The Future of Video Game Platforms

No matter what platform you play on, there's one undeniable truth for anyone that calls themselves a die hard video game fan: this industry is one that constantly changes.

This article is the fourth chapter from our eBook The Future of Gaming, in which KeenGamer writers discuss how the game’s industry will change. If you enjoy our work, please consider sending us a donation via PayPal on [email protected]. Every dollar will help us fund future projects. Feel free to download the full book in PDF. Or you can read the chapter of your choice in the list below:

Chapter 1: The Future of Video Game Distribution
Chapter 2: The Future of Virtual Reality Games
Chapter 3: The Future of Social Good Games
Chapter 5: The Future of eSports                                                                                    Chapter 6: 11 Companies that May Build the Road to the Future

Press X to begin. No matter the console you play on, you’ve probably read or heard this sentence at least once in your life. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), free-to-play or pay-to-win. The types of games available vary, but they all share the most common element that the industry has managed to maintain since its inception — the way users interact with this medium. There is always a gamer and a device. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet seen a system that reads your mind and does all the work reach a mass market. The keyword here is “yet.”

Seeing how this industry changes by the day, it’s impossible to predict exactly how we’ll be playing 5 years from now. As with many other technological media, something like the Nintendo Switch may appear and change the landscape for everyone participating in the long-fought console wars. Something may come that threatens the existence of PCs, for example. There’s just no way of knowing now. However, it’s still interesting to venture a guess into what we think may happen and there’s no way better way of forming educated guesses than looking at the present and to which future it will lead us

The Most Pessimistic Future

There are 3 major consoles on the market: Nintendo’s hybrid device, the Switch, Microsoft’s Xbox One family of devices, and Sony’s PlayStation 4 brand. Except for the Switch, which debuted in 2017, each platform has a mid-generational upgrade that offers greater graphical fidelity and better overall performance in the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, respectively. There are also slimmer models of each machine to consider, found in the Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Slim. In case you weren’t confused enough, each device has its own gigabyte capacity too, thereby segmenting the console market even further. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Mobile gaming has also become immensely popular in the last 5 years, as global revenue has been increasing by the billions every year (today its worth is $47.4 billion. It was $30.4 billion in 2015). It helps that users can effortlessly download titles from Apple’s iOS store or the Android store and get games from their favourite franchises in minutes. Indeed, the mobile market is one that has become impossible to ignore, as Microsoft, Sony, and even Nintendo have produced dedicated smartphones titles. Games like Microsoft’s Halo: Spartan Assault and Spartan Strike, Sony’s Passing Time and Tokyo Jungle Mobile, and Nintendo’s Super Mario Run (below) and Fire Emblem Heroes are evidence of this.

To top it all off, there’s the PC gaming market to consider, whose presence only seems to grow every year. With users able to use console controllers for their computer gaming and the popularity of mods increasing, not to mention a renewed support from third-party publishers responsible for hit franchises like Final Fantasy and Destiny it appears PC gaming is what console manufacturers are looking at to get an idea on how to survive in modernity.

Given the above, the most pessimistic future of gaming platforms will most likely eliminate the need of consoles entirely in favor of all-in-one multimedia devices like smartphones and tablets and dedicated modular PCs built with gaming performance in mind. The middleman – the console market – will most likely be replaced by a newer generation of Steam Machines that are purposefully designed for upgradeability and ease of use. Considering how upgrading a machine is becoming increasingly more intuitive and that today`s youth is well-versed with technology, the biggest advantage of consoles, not needing to learn how to upgrade your PC, may fade away in the future. This would decrease the incentive to buy a console, thus threatening its market to go away.

The Most Optimistic Future

For PC gamers, the issue of keeping up-to-date with hardware hasn’t been as great as having to invest in a new home device every couple of years. Users simply need to swap out their graphics cards, processors, or other inner workings to have their machine suited for current generation standards. Consoles, on the other hand, have no such modular functionality. To stay up-to-date with modern gaming, players need to buy a new unit entirely, even if their old one has pieces that are similar to those found in the upgrade. This $400 or $500 cost (as per recent prices offered for the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X) is a much heftier investment than the $200 PC users pay to give their rigs the added horsepower.

