Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Sleeping Giants Wake - Console News

The last few months have been host to a number of interesting stories in the world of consoles.

There was a big announcement today - some details about Microsoft's new Xbox have been revealed. One of the most controversial features is the always online requirement. This is a clear move by Microsoft to kill the used game trade. Many people are up in arms about this, but I personally am fine with it. Used games were a leach on the gaming industry as far as I am concerned - directly stealing money that should be going to developers, and not even giving much of a discount to consumers. It is unfortunate that individual gamers won't be able to sell or trade among themselves, but I won't be weeping for the loss of brick and mortar used game sales.

GameSpot, a large brick-and-mortar game shop in the US, has already seen its stock prices fall as a direct result of this announcement. Over 20% of its revenue comes from used games, so this is no surprise. Again, I won't weep over this - while I have nothing against brick-and-mortar stores, I also do almost all of my game purchasing online - either from Steam directly, or from Amazon when I do need a physical copy. The only reason I've even entered a physical game shop in the last year was to buy emergency accessories (power cable for my DS), impulse buys that I wanted to play immediately that weekend (when my roommate bought Pokemon White so I ran in to get Black), and when dragged in by a friend. Not that I want these places to go out of business - that means loss of jobs and that is unfortunate in general. But it just doesn't really effect me, and honestly I don't think it much effects the industry at this point. Major retail shops often have a game section if they have a film section, so there will be a place to buy games there if dedicated game shops go under.

It is interesting that this Xbox announcement comes close on the heals of Sony announcing their next gen console and its target release for the end of 2013. The imagery of two sleeping giants waking up and flexing at eachother plays out in my head. Nintendo jumped the gun with its Wii U, and while I find the asymmetric gameplay interesting, it hasn't been doing well in sales and it's just not powerful enough even compared to current gen hardware.

As a primarily PC gamer, all this news is somewhat less relevant to me. However, it's nice to know that the PC games will no longer be held back by the limitations of eight year old hardware.

The Ouya gaming console, with a fairly traditional style controller, runs Android OS. It is relatively low powered, but at the $100 price point is fairly reasonable.

Outside the three giants, other consoles are also in the news. The Ouya is on target for a June launch, and will be available through major retailers such as Amazon and BestBuy. This is actually quite exciting, as a new player in the console market will promote competition and freshen things up. Obviously the Ouya can not compete in power with the new consoles, but at its low price point its still an interesting choice, especially from a dev standpoint. The Ouya will be running Android, a very open platform for games.

Nvidia's Project Shield runs Android OS and features a traditional control pad input style with a clam-shell-like screen attachment. It can also stream from your PC if you have a high powered Nvidia card.

On a similar note, the Game Stick recently met its Kickstarter goal and will soon present another Android based console. Additionally, Nvidia is entering the dedicated gaming handheld market with their Project Shield, and Razer is creating a gaming-focused tablet with gamer controls. Last but certainly not least, Steam enters the console market in its own way, marketing a small computer as a "Steambox".

Microsoft's IllumiRoom projects another scene on the room around the TV. In this case a wider view of the in-game world, but examples also included spark effects coming out of the TV scene and other effects.

Aside from these core devices, there have been several interesting peripherals discussed lately as well, ranging from Microsoft's IllumiRoom and Valve's virtual reality experiments.

It's definitely an interesting time for consoles, and I'm looking forward to what the future holds.

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