Sat on a stage in a bright green armchair, shoeless, sipping brandy aside a faux fireplace Mark Rein jokingly spouts wisdom: “People who think consoles will disappear are idiots”.
Earlier that day, also on the GameHorizon Conference stage, Jesse Schell – author of The Art of Games Design: A Book of Lenses – humbly talked on future thinking and why exercising our crystal ball-gazing, even if we’re wrong, makes us better at predicting the future. So that’s what I’ll do.
I believe that if Rein meant that big-budget, blockbuster game demand won’t disappear, then I fully agree with him. If, however, he thinks that in twenty years that we’ll still be plugging plastic boxes in to TVs, I think he’s missing the mark.
History has shown us that in the games business nothing is sacred. Our consumers are a growing demographic with little loyalty to platform, and they will pay for and play with the most immediate and satisfying experience available.
They moved from the arcade to the home system, and have spread from the console, to the PC, to the web and now to mobile. Today it is mobile that is most convenient if not, to all people at least, the most immediately satisfying experience.
I predict that when mobile devices become widely and easily wirelessly connected to the game controller and the TV, it will start to replace the console. I even think that mobile-as-a-console will be common usage within ten years.
Mobile hits to date, perhaps with the exception of Infinity Blade, have a short-form anatomy, where play occurs over tens – if not hundreds or thousands – of sessions lasting from two-to-10 minutes each (a median session time for our game My Star is currently 2.1 minutes).
Small screen devices augment with a player’s routine; they do not disrupt it for preplanned play sessions involving complex game mechanics and character development.
The mobile player wants something immediate at the bus stop and when they return home, they have other medium-sized screen entertainment that vies for heftier chunks of attention; including the console. When mobile can deliver what a console can as well as or better than it can, users will begin to dump the dedicated device in favour of the multitasker. It’s happened
with the home phone, calculator, diary and now, in the case of tablets, the laptop and home PC.
That ‘when’ caveat is a pretty mammoth one: The power increases in mobile have been blistering year-on-year and are now approaching our current console generation. Firemint’s Real Racing 2 running on iPad 2 via HDMI today is pretty much there visually, but still a way off a top-end PC.
Yet cloud gaming is set to make client power irrelevant within the decade. I see now that the biggest shift is a small technological one (standardised wireless TV and controller connections) and a larger developer and consumer cultural one.
Should the hardware jigsaw pieces fall in place quickly (iOS 5 and Apple TV 2 is to have wireless screen mirroring), the cultural shift could still be a chicken or egg stand-off; with no triple-A content on the devices, consumers will not move from consoles and generate a demand. However, without demand being generated, developers will not make content.
In this situation a catalyst will be needed: Traditionally Apple has led the way in changing usage and innovating technology. It would be perfectly perched to kill the console with the iOS device range, with Google undoubtedly following.
However, Apple isn’t, like Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft. It isn’t a content generator, so would require external flagships, as it found in the Unreal Engine for the launch of the iPhone 4.
This is all the realms of pure speculation, of course, and am not saying that Epic Games will single-handedly kill the console, but with $11.2 million in revenue to date Infinity Blade is mobile’s first true triple-A title, and could play a bit part in gaming’s future.
And that’s my crystal balls all gazed out. I’m burying all these predictions in a time capsule deep in the Blue Peter garden besides Mabel.
You at home can cut out and keep this article, then when you see me in 2021 and the PS4 has become the first billion selling console and every home has a Xbox 720, call me an idiot.