Thursday, May 30, 2013

Is this the beginning of the end of console gaming?

There's been a lot of fuss in the gaming world these past few months as the new generation of video game consoles loomed upon us like a doom bringing wind. Naturally they've all promised much after what was probably a renaissance for the industry as Nintendo's innovative Wii, Sony's powerful but unimaginatively named PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's solid Xbox 360, hoovered up the market with few complaints from gamers - well, barring initial hardware teething problems at first.
Then bang, every major manufacturer in the gaming console, ummm.... game had a shiny new box of tricks and excessive processing capability for you to drool over prior to release. The only catch is that each new announcement has been more disappointing than the last, with the tablet-console hybrid gaming device no one asked for from Nintendo to the gigantic middle finger to games consumers in the shape of the Xbox One. Oh and Sony have pretty much more of the same but with a big new graphics card, a wanky share button and a number four affixed over the number three of the last console.
So what is it that's so disappointing about this generation of new consoles?
1. Unimaginative names
Remember when video games companies used to come up with interesting (ok scratch that. Nintendo used to come up with insipid names like Nintendo entertainment system or Super Nintendo Entertainment System and sadly they are the most imaginative when it comes to their console monikers these days) or at least different names for their new consoles. This lot are just named the same as before but with a different set of numbers, or letters in the case of Nintendo, lazily tacked on.
2. Obsession with sharing stuff
Why the hell do all these companies think that we all are obsessed with sharing. It's true we live in an age of social media that gives people license to update the world on their toilet regularity - please never let it come to that - or tweet about what they've just killed recently, but is it best to over indulge this? Not everyone is obsessed with shoving game achievements down your throat on Facebook. As anyone who's received an invite to Candy Crush Saga, or had their wall spammed with Farmville statuses will know that this isn't a welcome improvement. To make matters worse, especially in the case of the Xbox One, this stuff just comes across as invasive. Who doesn't want hardware that monitors you every second of every day, watching you as you undress, have sex or masturbate? Looks like Orwell was wrong, Big Brother isn't just watching you, Big Brother is playing with you or watching you play with yourself.
3. Open suspicion of their consumers
Like most media companies of the now games console makers are eyeing their consumers with suspicion. Piracy is certainly a problem for the industry but like an insane dictator in his final decline before he starts massacring everybody with glasses the companies see their enemies everywhere. Sadly this inability to see the wood from the trees has meant that "some" console makers - I'm looking at you Microsoft, with EA lurking craftily in the shadows pulling strings - have seen it fit that consoles need to connect to the internet regularly to remain in use. Bad lack if you lose connection for a protracted period of time, you're fucked basically. Worse, the makers have decided that sharing games is basically piracy so no lending to your friends and no trade ins, well not without them charging you an extra fee despite the fact that when you've bought a piece of media technically it's yours to do with as you please be it lend or sell off, especially when you've spent nearly £45 for the privilege. But then why would you complain, you're not a pirate are you?
4. The quest for the "omnibox"
Gaming companies seem to be obsessed with chocking their machinery full of every gimmick they can squeeze in. A tablet controller, a multimedia desktop, motion sensors, a tin opener etc. Unfortunately it's often still better to buy the individual components than it is to buy an all singing, all dancing clusterfuck. Also these guys seem to have lost sight of the fact they're meant to be building a gaming machine. Which leads me to final point...
5. Where the fuck are the actual games
For the launch of the three biggest new gaming consoles there's been little or no sign of the games that will be coming down, with only a trickle of new content actually being revealed. It's like the designers of cars presenting their new model complete with Bluetooth connectivity, back massagers and a robot butler, then someone reminding them the damn thing doesn't have any wheels. Gamers buy games consoles to play games so that they don't have to buy a monstrously expensive computer that needs upgrading every six months.
So it's a bit depressing looking into this bleak future of always watching, not often gaming, bandwidth killers that Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft are looking to unleash (ok Nintendo have already released theirs to an indifferently shrugging audience). So does gaming have a future on consoles or is it back to PC gaming? Let's be fair we're not going to see a quantum leap in graphic display like we did with the last lot of consoles so where is there to go with consoles exactly. It makes it easier to understand why all the new consoles are trying to lure you in with other silly gimmicks. Then again bigger and better graphics aren't everything, probably hence why a nostalgia for retro gaming has really caught on.
Personally I'm praying that Valve finally builds the fabled Steambox and that a gaming console actually fit for purpose arrives. Fuck it, even Apple making some kind of iBox may be a relief to this malaise.