New Consoles

PlayStation 3 Slim Model

Computer gaming these days tends to be split between console gaming and PC gaming. Those two system tend to be used in different ways, for different games, and have very different economical models. Gaming consoles are typically in the living room connected to something like a big TV with reasonably low resolution (full HD), and used with joystick like controllers. PC games tend to be played at a desk, with mouse & keyboard on a monitor that can display much higher resolution. Technically you can always connect a keyboard to a console, or a joystick to a PC, but the default controller defines the assumptions of the games.

While the two models are pretty different, they are competing for the gamer’s money, and the attention of game developers, a game build for a console often does not feel right when ported to PC, and reciprocally. What system is winning out? It really depends how you look at it, because this week saw news that are in appearance contradicting each-other.

Ars Technica had an interesting article about mouse and keyboard loosing the First Person Shooter market. First person shooter have historically been the privileged domain of PC gaming, but some new FPS games are now designed for the console first, and maybe not even ported to Windows. Sony also announced the Playstation 4 and gave an overview of the technical specifications : an x86 machine designed to work in the living room. If you frame the gaming world as a war, the natural question is, who is winning, but as often the real question is, who is loosing, and what.

Console have lost their hardware model. When the PS3 came out it had very powerful, custom CPU and a blue-ray disk which was very expensive at that point. The general expectation was that the hardware would be top notch on the release day and be able to stay in the market for a long time: the PS3 came out in 2006 and is still sold. The problem of this model is that consoles have become very expensive, and despite this, manufacturers have to sell their console at a loss and make money back on the price of games. This also pushes manufacturers to make sure that people who buy their system also buy games, and there is little incentive to make the console work well as a general computing device, as that usage is brining no money. If you look at the hardware specs of the new PS4, Ars Technica describes the machine as a honest mid-range gaming PC, but it is doubtful that this machine will shop shelves in 2019.

The PC side is loosing the deployment war. While game installation on PC has certainly improved from the days when one was asked to configure the interrupts of the sound-card, game writers still have to grapple with an extremely heterogenous set of target machines. Games therefore need to be designed in a way that gracefully degrades for machines with lower performances, but this introduces complexity. Each different hardware variant can cause new bugs, which requires additional engineering and support.

Of course, the elephant in the room is phone and tablet gaming, which has stolen both attention and money from both PC and console games. Phone games are generally much cheaper and moved the attention from impressive graphics back to gameplay. Fun has never been a linear function of the hardware capabilities, so improving the hardware is giving diminishing returns.

4 thoughts on “New Consoles”

  1. It’s funny you mention that the PS3 won’t be around in 2019. Yet, every indication seems to suggest something as simple as an Atari 2600 will continue to be. I mean, not sold on store shelves, but rather kept in running condition and treated with a reverence that the PS3 doesn’t even receive today. I wonder what quality of a console gives it longevity? Clearly, hardware architecture isn’t it. Just some food for thought.

  2. I meant on the shelves in shops. The PS3 was introduced in 2006 and is still sold in 2013, I doubt the PS4 will have such a long shelf-life. The Atari 2600 was introduced in 1977 and was discontinued in 1992.

  3. There is a typo that caused the confusion. You clearly meant PS4 in 2019.

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