Welcome to a whole new gaming console and a whole new gaming war. Console wars have been one of the steadiest, yet bloodiest battles in the tech arena. And this week marks the start of what may well be the biggest and unfortunately, the last of them all.
Not the 720! Thank God: Microsoft finally came out with its third-generation gaming console – the Xbox One (XB1). May I start by congratulating Microsoft for not going for a moronic name like the Xbox 720? Rumours right up to five minutes before the announcement kept calling it either 720, iNfinity, NextBox or even the horrible sounding Xbox Supremo. The XB1 and its entry have made news all across the world but far more importantly; this console makes an entry into a time and space that is very different from its predecessors.Gaming isn’t what it was: Many years ago the gaming market itself was in the doldrums. PC games had become niche and relegated to those who could afford souped-up machines that cost a fortune, console gaming was plagued with poor-quality gaming titles at exorbitant prices and arcade gaming was on its way out.
The industry was rescued by the next generation of consoles as well as fantastic new games that brought billions of dollars into the industry. Yet even as gaming racked up big numbers, the industry continued to be a gamers’ domain that left out the everyday user as the games were complicated and needed extreme skill and time. The third phase started with the explosion of smartphones and tablets that brought the casual gamer back. Today portable gaming is one of the biggest industries in the world and has pretty much everyone hooked. Into this world comes an all-new gaming console!
Does the world want it? Some big questions get raised immediately. Will people invest in an expensive gaming console and then in games that cost 10 times the average of what games cost on mobile app markets? What does the XB1 bring to the table that the all-new Playstation 4 and the Nintendo Wii U don’t? In a world flooded with multi-usage devices – is there space for a standalone gaming machine? And, once it’s out, should you buy one?
And the kitchen sink: Let’s start with the obvious. There’s no space for a standalone gaming box anymore. It’s got to do more, and more importantly, it should sound like it does lots more, even if some of those features are pure gimmicks. Thus the XB1 is more an AV entertainment all-in-one than a gaming box and it’s even been made to look like that. This will sit in very nicely with the rest of your AV equipment and perform multiple duties.
The XB1 comes with a Blu-ray player built in, can stream movies and music, has advanced Kinect motion control that will give you Minority Report-style functionality, lets you change your TV channels by talking to it, do two things at a time like let you video
conference while watching a movie, the hardware and specs promise a gaming experience like never before and it may be priced aggressively. There are some negatives too. It won’t play your old 360 games and you may need an online connection at all times. Still, the XB1 represents great value for money as something that binds all your entertainment needs into one device that does it all and that’s a great start.
Casual vs ‘real’ gamers: This is the big one. Will all casual gamers who use their smartphones and tablets as gaming machines
actually bite and buy a console? Casual gaming has introduced an entire generation to the activity and brought back many who had abandoned gaming earlier. Thus gaming in itself is now part and parcel of daily life and even if a small percentage of these new gamers decide that they want to take gaming to the next level, they may just pick up a console. This isn’t going to be a huge number but it’s still good to bring in a gaming console into a market that has widespread acceptance for gaming, than the other way round.
And then there were four: So, while a gaming console with an all-rounder personality may well be a good idea and generate some serious cash, the XB1 isn’t the only player in the field. The console wars will be a four-way battle between Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo and entirely new aspirants. Fortunately for the XB1, the others don’t seem to have got their story right till now.
The Nintendo Wii U has too much hybridisation at play. It’s trying to be tablet and a game machine. The other players are quite a few – NVidia has a gaming console in a controller but that’s mainly a showcase device to show off its Tegra processor prowess. There are many boxes that will play Android games on your TV, but the business model doesn’t make much sense right now and then there’s the classic battle between the Xbox and the PlayStation from Sony.
The PlayStation 4 was announced much earlier but it was the most bizarre introduction to a console ever. They didn’t even have the product onstage, never showed it to anyone and played a few videos of games that were apparently being played off the PS4. Still, the specs and hardware seem quite close to the XB1 and Sony won’t let its cash cow falter in the long run. Expect similar pricing, features, game play and a very bloody battle ahead.
The last battle? I expect these new consoles to sell well into the future and also see great value in the previous generation consoles, which will sell well for the next two years. Combined with the games that will sell for each, the gaming business seems to be on a good wicket. So, why do I call this the last gaming console war ever? Well, with smaller devices like phones and tablets becoming powerful and capable machines, the day is not far when just your phone will be able to do more than what any console can do.
Just insert your phone or tablet into a terminal connected to your TV and you’ll have gaming that will blow the pants off most standalone consoles. The gaming smartphone wars will be brutal, played out by a new level of players. Till then, enjoy this simpler console war. May the best machine win!
Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3
From HT Brunch, June 2
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