I’ve been looking at a lot of the comments on game review articles and forums of late, and gamers appear to be disappointed that the games aren’t getting better in terms of game play and fun. There’s never anything new but rehashes and updates, and gamers are increasingly indicating that they want something new, exciting and different. They want more of a revolution than a slow evolution in gaming.
You might argue that this is what Nintendo did with its new Switch, but the Switch is largely based on a concept of tablets taking over the world that existed late last decade. However, this decade tablets aren’t doing that well, and the Nintendo Switch sucks at being a tablet anyway. Still, it valued portability, and you can grab the thing and go—something you can’t do with a PS4 or Xbox One X. This week we found out more about Microsoft’s Project Scorpio, which appears to be a console on steroids with more potential performance than the PS4 Pro with a stronger VR component. But Sony’s VR solution hasn’t been selling that well and the higher end Oculus and HTC Vive products aren’t exactly setting the market on fire either.
Let’s ask this week if it’s time to send off a skunk works team to answer the question of whether it is time to completely rethink the gaming console.
Living in the Past or Reactively
One of the problems, I think, is that everyone is either largely thinking linearly or reactively. What I mean is that the PlayStation was created to combat the Nintendo gaming system that was dominant back in the 1990s, and the Xbox was created because the folks at Microsoft were convinced that Sony was going to turn the thing into a PC and take the PC market away from Microsoft. The PlayStation never became a PC threat, which still has a bigger problem maintaining churn than it does with competition (which mostly comes from Google’s Chrome platform today).
Nintendo, which had focused earlier on being different with a lower-cost, more casual gaming focus, saw the potential threat that the iPad represented when it was hot and figured a gaming tablet would be the way to go with the Switch. It is doing OK even though it hasn’t picked up any core tablet apps, like Netflix or Amazon Prime, and I’m expecting it to hit a wall shortly if that isn’t addressed soon. Still, the idea of something portable does have merit if it has the right feature set and games.
But, overall, none of these vendors are really thinking out of the box or looking for something unique and revolutionary.
Now, the next big thing that is trying to come to market is VR. But VR has a number of core problems. One is that it is trying to do everything and you have a choice of two usage models. You have a PC or gaming consol- based tethered gaming experience, which is somewhat high performance (displays tend to be a bit grainy) and is best while seated (so you don’t hurt yourself falling over the crap in the room you can’t see or tripping over the damn tether). Or you have a cellphon- based experience, which is really inexpensive, doesn’t have a tether, but lacks performance. Plus you still have that problem seeing stuff while standing, so you’d better do it seated.
What I think the market is waiting for, other than some really impressive VR titles, is something that is less of a compromise. We need an untethered VR solution that is high performance and has the obstacles in the room mapped out and represented in-game as visual items that you know to avoid and not fall over. You could wear the core computing element on your back, or, if light enough, on your head. However, it might even be better to connect the head unit to the console wirelessly to keep the weight down and to better spread the computing power across multiple headsets so you can team play without having to buy a console for each player.
But, what I think ought to be done, is to send off a team and start with what a VR rig would look like if cost were no object and the goal was to get as close to the Star Trek holodeck as scientifically possible. I expect you’d end up with something like the fictional setup in the movie Assassin’s Creed. Then, you’d have to identify the critical elements that make that setup exceptional and cost reduce the result while keeping those critical elements intact.
Other elements that seem to be coming of age are: a true AI-based gaming engine so game generated elements behave more realistically and game generated characters act more human; a natural language interface so you can interact with the game more naturally; real time translation so you can play with folks better internationally; and a cloud-based back end so massive multiplayer games are truly massive. All of the parts exist, we are just waiting for someone to put the them together into something amazing. (Could become an interesting and unplanned use of IBM’s Watson).
I’ve been watching the forums, and gamers are kind of annoyed that the advancements they’ve gotten with game systems are solely related to performance and graphics. They want improvements in game play and experience they aren’t seeing. They appear to be ready for VR, but what they have seen hasn’t been anything near what they’d hoped for and, as a result, they are disappointed in their choices. I think the gaming market is ready for a revolution and that the next gaming console should look a lot more in use to Microsoft’s Halo than to the existing group of current and next generation gaming consoles. I think VR is a viable goal for this next generation console, but only if someone clean slates the design with the Star Trek Holodeck or the Assassin’s Creed movie interface as the working design target. By the way, I think the latter could be part of one hell of an amusement park ride.
In the end, the market appears ready for a revolution, and I believe the company that gives the market that revolution will own the next generation of gamers. We are just waiting for the company willing to take the risk that a revolution typically requires.
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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