Console Gaming Is Dying — and Microsoft Knows It
The Xbox One will provide gaming and TV services.
When Microsoft unveiled its latest console, the Xbox One (don't let the name throw you; this is the third console to bear the Xbox moniker), online observers couldn't help but notice that a vast majority of the conference discussed everything but video games.
By pitching its latest game machine as a comprehensive entertainment experience, Microsoft may be neglecting its core gamer audience — and that might be exactly the right move. Nintendo launched its Wii U to a resounding "meh," and Sony's PlayStation 4 announcement failed to make waves among increasingly jaded console gamers.
The current confusion in the console market is not really anyone's fault. Console manufacturers are eager to implement advanced and novel technology in their products. Developers want to make use of the most sophisticated gameplay and graphics engines. Consumers want the cheapest games with the most efficient delivery system.
The results have been consoles that are almost indistinguishable from midrange gaming PCs, bloated development costs for often-subpar software and incredible confusion regarding extra downloadable content, used games and digital distribution.
Although it will take a few days to determine what the everyman thinks of the Xbox One (or if it will even be on his radar before it launches later this year), core gamers posted damning commentary on Twitter, and games journalists took to the Web to critique the system.
"I seriously feel like going out right now and buying EVERY Wii U game — even the 90 percent I don't want — out of some weird spite," wrote Bob "MovieBob" Chipman, content creator for The Escapist magazine and host of The Game Overthinker Web show.
Jim Sterling, editor of popular game news site Destructoid, agreed: "Today's #XboxReveal mostly confirmed Microsoft wants to be what my television already is now," he wrote. [See also:How ‘BioShock Infinite’ Made Old-Timey Modern Music]
Game enthusiasts have expressed dismay over the Xbox One's lack of compatibility with existing 360 games, its restrictive policies about used titles (short version: you may have to pay full price anyway) and Microsoft's focus on TV (such as Steven Spielberg's upcoming "Halo" TV series) and sports (as evidenced by Microsoft's partnership with the NFL to broadcast exclusive Xbox One content) over exciting new game franchises.
If core gamers value unique games over all else, then one might expect Nintendo to be the top dog in the console market right now. Not so: Wii U sales have tanked since its initial release. Although Nintendo has a large number of system-exclusive titles, few of them have elicited more than mild enthusiasm, and the companyhas yet to announce a major system-seller (a new "Super Mario Bros." or "Legend of Zelda" title, for example).
Gamers were also apathetic about Sony's PlayStation 4 reveal event back in February. Although the event was much more game-centric, most of the titles showcased had either already been announced (like Ubisoft's "Watch Dogs") or were simply new entries in long-running series (such as "Killzone" and "inFamous"). In fact, Sony did not even show the PS4 console itself; potential buyers still have no idea what the system will look like.
Although Microsoft takes the cake for marketing a game console as an entertainment center, Nintendo and Sony also tried to portray their machines as multitaskers. The Wii U's "TVii" app allows users to watch TV shows through their consoles (provided that they already have a cable subscription) and share their viewing habits via social media.
Sony's PS4 will support the usual suspects when it comes to video streaming (like Netflix and Hulu), but will also allow users to share what they've been consuming — games or movies — via social media. Connectivity is so important to Sony's strategy that it even added a Share button to the PS4's controller. This was not a popular decision among the gamers who prefer immersive single-player experiences.
Microsoft has done little to court core gamers after their dissatisfaction with Sony and Nintendo, but on the other hand, it may not need to. Core gamers are a small market compared to people who consume a wide variety of media across multiple platforms. [See also: Review: Age of Empires II: HD Edition]
These digital omnivores like video games but generally prefer social, casual and multiplayer experiences to traditional narrative-based titles. Because these casual consumers buy only a few games a year, they are open to microtransactions, shorter story modes and repetitious sequels.
If Microsoft wants to shift away from targeting core gamers, its only crime is being more blatant about its intentions than its two main competitors.
Both Sony and Microsoft have promised big announcements for the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the country's largest gaming conference, next month. They could both demonstrate a slew of traditional high-quality titles and render gamers' fears inert, but E3 is also a time to please investors and suppliers.
If core gamers feel alienated by the console market, the PC is, of course, always an option.