Convenience will either kill the living room, or let it live

There has been some buzz on the Yotube and  with few of the bloggers and news sources I follow about how traditional consoles are going the way of the dodo, and how the PC and console markets are going to merge and die in their traditional form ever since Google’s Playdia… no that was a Bandai console. …Ever since Google Stadia started making rolls in the media. I had to wonder how this has become a thing just recently, when we can pin point the two moments in gaming history where the difference between console and PC became blurred permanently, and when the home consoles, and even the PC itself, began to lose their status and position. Slowly for sure, just as I’ve been told that physical media will be gone and everything will be digital for some fifteen years now. It’ll probably happen, but unlike physical media being replaced, decentralisation of the home’s living room has been working its magic for a long damn time now.

When the DS hit the market, I questioned why do we even need home consoles at this point. It was like a portable home console. When the PSP hit the market, and had the support to play the games on a home telly, I further questioned the need for any home consoles when you could just plug-n-play wherever you wanted. While this wasn’t PSP most advertised element, you could make an argument that PSP did work as a hybrid of sorts as well, though it lacked the whole separate controllers thing. You had to attach the cables to the bottom of the system and be tethered all the time to the television itself. Still, worth noting. We were on a good road to making the first genuine hybrid that would physically function in both standalone and portable forms with the Switch. The Big N just took few steps with the Wii U, which is still one of their major failures despite making pretty sweet DS emulator machine. and Sony effectively not learning jack shit from the PSP and repeated all the mistakes they made with the Vita and then some new ones. The Vita might have a rabid fanbase defending it like the console was their Hive Queen, but the reality is that despite the initial promises and its ergonomics, the system has woefully poor library, especially when majority of its games were ported to other systems. The first, and in many ways the definitive deathblow to the system was when Gravity Rush jumped to PS4, effectively telling everybody who had Vita that its time was over.  The rest of the system’s lifespan was artificial at best with the minimum of support from its own makers. No wonder Nintendo managed to turn 3DS into a small success despite the extremely rough first years. A good showcase how a rubbish library breaks a console, but it can be saved by improving the library.

That’s where the whole mixing PC and console really steps in. While modern gaming media and  through this many of the consumers want to see these two rough ecosystems as the same, they’re two separate markets that are not in direct competitions with each other. PC VS Console fights are very much just a cultural phenomena, and if we’re completely frank, the games were at their core completely different. Were. PC always excelled with slow as hell strategic games that required tons of reading and were more like chess. IN the 80’s and even early 90’s you couldn’t have fast paced games with good scrolling, because computers just couldn’t do it properly. Screen-by-screen games were the thing, like Prince of Persia. No, not Sands of Timei, the very original. That game might have good animation, but everything happens in one screen at a time. It wasn’t really until Super Mario Bros. made it widely achievable. It was developed as the ultimate Famicom cartridge game anyway. Consoles and arcades where the places where you could find smooth scrolling due to the hardware, and PCs just stuttered behind, not really knowing how to achieve the same level of smooth scrolling. Smooth being the keyword, there were many PC action games with atrocious scrolling, and MSX even had a cultural thing surrounding it about its choppy scrolling. It wasn’t really until the 1990’s when PCs could do as smooth scrolling as Super Mario Bros., and that alone limited a lot of the designs. Consoles and arcades were the places where things happened now and instantly, where you had to rely on your senses and guts on how to act in that very moment in game’s play. For PC, you mostly could take it back and just enjoy the slower pace. PC games, the culture around them, is like a methodical board game with time to spare. Arcades on the other hand were the opposite, more like sports events with tight time limits and challenges that required both physical and mental action to be fast and accurate. With consoles, we have and excellent golden middle path. The Legend of Zelda is, by all means, a mix of Ultima with Robotron. A hybrid of RPG and Action.

