Why the Future of Gaming Might Mean the End of Consoles

With Sony and Microsoft both seeming open to change, we ponder what the future of gaming could hold...

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

Just over a month ago, Sony’s PlayStation boss Shawn Layden suggested that the future of gaming could be “kind of a post-console world where you can have quality gaming experiences across a variety of technologies.”

“Sure, PS4 and PS4 Pro provide what, of course, we think is the best gaming experience,” he added, “but the other consoles out there, be it [Nintendo] Switch, Xbox One X, or tablets, or phones – there are great experiences across all these. What we need to do is recognize all that. We’re not little gaming ghettos that are not federated or aligned at all. We’re all part of the same gaming community, we just come at it through different doorways. I think the future will be an extension of that metaphor. Your platform is not your hideaway. It’s just your doorway to all these other gamer folk.”

In the month since Layden made that statement, a lot of evidence has emerged that seems to back up his claims that the lines might be blurring between PlayStation, Nintendo, and Xbox. Let’s have a look at the clues, then, and ponder what this post-console world could look like for the gamers and companies involved…

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More sharing between companies

Game companies are becoming more open to sharing their content than they were in the past. Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s Xbox boss, has provided a perfect example of this sharing-friendly new way of thinking.

“We want to bring [Xbox] Game Pass to any device that somebody wants to play on,” Spencer told Geekwire in an interview, referring to the streaming service where gamers can pay a monthly fee to access an impressive library of Xbox 360 and Xbox One games.

The service was originally only available on Xbox One, but rumors suggest that it could soon launch on Nintendo Switch. If Spencer really wants the service to appear on “any device that somebody wants to play on,” it seems safe to assume that the possibility of bringing the service to PlayStation consoles, mobile devices, and PC has at least been discussed at Microsoft. In fact, through the Play Anywhere initiative, there are already a select number of Xbox Game Pass games that you can play on Windows 10 PCs.

Microsoft has also revealed that Xbox Live support is coming to mobile devices and there are rumors that the service might also appear on the Nintendo Switch, giving players access to achievements, their friends list, and Gamerscore on devices beyond the Xbox One. Developers will also be able to implement Xbox Live support into their games. 

The company has also just launched an update to its Wireless Display app that allows users to stream their PCs through an Xbox One. While this isn’t exactly a partnership between Xbox and PC platforms like Steam, this update has opened the door to streaming Steam games on Xbox One. What is a surprising partnership is Microsoft putting the PC port of Halo: The Master Chief Collection on Steam. That’s a major step for Microsoft, which is hoping its flagship franchise to PC for the first time in more than a decade. 

Meanwhile, Sony’s own streaming service – PlayStation Now – already allows users to stream a library of PS2, PS3, and PS4 games on PC. The boundaries between the games you own and where you can play them seem to be gradually crumbling in a way that would have been difficult to imagine a few years ago.

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The Master Chief Collection

The end of the exclusive?

Although you do still see games companies producing exclusive titles (see: Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War, Crackdown 3, Pokémon Sword and Shield), real progress has been made by Nintendo and Microsoft to bring their first-party titles to other platforms. While the latter company’s cross-platform endeavors have mostly entailed bringing its Xbox exclusives to Windows, another one of its platforms, the Japanese game publisher has truly made the leap.

The Big N has already brought Pokemon, Super Mario, Fire Emblem, and Animal Crossing to mobile devices, and a new Mario Kart mobile game is also on the way. Bringing Nintendo properties to mobile in new and interesting ways (see: Pokemon Go) has opened new doors for the company, as it attempts to reach a whole new casual audience.

Going forward, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to imagine a world where exclusive games don’t stay exclusive forever and a time when a vast amount of older titles will be made available on devices that they didn’t originally launch on. 

Game Streaming on Mobile Device

Streaming games instead of sitting down with your console

Streaming, it seems, is the next great frontier for games companies. Whether you’re logging into PlayStation Now or Xbox Game Pass on a non-console device, playing PC games through your Xbox One, or remotely controlling your console from your phone (which is also something you can do right now in a lot of cases), the magic of the internet and online streaming is allowing games to bridge to gap between the systems they were made for and the ones that people currently have on hand.

At the moment, there are limits on the sort of game that you can stream without encountering massive lag or breaking the internet. Older titles and smaller titles can work really well when streamed, but massive AAA games don’t always translate through the internet in the same way. But you can be sure that brainboxes are working behind the scenes to remedy that. 

Microsoft is working on an ominous-sounding initiative entitled Project xCloud, for example, which has the aim of creating a cloud-based streaming platform that can process huge games such as Halo without the need for a physical console in the room. Nobody seems to mind that hefty home consoles could go the way of the dodo as a result.

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“That is not where you make money,” Microsoft’s Phil Spencer said, on the topic of console sales, in that same Geekwire interview. “The business inside of games is really selling games […] So if you open it up, the more often people can play, the more they’re enjoying the art form. It increases the size of the business.”

If the nut of lag-free streaming for major new games can be cracked, we could hypothetically live in a world where you don’t need to be anywhere near a console (or perhaps you won’t even need to own one at all) in order to play a new title. If your internet connection was strong enough, you could just log into your games membership thingy on whatever device you have handy and start playing from where you left off.

Of course, there will always be situations when you’d rather play a game offline, so here’s hoping that the rise of game streaming doesn’t make the ability to download games a thing of the past. We can definitely see the physical disc going that way, though.

Gaming on the go

In the same way that having Netflix on numerous devices has revolutionized the way we watch TV – allowing us to dip in and out of a binge whenever we get a spare minute – the possibility of fully functional AAA streaming and a greater amount of content-sharing between companies could mean that the way we play games majorly evolves in the next few years.

Imagine a world where you can play the same game on your home TV, your phone, your laptop, or your tablet. As long as you have a strong enough internet connection, you could hypothetically stream that game anywhere. The flexibility of the Nintendo Switch – which allows you to play at home or on the god – could one day apply to all gaming. 

Many companies seem to be interested in game streaming and content sharing, both of which suggest a world where you don’t need to be with your home console in order to play home-console-sized games. This will be music to the ears of people who struggle to find the hours to play at home but would love to fire up an exciting new title when they’re away. Also, if the boundaries properly come down between devices and companies, gaming could start to seem like a less complicated pastime for newcomers to get involved with.

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What’s interesting, though, is that Sony and Microsoft are both developing next-generation consoles, despite all their interest in these new frontiers. It’ll be interesting to see how the PS5 and the Xbox Two (or whatever they end up being called) factor into these big ideas about how gaming can evolve… Are these next consoles the last ones we’ll ever have to buy? We’ll just have to wait and see to find out, but it is an interesting future to imagine.