The world of gaming, my friends, has changed.
I realise it’s a little aggrandising to quote myself but the above quote comes from the story that Yoshifus Hayama had left his position with Sony as Executive producer on The Last Guardian and taken a job with expensive News International acquisition, Bossa. He had gone from working with one of the traditional Japanese companies, firmly entrenched in hardware and well settled in the videogame industry to a company which focusses on Facebook games.
My slightly theatrical proclamation was, of course, nothing new or surprising. If anything, it was old news, barely worthy of being rehashed. The changes to the videogame industry are something which have been happening gradually, whether we like it or not, since the beginning of the industry. They are what has led us to this point and the evolution of the industry continues in many directions. Some we like, and some we don’t.[drop]Don’t like the populist move away from traditional handheld gaming experience toward more casual games? Stuffing your games console with peripheral services like Netflix and Vidzone superfluous to your ideal of what a games console should be? Don’t like motion controls like Kinect, Move or the Wii’s Waggle? Tough.
This isn’t happening, folks. It has already happened and it has been happening since the very beginning of home gaming. The next step is probably cloud based gaming services, whether we like it or not, but it’s not an either/or proposition. All of the examples mentioned above have come in addition to traditional console experiences and in key markets the infrastructure simply isn’t ready for a cloud-only approach. There’s too much revenue still off the cloud.
Yesterday saw a rather sensationalist news story pop up around several different news sites. The Chief Product Officer at Gaikai spoke at CES in Las Vegas to say that she thought one of the current console manufacturers would “bow out” after this generation.
We can safely assume that Nanea Reeves of Gaikai is referring to home consoles as the two traditional handheld console manufacturers have both just beginning their “next generation”. So she means Nintendo, Microsoft or Sony. Let’s examine that for a moment.
Nintendo has announced the Wii U for a 2012 release. It’s already out there, with hardware presumably close to being finalised and development units likely to be with big third party partners that already announced a presence on the console. Our sources tell us that Microsoft too, although still unannounced, have new hardware almost ready and in the hands of certain key partners. It’s unlikely that we would know that and nobody would have at least heavily hinted similar information to the top brass at Gaikai. So we can deduce that Nanea Reeves thinks that Sony is not going to release a PlayStation 4.
There’s your headline, folks: Gaikai Predict Sony to Withdraw from Next Gen Console Race. It’s a shocking assertion and one which will panic a lot of Sony’s fans. Those fans who recall another recent news item where Kaz Hirai claimed that the PS4 would not be at E3 (you know, like everyone did last year with Twisted Metal?) will assign some plausibility to the Gaikai story too and everyone will flap around panicking that we’ll lose Sony from the videogame business. Thankfully, it’s utterly ridiculous. Here’s why.
Sony continues to invest more money than you can imagine into its videogames business, key studios are being acquired and development shows no signs of slowing. The PlayStation 3 has struggled to catch up with its competitors after being later to launch but the last couple of years have been a roaring success for Sony’s flagship, even accounting for the PSN hack disaster, and top executives have previously alluded to a need to get their next generation out closer to their competitor’s. Microsoft have got hardware in the pipeline and it’s very close to an announcement. Too many different sources are quietly whispering about that for it not to be true. So Sony, by their own admission, must have something close to readiness too.
Let’s consider where this story comes from – Gaikai. They are a company heavily invested in cloud gaming, ready to tackle OnLive’s more prominent public presence head on. They are, it seems, a big player in the future of cloud gaming services. With partners among the most influential videogames news outlets in the UK, perhaps they see news coverage as a perfect route to a higher public profile.
The notion that one of the current hardware giants is ready to throw in the towel certainly serves Gaikai’s cause in a number of ways. Speculation is already surfacing that this means some sort of Sony-Gaikai partnership to cloud-base and stream Sony’s next generation of software using Gaikai’s systems. That would require Sony’s software studios to stop developing for Sony hardware and jump to PC development instead. Or, to put it another way, develop games for a Microsoft platform. Now, there’s a sensationalist headline waiting to be written.
Even without the bonus of speculated partnerships, Gaikai’s assertion that the old model is dying would serve the notion that the new model is in some way winning. It isn’t, at least not yet. The notion that Gaikai and cloud gaming is having an effect on traditional giants benefits them, of course, but it also benefits all of their partners.[drop2]There’s no doubt that “The Cloud” will have a big part to play in the next traditional generation of consoles. It’s already permeating this generation with cloud-based saves and even the propensity of update patches and DLC which ready our consciousnesses for a need to be constantly connected. Sony and Microsoft, at least, are heavily investing in it as an add on service for premium customers, at least in these limited ways.
Perhaps the first thing we need to address is the notion of defined generations in modern console gaming? Certainly the user experience with a brand new Xbox 360 today is entirely different to the experience with a brand new Xbox 360 bought on launch day. The PlayStation 3’s launch day adopter would, if wrenched forward through time to look at the modern interface, recognise the XMB but they’d marvel at all it contained – and I don’t just mean the added sparkles. From a user’s perspective, putting nomenclature aside, this is already a different generation to the one that launched around six years ago.
We’re going to see new hardware soon but don’t expect everything to be totally new, either. Thanks to the thing which makes Cloud Gaming possible – the internet – we already have an evolutionary approach to how our consoles develop and although new hardware will bring new possibilities, it’s likely to come with a face which is somewhat familiar – if only because it will be peppered with the additional services we’re accustomed to. The next generation of hardware will most likely have Netflix, Hulu, Vidzone, YouTube et al. already loaded. Perhaps another type of on-console service is becoming more plausible too, one that streams games?
If there is any unholy union between traditional hardware giants and the new wave of cloud-based streamers then it is surely much more likely to be as an add-on service, available from the big player’s new hardware. Hardware which I still believe, in spite of efforts to keep the announcements pure, is very likely to be unveiled this year.