Is Console Gaming Over?
In 1994, console gaming was viewed by most as "a fad." During the early part of my 14-year tenure in the gaming industry—most of which, until recently, I spent on the console side—I heard from financial analysts adnauseum that the Internet and PC would soon wipe out console gaming. Console gaming ignored analysts' ominous predictions and quickly became their own multi-billion dollar industry. PC gaming was left in its wake. Walk into nearly any American "Living Room" over the past 20 years and you will find four electronic devices: a stereo, a television, DVD/VHS player and a game console. You most certainly would not have found a PC. It was too expensive and too difficult to use for entertainment purposes.
Not to be outdone, computer technologists have been busy making PCs more affordable and more intuitive. Major advances such as breaking the $500 barrier and one-button operation are finally opening the living room doors to the PC. They are paving the way for a new king of home electronics to claim its rightful throne in the American living room not just in gaming, but in all forms of home entertainment. Windows XP Media Center accelerated this trend. Apple, iPod and iTunes made the acquisition, playing, storage and organization of music simple. It is clear this is where PC Gaming needs to be. Taking up this challenge are a handful of companies, like DISCover, leading the way to this new frontier in PC gaming.
The $500 barrier
Cost is always a barrier when gaining entry into the homes of the masses. Ten years ago a rugged console with indestructible games cost one-tenth the price of what was then a mid-level PC capable of playing mass-market games. A brand-new well-equipped PC able to play the hottest games is now about twice the price of a game console AND not only plays, but organizes and stores massive amounts of games and other media including photos, movies and music. It takes the place of three appliances. Dollar for dollar, it turns out to be quite a bargain.
It's in the right room
The console has owned the living room and has thus dominated gaming in large part because it was in the right room. The PC had been relegated to the den. Advances in technology have made powerful, portable notebook PCs as affordable as a similarly equipped desktop. Our technology and our lifestyles are becoming more and more mobile everyday. The notebook PC has emerged as a dominant gaming platform because of its combination of power, price and portability. The "right room" is fast becoming the "campus quad," the "airplane," the "conference room," or the "car in a traffic jam on the 405."
10 years ago when released, the dedicated architecture of the Nintendo 64 was years ahead of the PC and its 8-bit operating system. The PC available at any big-box retailer now outperforms a console just a few weeks after launch—or before if you have a sweet high-end gaming rig from Alienware or Voodoo.
Ease of use
Make it easy to use and more people will use it. Look at the casual games segment, a market with a demographic dominated by 35- to 55-year-old females—not normally looked at as video gamers of any sort and certainly not "PC Gamers." Casual gaming is described as fun, easy, and a great break from working. Make core gaming on the PC less like work and more like an appliance such as a DVD player or a game console and more people will game on it.
Leading the way in ease of use are HP's "Quick Play" and Dell's "Media Direct." This next generation software available now is all about ease of use for the PC—smart, clean, intuitive interfaces that even non-computer users can understand. There's no need to learn the nuances of a new operating system or spend time searching five levels deep in an electronic program file-sorting menu system. These are fantastic user interfaces that allow you to play, organize and store movies, music and photos. Yes! Let's make the PC easy and fun to use!
And gaming? The new frontier of PC gaming is ease of use.
The user experience of acquiring, installing and launching a game has been the bain of enthusiast PC gaming since the first game consoles appeared in the 80s. Playing with a mouse and keyboard is intimidating and frustrating when you are used to the intuitive layout of a game pad. The pain involved with the 20- to 90-minute installation process (if done correctly the first time) with no guarantee of success is too much for a large number of enthusiast gamers to overcome.
There are a number of exciting technologies emerging to eliminate the pain of PC gaming. DISCover has been a pioneer inventing console-like patented "Drop-N-Play" and "Drop-N-Install" technologies. Other much needed features are now available for PC gamers like native game pad support, digital distribution, and intuitive user interfaces for playing, organizing and acquiring games. PC gaming is getting easier every day.
The Microsoft effect
Microsoft's launch of Vista and Games for Windows has the potential to shake up the video game industry. Getting the power of the 800 lb. gorilla to drive Windows and the PC as an elite gaming platform is fantastic. Sure, Vista has brought with it technical challenges. It has also introduced some mighty features like a multi-core friendly OS, cross-platform communication and DirectX 10. Adjusting to these new technologies is expensive, but I believe that in the long term the investment will be well worth it for us, our partners, their gaming customers and the entire PC gaming industry.
Digital Distribution is opening a world of possibilities for PC gaming. Imagine being liberated from carrying around multiple game CDs with you on the plane or wherever you and your laptop are heading. In addition to this portability advantage, a tremendous increase in the variety of content will be readily available and easy to acquire. Digital distribution allows small independent game makers to bring their games to market without having to advance hefty console licensing fees. It is already working with casual gaming. Digital distribution is also bringing a much wider range of core games to the PC. Look at the impact independent movies have had on Hollywood. I love blockbusters like Sniper Elite and the Call of Duty series, but I also crave the diversity, originality and independence of lesser known games like Etrom, CRC Extreme or Gary Grigsby's World at War 'A World Divided'.
The right combination of cost, portability, performance and ease-of use will allow the PC to re-shape the gaming landscape. The technologies are out there to make the PC fun and easy to use for all forms of media and living room entertainment. They can and will take away yesterday's pains and usher in PC gaming to a wider audience. For my own company, Digital Interactive, and all PC gaming software and hardware leaders, this is an exciting time as we are making it happen now. We believe this is an opportune time to challenge ourselves and the industry at large to invite the PC to leave the den and support all entertainment needs by being where it should be, in the right room; the living room.
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