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Saturday, 23 November 2013

How changing gaming habits may dampen the party for Xbox One and PS4?

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Xbox One and PS4 are here and looking at the look of things, they don’t seem to be going away in a hurry. Both the consoles are selling like hot cakes with each able to rack up sales of 1 million units in just 24 hours. Those are impressive numbers for any consumer device. There have been estimates that both the consoles would be easily able to outsell their predecessor. Going by that estimation, the newly launched consoles are going to be huge hits considering the fact that both Xbox 360 and PS3 have managed to sell around 80 million units individually. Those are big numbers.

All seem to be rosy for MS and Sony but is it really so? I mean, yes the new consoles have got a rousing reception but is that not also due to the huge pent up demand that has been building for the last 3 years. This has been the longest console cycle ever, extending well over 3 years from the generally accepted norm. That has resulted in a huge demand for new hardware for the devoted fan boys. Considering these theories, it was almost certain that whenever a new console is launched, it would be greeted with open arms. And that has happened. So what’s next?

A lot has changed over the last 8 years when the Xbox 360 was launched. For one, a certain Apple along with its quarreling sibling, the Android, has captured and ruled over the attention of the masses. Gaming has evolved from being confined to the living room to be present on train, stations, offices, shopping malls and practically everywhere humans have been. Simply put, the gaming habit of the average gamer has evolved. The smartphone and the tablet along with the consoles have become the main gaming machines. Yes, it is true that the level of engagement or the kind of games is not the same when mobile gaming is compared to consoles. But that does not take away from the fact that people are getting their compulsory doses of gaming away from their consoles. Also mobile games are doing an increasingly good job at delivering nearly the same kind of experience as got from a console game. Not same but nearly. Games like Reptide GP or Prince of Persia Shadows & Flames allow me to have a deep gaming experience without switching on my console.

A lot may say that mobiles would never be able to catch up to the kind of games that consoles deliver
and I would agree with them. But the question is that are we really concerned about the hardcore devoted gamer who crave for that kind of experience? He will anyway play on his console. But what about the not so devoted gamer? If he is getting nearly the same kind of experience at a fraction of the cost and at his choice of convenience, it would be tough ask to compel him to invest hundreds of dollars on a new gaming device. Many gamers game because it allows them to escape their routine life and get into a world of fantasy. If their phones are allowing them to do just that whenever they please to, would they be willing to go back to their consoles? The answer is not absolute but it’s a “Maybe No”.

It’s not all gloomy for consoles. I think that they would survive and grow as well but maybe not at the same pace at which they have grown over the past generations. They would need to do things differently this time around. For one, they would need to integrate the different mobile devices as second screens in their platforms. The mobile devices need to be an important integrated part of the consoles. Games need to designed and developed in such a way that they would make use of both the consoles as well as the user’s smartphone. The experience needs to be connected. For Microsoft, the Surface and Windows 8 phones become so much more important. The same goes for Sony’s PS Vita. If they can find some way to meaningfully integrate the mobile devices in their whole ecosystem, gamers may see a lot of added value in buying the new consoles.

While doing so, both Xbox One and PS4 need to deliver better & more of what they have been known for: great quality games. They need to up the ante so much that the gamers would find the difference in quality between the mobile and console games big enough. That would make it much harder for them to ignore the consoles. Bigger better games should be a huge help for the consoles. They would also need to give a lot of space to the Indies as that’s where the real innovation lies. Again care would need to balance the price point with the value offering so as not to dilute the value of their bigger brother, the AAA games.

With so much going on in the industry, so many new developments almost everyday, it would be very difficult for anyone to guess one clear-cut winner. The whole ecosystem is changing, and changing fast. The one who would be able to adjust and adapt would be the one who is more likely to succeed. Change is here and its forever. In the famous words of Friedrich Nietzsche: “The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” 

Siddharth has been playing games since forever and loves it so much so he decided to make a profession out of it. After completing his MBA, he decided to join EA to learn the ropes of the industry. A Game Producer and Game Designer by profession, while not playing games, he loves to read about them, watch movies and spend quality time with his family. His passion for writing led to the creation of this blog.

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