There have been several high profile reports over the last 18 months or so predicting the demise of the games console, the death of AAA development. Nobody is probably more outspoken about this than Ben Cousins.
If you listen to the talk by Ben Cousins linked above, which is very well presented and definitely worth checking out, you find the main argument of those who predict the decline and even death of the console market: disruptive technology. New, innovative tech catches large companies off guard and those companies fail due to their inability to adapt.
This, combined with a change in gaming habit by the consumer, people like Ben Cousins believe, will herald the doom of the console market. Or at least shrink it considerably.
On one hand I have to agree with this theory for large parts. My own gaming habits have changed drastically over the last 15 years. Until the 360 came out I never owned a console. I was a hardcore PC gamer. The 360 taught me that gaming from the sofa, or my beloved beanbag, is much more comfortable and much more agreeable with my love for drinking beer and having a snack while gaming. These days I rarely play anything on the PC – Blizzard games being the exception, and even those are coming to console soon.
Additionally to that in the last few years I have really gotten into mobile gaming on the go. Whether its Candy Crush or Bejeweled Blitz on my mobile or Hunters and Warhammer Quest on my tablet – I love my bite size chunks of entertainment wherever I go.
So yes mobile gaming is on the rise, there is no doubt about that. It is also easy to see why the numbers have grown so much over the last decade. Phones are getting smarter, able to run more apps and games and more people are in possession of a smart phone or even tablet. People, who never had a gaming platform in their hands before, suddenly do. And because the games industry creates a vast variety of titles, there literally is a game for everyone. So it is no wonder that titles like Angry Birds download 500 million times.
But does this truly mean that gaming consoles will go the way of the horse carriage, as Ben Cousins and others seem to predict?
My humble opinion: no, I don’t think so. At least not in the foreseeable future, the next gen cycle, and possibly not even after that. I don’t even think that sales numbers will decrease compared to the last generation of consoles. A recent dip, something featured as a big argument by many doomsayers, is down to a market saturation i believe and not to a waning interest.
I have just been to E3 where both new consoles were properly revealed to the world and the biggest releases as well as first year titles were announced. And while this is just one show, to me it really signifies the force that console gaming and AAA gaming really is. E3 had an arcade and indie section, E3 had several PSN and XBLA titles on show, but 95% of the coverage, media as well as consumer interest were focused on the Xbox One as well as the PS4 and a handful of high profile AAA titles.
In 3 days I never really saw any lines in the indie segment, few journalists did interviews or write-ups on them, yet every day at 10am, when the show opened, massive lines formed within minutes outside games such as Assassins Creed, Watchdogs, Titanfall, Battlefield, The Division, Call of Duty, Mad Max, Wolfenstein, Forza, Halo and others.
For an entire week now, and likely to continue for some time, the entire games media has been awash with news about the new consoles and the new high profile titles.
The official Titanfall E3 announce trailer has gotten 160.000 views in 4 days (not counted are several different links showing the same trailer, so the total number of people having seen this since the 10th of June is significantly higher). The same is true for the Forza 5 trailer – the official link is sitting at 215.000 and counting.
Very few, if any, mobile games reach those numbers, that kind of exposure and that kind of excitement. Arguable one of the best recent iOS games, Warhammer Quest (sitting at 80 metacritic), has had around 37.000 views on the gameplay trailer since end of May. And this despite the fact that the potential audience (as established above) is several times that of the console market.
So why is there such a big difference in hype, marketing and user excitement between mobile and console games?
I believe the reason here is 2 fold: glamour and experience.
High profile games titles, developed for consoles, are the movie stars of our industry (as are some of the people who make those games). Looking at the spectacle that is E3, the media buzz, the people queuing to the see the latest gadgets, hardware and games, it feels like our industry’s version of Cannes or the Oscars. The big names show up and show their latest creations, high profile, high budget productions that simply blow the fans away. And people want to be part of that. E3 shows that – thousands upon thousands of gamers from across the world fly in to mingle with their stars, to get a first glimpse of the next big thing. People from across the globe stay up until the wee hours of the morning to watch the conferences on the Monday night, the social media outlets are awash with updates, comments, taunts and sneers. People want to be part of this spectacle, this glamorous experience – they want to be able to say I WAS THERE!
But E3 aside, I believe people want to buy consoles and console games for the experience. They want to put in that disc for the latest game, sit back and watch it play out on the big screen. Take “The Last of Us” – if you use twitter or Facebook, have a look at how many of the people in your social networks tweeted about that game in the last few days (keeping in mind it’s only been out since the 11th of June). Gamers WANT these amazing games in their hands on day one, preferably before. They want the experience these games give them and then they want to talk about it, to tell everyone that THEY WERE THERE!
Just like attending a movie premiere or a concert, people want to be associated with cool events, big moments in entertainment history – simple for the experience and for the bragging rights.
This is not a knock at all on mobile games. As mentioned above I play a fair few of them, I also play a fair few F2P or Cheap to Play titles. Some of them are amazing experiences and more than one has kept me entertained on long flights, train journeys or when a visit to my parents became a bit dull. In the vast sea of mobile, social, casual and F2P games there are quite a few real gems, offering fantastic entertainment, innovative gameplay and high production value on several platforms.
But to me, and many others, nothing beats getting a brand new copy of a console title, tearing off the wrapping, putting the disc in and letting the experience wash over me.
Disruptive innovation is a sound theory, and I believe it’s more than that – it’s a proven fact. However I believe there will always be anomalies and I believe consoles as well as large AAA titles will prove to be such an anomaly.
Youtube and other media outlets provide bite size chunks of video entertainment, and nobody can argue their popularity, yet the cinema is still around and blockbuster movies cash in hundreds of millions of dollars. There is something special about going to the cinema, seeing it on the big screen while eating popcorn.
Spotify and other music outlets have changed how we consume music on a day to day basis. Yet big bands will always have sold out concerts. Audio quality can often be worse than a digital recording, but being close to your idols, to a band you have been following for years and being in a sea of people dancing, singing, sweating and spilling beer everywhere is an experience Spotify will never be able to provide.
Not everyone can afford, or wants to afford, cinema tickets, gig tickets, consoles or AAA titles. The reach of the new, innovative media and technology is far greater and these new systems are far more affordable. However there will always be plenty of people who will be more than happy to spend a bit more to get the big experience and to take part in the glamour of high profile entertainment.
E3 2013 has shown that once again.