Sunday Thoughts: New Manufacturers

To be honest I’m getting a little sick of the rumours about what Sony or Microsoft are going to do with their next consoles. We know that they’ll certainly be something new at some point, maybe at this E3 or next year’s, and we know for certain that each company’s console will be more powerful in some way or other.

I’m not really that concerned about relative power between whatever Sony and Microsoft are working on either; this generation has quite clearly shown that different approaches to the computing grunt problem produce benefits in some areas and problems in others. At the end of the day it’s about how developers can use the hardware, not necessarily the benchmarks the hardware is capable of achieving.

[drop]No, I’m happy to wait and see what the current crop of manufacturers come out with. What’s more interesting to me is the potential for new hardware manufacturers to enter the home console market. It’s important to make that distinction of home consoles; no matter what your feelings are towards games on iOS and Android it’s hard to argue that smart phone platforms aren’t having an impact on the mobile gaming market (and perhaps some areas of console games).

Speaking of iOS, Apple are looking increasingly likely to be working on something dedicated to playing games on your TV. One possibility is that they’ll update their current Apple TV box to play games, something that may well be indicated by the latest software revision taking a tentative step towards supporting apps.

Whilst the selection is very minimal and locked down right now, an iOS-like App Store doesn’t seem completely out of the question. It’s also worth noting that the newest Apple TV box has similar hardware to the iPad 2, although that step up may simply be because of the AirPlay functionality.

Of course, there’s another option from Apple, and that’s the possibility of them building an actual TV. There’s been rumours of this for some time now, and it may well be named the iTV. However, early versions of the Apple TV box were called iTV, so that name is by no means set in stone. It seems likely that if they take this approach it will feature some form of gaming support, as well as the possibility of voice and gesture control.

The other potential entry into the home console market we’ve been hearing a lot of rumbling about recently is something coming from Valve. Whilst these kind of rumours seem to pop up every now and then, the latest round of them seem to have picked up more credence than usually comes them. This seems to have initially come from Gabe Newell saying Valve would be prepared to make hardware if they had to, although it wasn’t their first preference.

Whilst there’s not a huge amount to be gained from Gabe Newell’s non-committal on the issue, things seemed to get rolling after that. Back in March there were rumours of a Steam Box, essentially something between a media PC and a gaming PC. Although Valve denied those rumours, they quickly resurfaced when the company advertised for an Electronics Engineer.

After that things seemed to loop back around to our first contender, Apple. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, was spotted meeting with Valve, sparking new rumours that the two companies would be collaborating to build a home console as part of a “full-on assault to take over the living room,” to quote CultOfMac.

That wasn’t where things stopped though, oh no. From there things got really crazy, with Valve team member Michael Abrash writing a blog post which stated the company were starting R&D on wearable computing; I mean who doesn’t want to have a sleeve that can play the latest Call of Duty.

[drop2]There’s nothing just yet to suggest that Apple will be chipping in on this wearable computing project, and it’s perfectly possible that Valve could be starting to take a peak into hardware in more than one way. In fact in some ways it seems more likely that they might be working on multiple hardware options, why put all their eggs in one basket?

Whilst rumours seem to be circling around Valve and Apple, hardly surprising given their positions in the industry right now, there’s no reason we couldn’t see other manufacturers enter the arena in some way. Whilst I’d love to see a come back from Sega it does seem pretty unlikely, so my personal pick is to see something from one of the TV manufacturers.

Look at the growth of smart TVs over the last few years, it’s starting to seem like a TV just being a TV isn’t enough. Your TV can connect to the internet now, can stream Netflix without another box, can even have a camera hooked up to it and be used for Skype conversations (because video calls just aren’t the same if the person isn’t filling a 40-inch screen). Given this seems to be one of the potential approaches for Apple to enter the home market, I would be surprised if current TV manufacturers weren’t looking at it.

Would I buy a TV that supported some kind of Toshiba gaming system? I’ve no idea right now, but I’d be at least curious to see what they came up with.

If the TV manufacturers weren’t feeling up to the task of supporting an eco-system themselves, something that’s understandable, I would be absolutely shocked if we don’t see something like OnLive being built into TVs very soon. Smart TVs already support a wide array of streaming media services, I can’t see any good reason for them not to support a streaming gaming service.

Whilst everything is just rumours and supposition at the moment, I can’t help but feel that someone new coming into the gaming world would be very exciting; we’ll just have to wait and see who crosses the line first.

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25 Comments

  1. After rumors of DRM-locked consoles, and my personal dislike for Steam, I think it’s looking increasingly attractive to be a PC gamer. The only way the console DRM could work would be if it actually dramatically reduce prices of new games, both physically and digitally.
    As for an Apple console, I still think it’s unlikely for at least a few more years. The problem with an Apple console is that it would probably be too underpowered, and therefore would leave much to be desired when looking at AAA games, e.g: ANYTHING by Gameloft…

    • May I ask what you dont like about steam? Its just very rare to find someone that dislikes it :P

      • & if you’re thinking PC gaming is looking attractive, Steam is a big part of that.

      • Overall, it’s probably a better pc service than most out there, but I’ve had various connectivity issues and horrible lag with Valve’s own Mac ports. A lot of the time now it won’t even start properly on the first try, so it’s just hassle in order to get to a game that could otherwise be accessed from the desktop.