This information isn`t new to anyone – the possibility of consoles adopting modular functionality in the future was brought back when rumors started swirling about Sony and Microsoft introducing better versions of their devices. Manufacturers will look into the matter again, to prevent the most negative future we discussed from happening. PC gaming has been around for a while now, too, and it’s obvious that many users who frequent online video game forums and message boards use the internet as their go-to source for information on software releases. Some popular PC games like Slither.io, Bonk.io, and Surviv.io are based solely within internet browsers, after all.

Despite the evidence suggesting that consoles market may one day coalesce with the PC`s, sales figures say otherwise. Both console manufacturers’ mid-generational upgrades, the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, are performing well among consumers. The former helped Microsoft rise 14% in hardware revenue, while Sony attributed the latter as helping the brand continue to sell well this generation. The warm reception to these iterations of established devices may be indicative of the divide that consoles will always have with the PC market, one entirely based on practicality and ease of use.

Now, consumers may still be wary of tampering with the innards of their computers, lest they wind up breaking something they shouldn’t have ever touched. There’s also the simplicity in turning on a console and sitting down on a couch after a long day at work to consider, one that removes a human being from a desk and keyboard, which may be two items that people are too used to seeing in their daily work lives. In a sense, there’s enough of a psychological barrier there to prevent people from going from one PC at work to another at home. Couple this with Steam Machine’s lukewarm reception and success, and it appears this gap has yet to be breached by anything significantly threatening in the PC space.

In an optimistic future for gaming platforms, the landscape will be diversified enough to create more competition in the hardware space. Aside from consoles, PC games, and the mobile front, a new way to play may arise in the coming years that’s significant enough to capture a wide audience of people. Re-releases of classic platforms like the SNES Classic and Atari VCS and the popularity of VR are evidence of this already happening today. There will undoubtedly be even more technological breakthroughs in the coming years that present a greater variety of options for us, innovations that we just haven’t come up with yet or are waiting to become affordable enough to hit mass market. Perhaps the Switch’s Labo will strike a chord with people outside of its child demographic or Microsoft’s patent for mind-reading headsets will come to fruition in another Xbox iteration. We just must wait and see.

The Likeliest Future 

Leaving Xbox, PlayStation and the PC market aside, an interesting outlier to consider when discussing the future of where we’ll play our games comes in the form of Nintendo and its hardware iterations. The Switch continues to sell astronomically well compared to the Wii U before it, selling nearly 15 million units, as of February 2018, and showing no signs of stopping anytime soon. Given its success in the face of more technically impressive hardware in the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, there are a myriad of reasons why the hybrid console, which allows users the ability to play games on the go or at home, is so popular.

Its software lineup so far has been nothing to dismiss outright, as exclusive titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (above) and Super Mario Odyssey both released to rave reviews from critics and fans and each won numerous awards in late 2017, but indie titles and ports from the Wii U era, particularly in Axiom Verge and Mario Kart 8, have also found great success on the platform – titles that, mind you, existed digitally or on store shelves years prior to their Switch debut. The hybrid’s form factor and the novelty of its design should also be considered. The prospect of finally delivering on a true second screen experience was something that apparently many people had been eager for, as seamlessly transitioning from a television screen to Switch’s portability mode provides convenience in knowing that there never truly is a need to take a break from gaming. Nintendo’s official estimates show that 50% of users use both console’s abilities for play, after all. Still, if people had learned that Nintendo would once again try to directly compete against the mobile gaming market, no one would have ever guessed that the Switch would accrue so much success as it’s been receiving.

