On February 20, Sony announced the PlayStation 4, the first next-gen console in nearly 10 years (aside from the Nintendo’s Wii U). This marks the continuation of the console wars - but also the end of these console wars as we know them.
There will always be a space in our living rooms for videogame consoles, but the current console model is due for a change. PC gamers have known this for a while. As Sony fans eagerly awaited to hear details of the new console, PC gamers’ reaction was less enthusiastic. After all, why become excited about the first new console in years, when they already have access to the latest technology right at their fingertips?
That’s because PCs are easy to upgrade every year or even more often. Unlike consoles, you don’t have to take them as they are - PCs have many parts that can be switched out or upgraded at whim.
The customization of PCs might be a valuable benefit, but consoles have their own strengths, as well as some new tricks up their technological sleeves. The PlayStation and Xbox have a lot of life and potential left in them - as long as they take this opportunity to evolve into something bigger and better.
And they are taking this opportunity: the current consoles we know and love aren’t being left behind in the new generation of consoles wars. What we’re about to see is a completely new definition for what it means to even be a console.
The tide is already showing signs of the upcoming shift. New competitors are fighting for that venerated spot in your living room, and they’re bringing some exciting ideas to the plate: more updates, more customization, more choices.
And consumers love choices. The new Android-based console Ouya was a huge hit on Kickstarter because it actually encourages us to open it up and play with its components. Ouya CEO Julie Uhrman has already shared plans to come out with a new version every year, making it possible to stay on top of the latest technological advances.
Valve is another contender for the space under your TV, and they believe this space rightfully belongs to a computer, not a console. The upcoming Steam Box is Valve’s entry into the console market, and their push to bring the PC into your living room. It will combine the simplicity of a console with the upgrade-ready nature of the computer to theoretically create a hybrid to fit every need. Instead of offering a new version every year like the Ouya, the Steam Box will simply offer many different versions at once.
Traditional consoles aren’t about to give up their spot without a fight though, and are showing how flexible they can be within their own constraints. The PS4, for instance, will feature a different way to offer old and new games to players that doesn’t entirely rely on your console’s specs: cloud gaming. When OnLive stumbled last year, many felt that cloud gaming was done for. In reality, it was just waiting for the right time: a time when content delivery and live game streaming were easier, less costly, and less resource-consuming.
That time is now here. Sony’s integration of Gaikai into its newest console is just the first step in a move towards consoles taking a different approach to delivering their games. Even if the PS5 takes another decade to hit shelves, cloud gaming will allow Sony to push the console’s limits as technology grows and improves.
Although Microsoft hasn’t made any official announcements yet, we can expect to see some creative new features from the next Xbox as well. Between Sony’s cloud gaming and whatever other innovative features the next-gen Xbox introduces, traditional consoles are finding new ways to stay competitive in an era when a decade between versions is no longer the best strategy.
As we’ve said before: consoles aren’t dying - they’re evolving. The way we look at consoles is about to change. A new console war is upon us, one that will be more intense and faster-moving that any of us are used to. Get ready.