Wednesday, August 07, 2013

The Movement Toward Simpler Game Devices

I recently read a blog post that asserted that the idea behind "the PC is dying" isn't that it will go away but that people are content with much simpler devices that do what they need to do and don't require the complexity of a PC.  Those much simpler devices are tablets and smartphones.

This matches my view of the early history of video gaming, after the big crash in the early 80s.  At that point the Commodore 64 and Atari 800 computers played fine games, and I thought there would never be another console like the Atari 2600.  Of course I was wrong; I had completely underestimated human fear of the keyboard.  People bought their children Nintendos rather than Commodores and Ataris because there was no keyboard, because the device was easy use, because it was sufficient for their needs.  Their children might've wanted a computer, but the parents didn't want to put up with that (and didn't want to have to help the child figure out the computer); and the computers were little more expensive.

Of course we still have desktop computers and play games on them and high-end PCs are much more powerful than the consoles, just as was true after the 80s crash.  The PS4 and Xbox One, like the PS3 and Xbox 360, are computer wannabes that will be less powerful than some computers the day they are first sold, and will be less powerful than a great many gamer computers within a year or two.  Yet they are simpler devices, and a lot of people prefer the simpler device.  But now the consoles have competition from other devices that can achieve the same simplification and avoidance of a keyboard that thrust the Nintendo forward - tablets and smartphones.  It seems to me likely that because of competition from tablets and smartphones the new consoles will not sell nearly as well as the ones we're using now.

It is the Age of Convenience (which includes battery-powered mobility), far more than in the early 1980s, and the Age of Instant Gratification, and the Age of the "Easy Button" (as popularized by Staples).  Already, the Nintendo handheld 3DS outsells other "consoles" despite a slow start.  The impetus toward use of devices that are just sufficient to the purpose, that avoid unnecessary complication, and that provide the convenience of mobility, is even stronger now than it was 30 years ago, so I expect the popularity of tablets and smartphones to have quite a strong effect on sale of new consoles.  It's partly a matter of price and of what else people want to do on the tablets and smartphones that is not game playing.  The latest iPad is expensive, but tablets like the iPad Mini and the Google Nexus 7 cost less than the new consoles.

Sony has appealed strongly to core gamers to try to counteract the move to smaller, simpler devices.  Microsoft has tried to position their new console as the central device for the household (or at least, the living room), associating it with TV and other traditionally living-room activities even as people are less and less likely to watch TV in the living room, often watching on computers instead.  Neither approach appears likely to counteract the trend to simpler devices, I think.  Time will tell.

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