of living room gaming. “Hey guys, come over to my house and we’ll all sit on the couch and play Angry Birds on our phones. What, Halo? Fuck Halo, who needs an Xbox when I have my iPhone 4? Dude I gotta go, my phone is dying.” At least Microsoft and Sony, slim revisions aside, don’t release and Xbox 361 or PS3.2 every year, now featuring LTE and a dual cell processor. I’m pretty sure Mark Ormond up there said he didn’t want to buy games for his $300 console. Hey Mark, how much was you last iPhone upgrade? How about the one before that? Oh at least $400 in the last four years, and you can buy a $300 console once and be done? I bet he’s going to upgrade to the iPhone 5, there goes at least $200 more. Mobile gaming…pure value. I wish I had the rolling eyes emoticon right now.

Even when phones embrace gaming, such as the Xperia Play, they still fall short.

Also, there is nothing new about the games on the iPhone. Many are based on games made popular by the PC or, believe it or not, consoles. The only thing new about them is how they are controlled via touchscreen. Oh, and before you get into sequels of the same game, how many Angry Birds games are there? At least console games try to add new things to their sequels. There is also the fact that they are not all sequels. There have been dozens of new IP introduced this generation, with more coming before it ends. Doodle Jump isn’t a step forward; it just goes to show the fanbase that mobile developers are looking for. Not all of them, but many of them look for the more casual gamer. It doesn’t surprise me he doesn’t want to play his consoles.

Enough about Mark, let’s talk about “gaming guru” Michael Pachter. Everyone’s favorite industry analyst says that “Gaming will move to the cloud”. I bet Onlive wishes they could be as optimistic about cloud gaming as he was. Last I checked, they weren’t throwing around subscription numbers, and I’m pretty sure they had to remove the monthly fee to bring in more users. Sometimes not having any news is just as bad as having bad news.

Now streaming may be “the future”, but that doesn’t mean that gamers don’t want to own their games. If the latest PSN downtime isn’t proof enough, networks go down. If Onlive were to go down, you would not be able to play its games. A world where gaming relies on a network being up and requiring an internet connection leaves too much to chance. What if my internet goes out or what if I don’t have a connection? I know I speak for many gamers when I say; I want to own my games.

People want to own games. If they didn’t, Gamestop wouldn’t be posting such huge profits year after year. Fox uses the argument that users are used to not owning their media because of services like Netflix, but games are not movies. Games are much deeper than movies. They are experiences that last more than 2-3 hours and include multiplayer. Besides, you still have to buy the games when you stream them, why not buy something you can access anytime, rather than when connected to the internet. Considering that the US ranks 9th in broadband adoption and download speeds, we shouldn’t rely too heavily on streaming. Especially as games move into the next generation graphics engines and become even more difficult to stream and look and play well. They also mention Amazon Cloud Player, but you need to own the songs saved to the cloud. Then Gmail, which has absolutely nothing to do with gaming or owning anything…it is an e-mail service.

Onlive has yet to prove it can be a truly successful format, and yet it is killing consoles.

Streaming is good for some, but when you have no internet connection, you don’t have games. It is that same reason that people still purchase CDs, DVDs, MP3s, and digital movies. To have that owned copy that can be used without requiring an active connection. Digital distribution will become the norm before streaming ever does. Streaming will be more of an additional service than a primary source.

After a few more bits of wisdom from Mr. Ormond, someone finally puts a logical spin on things. Scott Steinberg, head of the technology consulting firm TechSavvy Global mentions the fact that consoles have established brands, large fan bases, and exclusive games. He goes on to say that they will be popular for the foreseeable future. Then Fox News apparently ignores that and goes on to say that iOS, Steam, and Onlive have “commoditized video games” and they reduce the need for any specialized hardware.

Well first off, two of those services require a computer with an internet connection (at least to purchase games in the case of Steam). Steam requires a computer built to be able to run games, that sounds like specialized hardware to me, same with iOS. Last I checked you need an iDevice for that. As far as Onlive is concerned, I believe I made my point about them clear earlier.

Not going anywhere any time soon.

Just like Scott Steinberg said, consoles have the fan base and have the exclusives. There will be a Sony console in every home that wants to play games like Resistance, Uncharted, Gran Turismo, and many others. The same goes for Microsoft and Nintendo. I have no doubt they will continue to keep their games exclusive so that they can continue to sell their consoles and sell their peripherals, which also make them oodles of cash. It’s good business.

Yes, the consoles as we know them will change. They have to stay relevant to stay successful, but that doesn’t mean we won’t need them. There will always be that desire to just turn on the big TV, pick up a controller, and play. Consoles will forever have a place in the living room. No mobile gaming device will replace them, nor will a streaming service that can’t deliver the titles consoles are known for. Whether they are played with discs or through digital distribution, consoles are here to stay.



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