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Beyond The Console Wars

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The latest battle in Sony Vs. Microsoft’s ongoing console wars seems to be swaying in favour of Sony’s cheaper and, importantly, games dedicated updated weapon in the Playstation console series, a lacklustre launch and features list has made even hardcore Xbox gamers ears prick up and many are considering making the switch. Read on as TechWench discusses what has been different in this latest salvo of the console giant wars.

Beyond The Console Wars

A lot has changed on the consumer side of the market since the launcehes of the 360 and PS3 and this has changed the battlefield somewhat considerably. Since 2005 when the Xbox 360 made its E3 debut the console has enjoyed successes shipping 70 million units worldwide and was an iconic console in the seventh generation of video game consoles. Its main rivel, the Sony PS3 launched a year later and has also sold around 70 million units worldwide and was warmly received by fans worldwide as an impressive continuation in the similarly iconic console series. The Nintendo Wii became a serious contender in the family console market though with its comparatively limited scope of games it failed to make major headways into the hardcore gamer market. But a new console has appeared between the mid-noughties and now; one with portability, a wide and expanding range of functions and ubiquity, as opposed to differences, built into the system.

This new player in the market is of course the Smartphone Revolution which has spread globally with the release of the iOS and Android operating systems. Removing the need for dedicated Gameboy style consoles and indeed allowing consumers to revisit a wide range of old favourites, the smartphone has altered the face of gaming and its effects will only now be shown. A cursory look at the characteristics of recent Android and iOS enabled systems will tell you that the mobile gaming market is now expansive and ready to fight a good battle for the attentions of game hungry customers. With Android systems sporting dual-core processors and impressive 3d engines for the hardcore gamer market and the sleek and speedy latest iPhone iterations bringing many more potential gamers into the market as its ease of use has let it find its way into unconventional gaming markets; non-gamers buy the phone and find themselves exploring the wide range of apps available.

The app market which has sprung up alongside the smartphone revolution is another major game changer in the console wars. Games for dedicated console systems now regularly reach £50 and upwards, the new XboxONE has gamers worrying about the transferability of games (if I buy a £50 game on my account, can my brother still use it?) with its updated account systems. Apps cost a few pounds at most and those that do cost are worth the price as it is a widely different market in terms of scope and portability. It has developed at a much faster rate than the games market which has seen some innovative games of late but all of which has the players interacting with their TV in one location, usually their lounge or their friends lounge. Not so exciting. Whereas the smartphone allows the player to game on the move, whilst on the bus or just to burn some time and provides a somewhat more intimate experience as the world of the game is entirely in the palms of your hands. Ok; maybe the games haven’t the scope or visual wizardry of console games but this is changing to meet the capabilities of the increasingly more powerful smartphones being released.

The rate of market development has also been a key factor in the rapid expansion of the smartphone and mobile gaming market, new phones are announced monthly which are Android capable and Apples sales continue at a steady pace with less regularity of model updates but more regular than one console every 7-8 years, as with Sony and Microsoft. This rapid turnaround in generations has enabled the technology to propagate far and wide with many gamers possessing either a Sony or a Microsoft console also possessing smartphone technology, more people will have an Android or iOS device than a PS3 or Xbox 360; this shows how ubiquitous the smartphone has become.
Alongside the smartphone revolution has come the tablet revolution to really give the established dons of the market a hard time in this generation. As mobile as a smartphone but with much greater hardware capacity tablet devices have enabled such a massive shift from home to mobile gaming. Here again Android looks to be taking the market share due to its portability as an OS meaning that it can be enabled on a much wider and cheaper range of devices, something which Apple tablets cannot offer though they have been powerful allies in the gaming shift. What has been a major weapon in the arsenal here as well has been the scope of the devices. Cameras, music players, web connectivity, office applications and of course a larger screen has given tablet devices such a wide scope of application, all whilst maintaining the mobility factor as opposed to being rooted in the corner of the lounge linked to the family TV. I’d certainly wager that parents will relish the opportunity to reclaim their living rooms and hail the mobile gaming revolution as a way to get their TV’s back.

From a developers point of view the mobile gaming age has been an industrial blessing, a whole new sector of market has opened up with all the associated new job opportunities and design challenges. Consider how much it costs to design, develop, launch and distribute a game for either the PS3 or Xbox 360, consider the market you would be playing in. A lot of big fish from some very rich ponds swim in the gaming industry, to get your game noticed requires a considerable amount of investment merely in the promotion let alone the development of the game itself. There are fewer companies in the home console gaming system than in the app gaming market and this is a market which has had maybe seven or eight years since its establishment. How refreshing this must be to programmers and coders worldwide to know that now they can put to use the skills they have learnt and get themselves noticed by developing that killer app, allowing them to gain the attention of the software development houses whilst earning money on the side. Access to the games development industry has widened immeasurably since the development of the mobile gaming industry, the requirements and level of sophistication makes it a good testing ground for would be games designers and a successful app has made more than one bedroom designers career. There is no requirement for mass investment in time spent developing a fully textured, all guns blazing, 3d action madness game which may fail totally to gain attention of gamers, any texturing and gun play is simplified to meet the hardware limitations of portable devices but more attention is then paid to the wider experiences of gaming. Experiences such as a game plot, personalisation and expansion modules, all attainable in a dedicated home console device but at a much higher cost of game, cost of hardware and cost of development.

What remains to be seen is how the market will respond to all of the above new currents in the gaming market as a whole, investment in the sector has never been higher with the technology having a high level of propagation in newly enriched Asian markets as well as in Western markets. For the home media market it will be a heavy toss up between the PS4 and the XboxONE as Microsofts offering caters more for the whole media experience as a family and comes with an inbuilt Kinect sensor whereas the PS4 comes with Blu-ray as standard and caters for a fairly large portion of the media experience as well as the hardcore gamer market. What could be an interesting midground that has developed in the market is the PS4’s option of plugging in a tablet device for increased functionality, a development which will see some interesting games and innovative apps. As smartphone screen sizes increase with hardware capacity it may be that in the next generation of console wars that Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo’s next consoles will offer a synergy between all three devices, TV screen, Tablet and Smartphone. We certainly have the technology to achieve this, it is merely market politics which keeps our technology divided, we have reached the point where a true connectivity between all our devices is possible but patent squabbles, isolative programming approaches and that ole profit motive keeps our devices divided. Maybe by the next battle in the wars the warlords of the gaming market will have found some common ground and allow us all to access the benefits of a truly networked populace with business applications outside of the current gaming focus. Our tired and tuckered governments have certainly been lackadaisical in achieving a networked populace and it seems their time is nearly due.

The culmination of all of the above factors will make for an interesting round in the latest console wars, cheaper games, a shift in home to mobile gaming and a wider market penetration may have more people switched off to the idea of a games only console or a home-media system such as the Xbox One. Stick with TechWench as we follow the Console Wars when the latest battlers reach the marketplace and continue to bring you news, views and how-to’s from inside the Tech community.

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