We don’t have that triumvirate nowadays, and the distinction between console and PC games is long dead. A rough starting point, where we could see no real difference in games between platforms, would have its roots in Europe, where loads of Amiga games got ported to the Sega Mega Drive. The whole European Platformer or Action genre that was a thing at the time was because most, if not all of them, where designed to be played on an Atari or Amiga computer first. Things trickle a bit, and you can argue shit was ported even before that, but before this point it was almost impossible on practical terms due to the sheer difference in controls and hardware. It was easier to port an arcade game to a PC, seeing everything was made from the scratch to fit that platform, but not as easy to backwards. The Mega Drive had enough oomph to it.Of course, the two main points where we further lost the middle ground between PC and consoles are the PlayStation and the Xbox. PlayStation for offering enough storage space for FMV shit and Xbox for effectively being a Direct X PC in a consolified form. Like how a Steam Machine is effectively a physical version of Valve’s digital game console.

The main change between Classic Era of Electronic Games, from 1970’s to mid-1990’s and the Modern Era of Gaming from that Mid-1990’s to current date of whatever date this post goes online, the biggest change is the lack of third in the triumvirate and constant movement to change the video game console into something else and melding PC and console software into one boiling pot. Yet the user cultures have been kept separate to this date by the sheer fact that PC and console gaming are not the same thing. Oh you have your Halos and Call of Duties on pretty much every platform there is, meaning Steam, Xbox and PlayStation, but everyone will tell you that playing a FPS on a controller is retarded. It will never have the same feeling or ease as keyboard and mouse. This is right, of course. You can get skilled with a controller, but its just so much better with KB+M because how the genre was practically designed from the grounds up for them.  Similarly, however, you’re seen as an idiot of you are using KB to play a game of Super Mario Bros. or any other console game. KB+M will never have the same tactile feedback as a good controller does, not even with the most expensive springs and shit under your key. After all, gaming on PC is an afterthought. A keyboard is a device for inputting text first and foremost. This is why you have to concentrate on having all sorts of Gamer peripherals and specific input devices made, because a keyboard really is pretty shitty for gaming that wasn’t designed around it. One of the many reasons why PC gaming culture likes stuff like Civilization and console culture bends more toward Devil May Cry.

If you have a game like Devil May Cry or Nier Automata on a PC, you’re still playing a console game. Then again you need Steam for both, so you’re running a digital console anyway on your PC so there’s that.

So where are we going with this rabbit hole? I’ve said it a thousand words ago; to the death of the living room.

While the Xbox as a console won’t die out, as much as I used to say so, Microsoft is taking the more sensible route and diversifying where Xbox as a brand is going. Halo collection is coming to Steam among other platforms, because why not. The general acceptance seems to be that everything should be available on every platform so the consumer could choose whatever fuck they play with whatever hell hardware they own, and we effectively make the concept of having any consoles or specified hardware moot. Except with Nintendo, because Nintendo sees that they will be able to stay afloat, because they recognise the fact that a unique library is a console’s lifeline. You say its anti-consumer not to have everything on everything, I say that’s bullshit and you know it as well. Competition is the key, and if we lack from the very foundations of consoles, we might as well kill both Xbox and PlayStation. Have everything on Steam and GOG. A PC is enough to be the very core of the living room nowadays, it can only do everything. Except be decentralised.

Hence content streaming.

