A recent CNN article by Blake Snow, entitled “Why console gaming is dying” tried to investigate the reasons behind the current downward trend in both console hardware and game sales. According to Mr. Snow, the roots of this trend are found in the rise of social/mobile gaming, the evolution of consoles as home entertainment devices, the free-to-play business model and a lack of game developer creativity. Perhaps, the article posits, we are facing the last generation of consoles. Last month, NPD Group reported that U.S. retail sales of video-game software, hardware and accessories, the majority of which are console-related, dropped 25 percent in October – the 11th consecutive month of declining sales. But does the future really look so bleak? Although the article concludes that consoles are not dead, not yet anyway, there are several things that it either overlooks or underscores.
Admittedly, consoles really need a refresh. Console generations have been historically bound to a five-year cycle, but this generation is currently on its seventh year and the next generation, currently headed by Nintendo’s newly released Wii U, is just getting started. So what does this mean? With the exception of the Wii U, most consumers that wanted a PS3, Xbox 360 or Wii have already purchased one. Also, as a new generation looms it is usually accompanied by a slowdown of new game releases, and with the exception of a couple of large IPs, this was seen both last year and this year.
Is having a console that doubles as an entertainment system really detrimental for the gaming industry? Although there may be many consumers whose prime motive to purchase a console wasn’t gaming, it does get the hardware into the living room and that is an important first step. Therefore, just like many consumers buy PCs for other reasons besides gaming, just getting consoles through the door opens up the possibility of future game purchases.
What about the free-to-play business model? Since late last year, there have been several free-to-play offerings on PSN and the first free-to-play game on Xbox live was launched earlier this year. This shift in mentality should bring many of the “try it before you buy it” gamers back into the console fold.
And what about stagnating developer creativity? It’s true that many developers have shifted their focus to mobile gaming, but there’s been a lot of creativity in this generation (BioShock, Super Mario Galaxy, World of Goo, Journey, the list can go on and on). The next-gen consoles will still maintain a huge gaming audience – and the potential for tidy payoffs will continue to entice developers to create interesting console games.
As for the rise of social and mobile gaming, its impact on home console gaming should be limited. Why? Home consoles offer a very different gaming experience that is usually longer and more in-depth than what mobile games offer. However, handheld consoles are another story entirely and taking into account the sluggish start of both the 3DS and the Vita, it’s hard not to see them in the cross hairs of social and mobile gaming.
Mr. Snow cautiously concludes that it is too soon to declare the end of consoles while stating that their future appears highly uncertain. Although it’s hard to argue with the uncertainty of the future, it’s also hard not to look at the past successes and envision a similar trend as the new generation takes off. PS4 or Xbox 720 anyone?
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