It’s highly likely that 2016 is going to go down as the most innovative year, interns of the game industry: the rise of Virtual Reality, the slow push into iterative consoles and the release of the biggest game universe in the history of the genre, No Man’s Sky. This great leap forward the industry is making in terms hardware, game design and new ways to play has the potential to change the way we think about gaming, fundamentally.
Ever since the advent of the DS and Wii, the introduction of motion and touch controls; the way we interact with games has changed. While many gamers and critics of Nintendo’s hardware, often state their innovation to be nothing more than a gimmick; if it wasn’t for Nintendo the strides and inventiveness of the industry may have likely died a long time ago. The greatest era in the games industries history was during the 90’s, the rise of SEGA and Playstation, changed the industry through innovation. Instead of cloning each other’s consoles Nintendo, SEGA and Sony innovated their hardware and game design, which lead to competition through inventiveness. Meanwhile, the situation the industry has stumbled into is less one that innovates and more imitation. The Playstation 4 and Xbox One, are so similar often it would be hard to distinguish between the two. While their shells may be different, they’re essentially the same machine; two consoles trying to compete with the only ‘titan’ of the game industry PC (I say this as console gamer).
During the last generation of consoles, Nintendo dominated the market with a console that appealed more to casual than hardcore gamers. The Wii introduced a new way to play focusing on local multiplayer, new controls and stylistic art.
Meanwhile, Sony and Microsoft battled in the no man’s land of hardware. While the current generation has been dominated by Sony with Xbox crawling behind at a distant second, the battle between the two remains the same. However, Xbox almost changed the way we purchase and share our games. While I agreed with the backlash Microsoft received; I can’t help but wonder whether they should have pushed harder and tested the water. The current generation of console will likely be the shortest and possibly the last generation of consoles. While the game console will likely never die, Microsoft, Nintendo and Playstation all understand that the console has to evolve.
During this year’s E3 event, Phil Spencer the Head of Xbox revealed Project Scorpio the next console iteration in the Xbox line. Before E3, the rumour mills flooded with speculation over PlayStation Neo and Nintendo NX. The move to iterative consoles isn’t a new revelation in console manufacturing; consoles have had iterative forms across generations in the Slim version of the console. The excitement over Project Scorpio and PlayStation Neo is due to the potential for a full iterative console; learning lessons from the mobile and PC market, Microsoft and Sony are changing the relationship between hardware, developers and gamers. By creating iterative consoles, games will have long life cycles, enabling developers to work with more powerful hardware.
Yet, while Microsoft and Sony are battling to secure their dominance in power. Nintendo after the failure of the Wii U is challenging a bigger space in the gaming market, Mobile and Smart devices. Many would complain that the Wii U was innovation for innovation’s sake; Nintendo brought a new way to play with the Wii and thought that could repeat that success. I would argue that the Wii U is a success in terms of innovation, in the same vein as the Wii. For Nintendo’s NX to compete with the mobile market it will have to innovate, offering the market a device that separates consumers from their phones. Creating both, a new way to play as well as an alternative to tablets and other smart devices.
The biggest challenge facing console manufactures are other tech giants, Apple and Valve are two prime examples. I have little experience with Steam (due to me using Mac) but the vast library of the games and the ease setting up a controller (even on Mac) makes PC the dominant gaming machine. A sad fact that Sony is only just starting to realise and a fact that Microsoft has always known. While Apple doesn’t really care about games; proven by Apple TV and the lack of support for game developers to port games to their OSX. It is, however, undeniable that iOS devices are now one of the most dominant gaming devices. The success of Apple in the mobile space destroyed Sony’s portable ambitions and has kept Nintendo from achieving the success of original DS.
Without innovation, the console market will become stagnant and overly repetitive. I must be honest and admit that the only home console I own of this generation is the Wii U (shook…horror). But after playing on both PS4 and XB1, I honestly didn’t care about either machine. The share variety of titles is fantastic, yet both machines feel identical offering little variety or experimentation in gameplay. And unfortunately, most of the games, are exactly the same with the biggest developers churning out repeats of the same franchises often with little improvement.
However, until my VITA unfortunately died I found that by itself it competed on equal footing for my attention with the 3DS and Wii U. I found games on the system imaginative and offered a learning curve which entices, a fantastic example of this has to be Gravity Rush. The Vita often made wonder about the future of the Wii U’s gamepad and with reports that the NX is to be a hybrid portable/home console. I can’t help but wonder whether Nintendo’s hardware developers looked at the VITA and saw its potential.
With the potential reveals of the PlayStation Neo, iPhone 7 and Nintendo NX coming this month. We should give September the subheading ‘The Month of Innovation’, after all this month our favourite new technology will be on display (rumoured). But most importantly let us hope that manufacturers, designers and developers behind our favourite devices stop for a moment and reflect. The greatest lesson that Microsoft and Sony can learn from Nintendo; games are made to be played and while hardware specs are important, they’re not the most important aspect of the console. Meanwhile, Nintendo with the NX and all their future endeavours have to understand that advancements in technology are vital to the success of gaming. The game industry relies on advancements in technology and while Nintendo succeeded with the Wii using outdated hardware, the Wii U has become a running joke. With most developers and publishers opting out of developing for the system, understandable one of the main issues was the outdated hardware.
After the gaming crash in the 1980’s the game industry has become one of the biggest industries in the world. With three consoles constantly vying for the top position, the market hasn’t become over saturated however the healthy competition is leading to complacency among the hardware developers. If this continues maybe consoles will die and that I think we all agree is the worst possible outcome.