It’s both a testament to the evolving nature of video game technology and to the pedigree in which Nintendo unabashedly clings to. The house of Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Star Fox, Kirby, Pokémon, and many other timeless franchises simply refuses to do whatever everyone else is doing and sticks to its guns, despite the dangers of waging an uphill battle. In Nintendo’s case, innovation is the driving factor behind making a name for yourself in today’s congested gaming market, and whatever they do, they will almost always assuredly create a unique platform that’s entirely different and distinct from what Microsoft, Sony, and the PC industry have in store. However, that’s not to say that these are the only machines responsible for determining how we play in the years ahead.

Peripherals in the vein of AR and, more prominently, VR may have a hand in shaping gaming platforms in the future, too. Though not quite at the forefront of the industry and still reserved for premium experiences (especially considering how expensive VR headsets still are for the average consumer, as an Oculus Rift costs over $400 and a HTC Vive nearly $600). The technology behind the phenomenon is interesting, as it does really put a person inside a video game and is very immersive by nature. Entertaining individuals by putting them in the the action or making them feel as if they’ve become one with the media they’re consuming is something that we as humans naturally strive for in producing better graphical fidelity, sound design, and the like. 

For now, VR still has a way to go in truly delivering its potential, as it appears the software in which we use to experience the technology is more outdated than the technology itself. 5-hour long narratives and rudimentary gameplay found in the likes of Batman: Arkham VR and Moss are keeping VR from achieving what it deserves, though it will be interesting to see when developers will revive the platform, once fundamentals are more up to snuff. At present, it appears the mass gaming market agrees that the technology should be relegated for secondary, premium experiences, at least within the scope of the next couple of years or so.

What are the hard truths that we can most assuredly expect to happen, then, as far as gaming platforms are concerned? It wouldn’t come as much of a shock to many if the next main staples in the Xbox and PlayStation brand of consoles use a modular format going forward, perhaps including easy to remove hard drives and graphics cards from the outset. PC gaming may continue to encroach on the console space, though it’s hard to see it overwhelm that side of the industry entirely, as a divide will always exist between consoles and computers. Nintendo will most likely just do its own thing as it has in the past, continuing to create console platforms that it deems appropriate for the market at the time, and VR may fade away only to return one day.  When all is said and done, perhaps the most effective way in approaching where platforms may lie is looking to the developers who will shape the industry we know and love.

INSIGHTS FROM INSIDE

As my good friend Priscilla McGann (below), an up-and-coming developer who just finished work on a Touhou game jam, puts it “The flow of creativity is random at times, but the ‘fun’ will always go with it, and so will the players.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Priscilla’s full opinion on the matter of gaming platforms is as follows:

“What I’m wondering is if there will eventually be a combination of console and PC, similar to what we’re seeing with VR. Maybe the consoles will evolve to supplement a computer’s’ performance? Market wise, we’re seeing indie developers prefer PC, because they can really push the boundaries of a ‘medium’ and create experiences that can’t be done by consoles. Look at Doki Doki Literature Club and One Shot – two recent indie games that made use of the open-ended PC coding and user interface.
I think if consoles want to stick, particularly with indie developers, they’re going to really have to get creative.

I know people say, the console market is competitive’ between Microsoft and the others, but it’s going to have to get more cut throat then ‘who has the best graphics,’ and they may want to start marketing towards a dev’s ability to express their creative ideas over tech specs like ‘New HD 4k Resolution’ that most players don’t care about at this point. Nintendo will probably remain untouched due to their philosophy on games, raw childlike creativity, and beloved worlds. I think what consoles should fear most is a depression, because console gaming is probably the most expensive hobby, and it could cause permanent loss in their purchases. My answer isn’t too short, and it’s not too direct, but in reality all we can do is predict what can happen, and be ready for one or all of those circumstances to come. The flow of creativity is random at times, but the ‘fun’ will always go with it, and so will the players.”

This article is the fourth chapter from our eBook “The Future of Gaming,” in which KeenGamer writers discuss how the game’s industry will change. Feel free to download the full book in PDF.

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