      • Years back you used to have so many different accounts for so many different online services for separate PC games steam has just consolidated it into one clean package that works. Steam on Mac though is fairly recent so these things will happen. Windows though and I’m sure im not the only one Steam is just amazing. Valve unlike many others have not abandoned PC and have profited massively from it. Their recent expansion into Linux shows a lot to what they are trying to do for the PC gaming industry.

      • ah a Mac, i see your problem :P

      • i can’t speak for anybody else, but i hate the way steam locks disc games to single accounts.

        it’s great for downloadable games, even though given the choice i’d prefer a drm free provider, like GOG for example.
        but tying discs to single users is something i cannot stand, and i continue to believe is of questionable legality.

        before anybody says it, no, that does not stop piracy, drm will only last a few days usually.
        what it does stop though is the perfectly legal preowned market.

    • Gameloft make games for PS3 too you know

      • Yeah, I forgot about those. Still not exactly gems though were they? Or were they? I don’t know…

    • @ bmg_123
      It’s very hard to be a PC gamer now without using steam. I personally love it, always has fantastic sale, excellent community tools and I have never had any problems with it lot letting me play my games. I am considering not even getting a NextBox or PS4 and just sticking with PC gaming however a steam box might be good.

  2. If digital distribution is the future, then the Steam model needs to be the template.

    None of the console makers have the pricing structure anywhere near right, when you can buy a game in store for a quarter of the price, no sane person would choose the download. With Steam, you get competitive pricing that’s usually similar to buying from an online retailer. Then there’s the crazy sales with real discounts, not just the odd pound off.

    If the rumours surrounding the next gen are true, the only console I’m interested in is the mythical Steam box, let’s hope it arrives.

  3. If I’m honest, I welcome more competition in gaming, in the end the only person that benefits is the consumer, as companies are constantly trying to offer the best deal. But at the same time, I’m worried that developers are going to stretch themselves too thin if they try to develop for many different platforms. At least we can always look forward to exclusives from first party developers.

    • I wouldn’t want too much choice though. Exclusives are often fairly big games that you don’t want to miss out on, and I find it hard enough keeping up with 3 companies!

  4. I don’t think Apple and Valve are going to team up to build a new console. I’d rather associate Tim Cook’s visit to Valve to try to get a partnership to build a Steam based Game Center for iOS. That makes sense in face of the current development of Steam and the Source engine for Linux. I’ve been a Linux user for over 14 years, and whereas I know there’s a market for games on Linux (I know because I play them), the platform alone is not enough to justify a massive investment by a company like Valve to get their games running on it for a profit. It seems to me that Valve is considering seriously a Linux powered SteamBox, so that can stay away from Microsoft and Apple (why would them back Valve anyway?) and focus on what they need to get the machine going: great games. With many games coming up for the Mac (which is unix based, BTW), getting publisher’s to build their games to Linux as well would not be that hard. As well as selling a console that you can buy games for it and play them on your PC, Mac and Linux, all using a unified gaming service, Steam, provided by Valve. If they do it, then Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony should as well get worried about their next generation, because it might be their last one (and a huge flop) if Valve gets aggressive in this market.

    • I love Linux myself but I cant really use it because obviously the lack of support for games. I know there are loads more people in that situation. The sub 10% Linux holds on the PC market would increase substantially if Valve supported it. They are bringing PC games to a wider and wider market, this is a big risk but if it works they will find themselves rolling in even more cash.

    • Sadly, Tim Cook didn’t visit Valve after all.

      Shame because the rise of iOS is due in part to gaming, but OSX receives little attention, although more than in the past, but on the whole still lacking.

      Also, very unlikely to be a SteamBox, with the company’s R&D focus on wearable computing and Google ready to launch their wearable tech by the end of the year or soon after.

  5. As the internet becomes more and more embedded in peoples lives at every level so will the consoles.
    The next generation of machines could very well be the last we see of traditional “under the TV” disc based consoles, im intrigued to see where Valve and Googles wearable computing research takes them, i presume itll interact with boxes that stream content to your TV or other display device.

    Oh and as a committed PC Gamer my message to Sony and Microsoft in regards to the next generation….*ahem* MORE POWER!!!!!

    Exciting times.

    • thats all i really want from a new console, as long as it can beat current pc’s then i’ll be happy.

      • what you really want then is a PC ;)

  6. i love a sunday night thought…
    will keep quiet because ima little tipsy *hic*
    bring bac the vic 20 or atari 2600 who needs a nkotb…
    although the valve console is getting me juicy like a ten dollar hooker cracked up to her eyeballs

  7. What happened to virgin games?!

  8. The next gen is a bit scary to me at the moment. In the way that i’m unsure where it will be going.
    Will the big players up the power all the way up to 11, supporting true 1080p, and have developers creating stunning epic games?

    Or will it be a fair amount of shouting and waving your arms at the t.v like a moron?

    Upon hearing the direction console gaming will go I will then decide if it’s still for me, or if that gaming PC i’ve been thinking about for the last six months might actuallt start being built.

  9. Im not too surprised at the way TVs are going. My dad got another new one a few weeks ago (he rents it) and it connects to the Internet and even get gets its own ‘system update’ patches to give it new features. Although at the moment it just seems to be a bit of on-demand stuff like iPlayer on it. In a few years our tv will have anything and everything in it we need, whether it’s a computer, sky, or games.

  10. If the online services on consoles were more like steam…well i dont even know

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