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Friday, 28 June 2013

What can Xbox One, PS4 and Wii U do right to survive and thrive?

Sony and Microsoft has announced their next generation consoles: PS4 and Xbox One. However, amongst all the hype and drama, there is no hiding the fact that the sale of games of the current generation of consoles is dwindling. Reports from NPD and the like suggest year on year decrease in sale of both software and hardware for xbox 360 and ps3. There have been suggestions that game console have enjoyed their time in the spotlight and now its time to give way to their heir: smartphone gaming. However I don’t really believe in this argument as have clearly underlined my reasons in my previous blog: 

Some of the industry stalwarts have come forward in defense of the consoles like Sony worldwide development president Shuhei Yoshida. According to him, its not the decreasing popularity of consoles as such but particularly of the current generation (xbox 360 and ps3) which is running in its 7th year that has affected sales. After all, no previous generation of consoles has lasted so long.

The above mentioned reasoning does make sense however no one is to denounce the fact that the upcoming consoles from Microsoft and Sony face tougher competition for the gamers mindshare as compared to previous times. In light of these circumstances, what value should both Xbox One and PS4 provide to the gamer to leave their mark.

Connect the gamer: With the advent of Facebook and Zynga, gamers have grown accustomed to be connected to each other. Social games have tried to make games more social in nature, sharing and exchanging gifts. The introduction of social dynamics have improved the mechanics of gameplay by making multiplayer gameplay an important part of today’s console games. The next generation of consoles would not only have to continue connecting the gamers but offer much more. It would not only require gamers to log into their systems and play multiplayer games but should provide solutions which would keep them connected to their gamers and friends, even when the system is off. This is where cloud computing and high-end servers have a role to play. If the next generation can find ways to always keep the gamers connected to each other through the help of other devices, it would add a lot of value.

Bring down the physical boundaries: Much of the criticism that xbox 360 and ps3 has faced as compared to smartphones is that it restricts gameplay to only the bedroom/living room of the gamer and kind of restricts the physical boundary. Xbox one and PS4 need to do better and allow the gamer to interact with their games even when they are not in front of their consoles. Microsoft’s Smartglass and Sony’s PS Vita may help the behemoths in some manner but incentives need to be given to the developers to incorporate gameplay requirements or mechanics that avail these facilities. This brings me to my next point.

Scope to innovate: Xbox 360 and PS3 reached their zenith of what most can be done by the 4th year of their introduction. The limitation of the systems in terms of how much can the developers do on them limited the innovations being brought on them. However, Xbox One and PS4 both have the x86 architecture and top end hardware stuffed in them like 8GB of RAM which would give more scope to the developers to innovate and bring new stuff pretty late in the cycle. This is considerably important as most of the time it takes 2-3 years for the developers to uncover the true potential of the system.

Indies, Indies, Indies: Sony has had a headstart over Microsoft when it comes to nurturing relationships with the Indie community. Microsoft needs to look deeper in the list of best games of the last few years to understand why. Games like Limbo, Little Big Planet, Dungeon Defenders and Minecraft has not only been critically acclaimed but also been commercially very successful. This not only brings
something different to your system at a very lower-affordable price point but also gives a little variety to the gamer. Indie games are generally where the innovation is and it would do the giants a great service to include them, specially considering the innovative space of the smartphone gaming.

Become better at what you are good: Console games are characterized by awesome graphics and immersive detailed gameplay. The next generation would have to make the graphics more awesome, the gameplay more immersive, the worlds more detailed and the choices presented to the gamer more varied if they are to reach their before known heights.
 The focus should be on providing an experience so surreal that it cannot be achieved on something else, hence creating a very different value space for the consumer. Become better at what you are good at while addressing your weaknesses is a sure shot way to strengthen your position.

The Xbox One and PS4 are coming, and lets hope that they bring along with them something new, something that has never been experienced before. This would not only do them a world of good but also the industry and the fans.

Siddharth has been playing games since forever and loves it so much so he decided to make a profession out of it. After completing his MBA, he decided to join EA to learn the ropes of the industry. A Game Producer and Game Designer by profession, while not playing games, he loves to read about them, watch movies and spend quality time with his family. His passion for writing led to the creation of this blog.

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Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Xbox One and PS4: Is Console gaming on its last legs?

With things changing so fast on the video gaming scene, all that I seem to read is how console gaming is dying and the next generation of consoles are truly the last of its kind. The proponents of this idea seem to believe that with the advent of gaming on the move in the form of smartphones, the fastest growing segment of the industry, soon the console industry would not find enough audience for it to be a financially viable investment anymore.

With all the pessimism surrounding the console industry, it seems hard to believe that console gaming would be dying. This got me thinking as to what are the signs which show that this may not be altogether true.

Lets for starters look at the recently announced microsoft's xbox one and sony's PS4. Both of these consoles have been subject to both awe and criticism. The great way to judge how a product is going to be received in the future is to look at the reception of its idea in the present. Here i am able to see some pointers which reveal that the future of the console industry is not so bleak. The launch events of both Xbox One and PS4 has been watched both online and in live attendance by record number of people. This is definitely shows a great level of interest in the next generation consoles. The preorder numbers from Amazon for Xbox one and PS4 are in record numbers, much greater than when the previous generation was launched. These facts go on to prove two things:

1. The number of people who have shown interest in the next generation consoles is definitely bigger than the ones who were interested in xbox 360 and ps3.
2. The above fact can only be achieved if the total number of people playing console gaming has increased, otherwise how would the increased number of people be accounted for.

These numbers alone are evident that the interest surrounding the launch of xbox one and ps4 is great. Let us now look at why the detractors are envisioning a future without console gaming. They are of the view that the gaming habits of gamers are changing at a pace which is so fast that the console giants would not be able to catch up to it. This seems farther from the truth. The next generation consoles take into account the fact that the gamers is always on the move and hence have focussed a lot on cloud computing. This is evident from the fact that Microsoft has increased the number of servers focussed on cloud computing for Xbox One to 3,00,000 from a meagre 15,000 for xbox 360. Thats a phenomenal increase in number, one that Microsoft would not be betting on if it was not sure of the role of cloud computing in games of the future. It is also true that gaming on consoles is an altogether a different beast as compared to gaming on smartphones. There has not been a single smartphone game which has been able to give as grand an experience as some of the console game behemoths like Call of Duty or GTA. The experience on consoles is so much bigger and better as compared to a 5 inch screen. We dont stop going to the multiplexes just because we have Netflix or DTH at home. We dont stop going to fancy restaurants and bars just because we can home deliver our food and beverages. People always crave for bigger and better experiences. Thats in our innate nature.

Many believe that smartphone gaming is eating into the pie of console gaming and thats why it doesn't have a bright future. I beg to differ. I believe that the whole pie is getting bigger. Smartphone gaming has done a great job of introducing more and more people to gaming by lowering the various barriers to entry. And as these new found gamers become more entrenched in games, they would start looking for better experiences and hence graviate to console gaming. I as an avid gamers on consoles as well as my ipod and galaxy s3 truly believe and hope that thats the case.

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