In this recent article for ClickZ (http://www.clickz.com/showPage.html?page=3631593), Kevin Carney puts forward an argument suggesting console gaming is dying and set to be overtaken by online gaming. While he presents a couple of good points, and raises issues which games publishers and console manufacturers will need to address in the future, his overall theory is a little wide of the mark.
 
Too soon to say - First off, even taking the early release of the Xbox 360 into account, we are still only three years into a five-year console cycle and already we are seeing new ways to use our consoles. Nintendo's Wii offers something that had only been dreamed of in the past with its innovative control system and has brought the console squarely into the family space. Meanwhile, the blu-ray capabilities of the PlayStation3 and the rise of services such as Xbox Live and downloadable movies mean that the console is now becoming the little black box underneath the TV that does almost everything.
 
Quality usually wins - Carney's second point about delivering fun rather than making games look amazing is valid, but style over substance has been an issue for gamers since forever. How many of you got sucked in by something like Rise Of The Robots? Like blockbuster movies, games that rely on pretty graphics are soon found out and dismissed by gamers. And it's often games that have the playability which are plundered for ideas. Take the FIFA vs Pro Evolution Soccer fight from a few years back. Everyone knew PES was the best, but EA believed getting a big name on the box of the latest FIFA and stuffing it with chart tunes would win people over. Now, thanks to competition and the realisation that consumers wanted more than pretty pictures, we have FIFA titles which are as playable as their massive marketing would suggest. And what about the cost of games? At £30-40, people are less likely to simply walk into a shop and buy a game, particularly in the current economic climate, than they would a CD or DVD. Research matters, and games review and opinion is one of the most thriving areas online. Gamers are not dummies; they will seek out and champion quality.
 
Consoles and online are not separate - The third point is really the one that demands the closest scrutiny. Are people really abandoning the living room and TV to go and sit at a PC in another room to get their kicks? Of course the rise in social networking and online interaction has opened up a whole new digital world, but the PC is still a tool of work for most casual gamers, usually squirreled away in the corner of the lounge, under the stairs or in a spare room. What Carney fails to acknowledge is the online capabilities of the consoles and the increasing integration with the web. All three consoles offer online capabilities; all three allow you to download content. Would a group of people rather sit in the lounge, on comfy sofas, messing about on the web and dipping in and out of, say, a racing game, or huddle around a 19" monitor and watch one person try to chat someone up in Second Life? Interacting in online worlds does not conflict with people playing games. Someone who spends two hours on Facebook is still going to want to play Mario.
 
Online games have a long way to go - No doubt online games have evolved and improved. Many of them look great, many have tapped in to some of the most basic and well-loved titles from the past to offer people that little shot of fun they were looking for. But did console titles suddenly get really long and impenetrable? Of course not. Surely someone who enjoys a simple dip in-dip out platformer online will marvel at some of the titles available for the consoles. Rather than turning people away from the console, don't online games present the opportunity to show people what games have to offer and lead them into the world of console gaming? A spruced-up, Flash version of Tetris is still Tetris: a quick fix to relieve the boredom but not a replacement for a gaming experience.
 
Advertising is a pain - Marketers love advertising. They'd advertise adverts if they could. I'm sure casual online gamers the world over rejoice when their small game screen is flanked by adverts, especially those annoying ones that expand when you roll over them. But projected ad revenue will never entice games companies to devote time and effort to developing groundbreaking standalone titles. As an offshoot to a title that's about to be released - a teaser - a one-level mini game could add value. But as a separate entity, free online games will continue to deliver slightly prettier versions of the sorts of games we grew up with and won't represent a satisfactory replacement to a fully-featured console title.
 
The futures of consoles and online gaming are not separate. The speed at which the whole interactivity of entertainment is evolving is sometimes staggering. Companies which once looked to be at the forefront of technology can very soon be made to look like they've missed a step. Console gaming offers so much that online gaming simply cannot: a shared experience with actual people, for one. But it also offers a depth and level of immersion that, unless you use your PC with an enormous monitor, or hook it up to your TV (does that then make it a console?) you won't experience elsewhere. Online games offer far more to marketers who rely on quick hits of advertising than they do to gamers looking for a fix. What was the last online game you played? What adverts were running alongside it? Did you click on to them?
 
In the future, aren't we likely to see companies embracing online technology further, integrating additional content or advertising into console games? How cool would it be, from a technology point of view, to drive around a city in Gran Turismo and see billboards with real advertising which change over time? How great would it be if finishing a level in a game allowed you to unlock extra playable or watchable content, downloadable to your console? It is this sort of integration that is likely to increase in the future. It has to. Online gaming should be taken seriously by games companies, but it is not to be feared or fought. This is not a war of platforms; it's the beginning of the next phase of gaming, and the accessibility, price and ease of use means consoles are going to be a key part of that.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Leave a Comment