Streaming games will not be third in the triumvirate. It is mobile console gaming once again. Stadia and pretty much everything else that has been in the mainline advertisements as the definitive game streaming experience have always showcased a gaming controller. I bet you are able to use KB with many of them and so on, but even Google recognises how PC gaming is dead despite its culture and habits still persist and offer that controller. While few people are probably nerdy enough lug a keyboard of sorts with whatever mouse controls you can to play Stadia on the go, most people will be satisfied with a controller. Most, if not all showcased Stadia games, are either arthouse shit or downright designed for a controller first, then adapted to a KB. That’s what modern ports really are, just seeing how you can change controls from KB to a controller or vice versa. Long gone are the days of ports like Section Z. The game industry has become too bloated, has been for two decades now. The chasing of higher fidelity graphics, real world actors modelled in, more and more useless power under the hood to run unoptimised games because the mathematical skills and creative drives have been effectively culled because everything’s too big to fail. Except Nintendo. When they lose, they lose a little. When they win, they tend to win big. Ever since the 1980’s Nintendo has been prophetised to fall and die, especially people like Trips Hawkins who simply don’t understand the console gaming economy. The fact that the Wii and the DS are one of the most selling consoles in the gaming history shows what the consumers value in a console. Yeah bit the Wii has shit games. And that would matter worth jack shit when the console and its library had great value. We don’t have any real rules for the mythical good game but we have everything to determine games of value, and the Wii was a console with shittons of games with value. Cold hard sales numbers trump over subjective opinions.

What does this have to do with the living room dying? If you remove the console and the more powerful computers, you lessen the price the consumer have to pay to access their wanted products. Just have him to buy a subscription account and then a price for the games for him to stream. Most people who are in good area for reception will probably enjoy streaming whatever games they like despite the lag. Buying a new console is an investment after all, and it would not be terribly unpredictable if Sony and Microsoft would allow streaming each others’ content to another’s platform, with Steam and the rest of PC ecosystem being in the play. Nintendo, on the other hand, will be in a position to leverage their own library however they want against their competition.

It is kinda pathetic if MS and Sony would begin to cross-stream their contents. It would only show that their libraries have so little to offer apart from each other that they can’t convince consumers to the other direction, despite we can assume the deepest of the Red Ocean market probably already owns all three consoles. PC gamers of course are on that pathetic high horse due to their cultural background, so they’re excused for this. They spend on upgrading a PC worth few consoles every other year anyway.

We have a screen on our pocket, on a device that can be used to stream those games. If the future is in streaming content, we’ll be playing games everywhere wherever we can access that account, have a controller of any kind and a screen. While I highly doubt consoles will die outright, streaming content might become one more way to play the amalgamised electronic games we have now. PC people with phones will be happy, people who want mobile gaming with their big AAA titles will be happy, people who want a portable console that isn’t the Switch will be happy, and people who don’t lug a laptop with them but still want something else but gacha will be happy. Maybe.

Streaming game content will take its place among mainstream media forms to consume. Google’s push will make that happen, at least for a time being. Only when it has been a success for some years we can make proper and definitive estimations whether or not it will replace dedicated systems, or even PCs, as the main form of game consumption. However, as long as Nintendo is around to sticking their guns in what they know best, there will always be at least one physical manifestation of a console, and if it doesn’t have any competition in the same form factor, it might lead to a very hard split between Microsoft and Sony, and Nintendo. Even larger than what we have now. That’s all speculation and bullshitting really. Time will tell, just like time has now told me I’ve run out of whisky form my glass.

What we do know is that convenience will make the difference. It doesn’t need to be the best or the bleeding edge, it just needs to work well enough at a convenient price point. Whether or not the game streaming technology has matured enough to become mass entertainment is yet to be seen. Will it be more convenient to stream games with some lag than have a physical console? Currently an open question with no real answer. Just like how modern TVs forced a slight game design in how games are designed control-wise, as CRT tellies have effectively instant response time while every modern flat screen lags behind and thus animation management has become a key to many games to get around this, games can be designed to work with the lag from streaming. It just takes a bit of work. Nevertheless, the issue of only sections of the global market being able to play streamed games at any sensible rate will stay an issue, in which the whole point of having a dedicated machine that sits in your desk, console or whatnot, is the best and most convenient solution. It is more probable that streaming games, specifically Google Stadia, will take Sega’s spot in the “hardware” market. They’re not Sega, and whatever unique games Google will have, they won’t be pushing the envelope as much or innovating as Sega’s titles used to be. That’s multiplatform gaming for you.

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