Wednesday, 12 June 2013

We Don't Need Entertainment Centres, Just Give Us Games

This was originally written for Forces of Geek on 30th May 2013 - a few weeks before E3 2013, so as you will see, it's a little outdated. I haven't had time to post it on here but expect an up-to-date post soon about my thoughts on E3 and all the announcements. Though, I still stand by my view that a games console should be used for the sole purpose of gaming! Disagree? Then let's have a long, drawn out argument - sorry, I mean "discussion" in the comments section at the end.

After a rather pointless reveal last week, Microsoft announced their new next-gen console; Xbox One. First of all, I'm sure you can all agree that this is a completely dumb name. Second, practically nothing was revealed and we may as well have been kept in the dark until E3 in a couple of weeks.

Much like the WiiU and no doubt the PS4, there seems be an obsession with adapting games consoles into so called "entertainment centres" or "all in one" experiences. This new trend might seem positive but is it really what consumers want? Sure, it's great that I can access Netflix and connect my account to my Xbox but first and foremost, I boot up my Xbox to play games. 

Years ago, Peter Molyneux was vying for living room dominance, "input 1" he called it. The dream that your games console was first thing you turned on in your living room and enabled you to perform all tasks through it, however I find this detrimental.

Look at it... all weird and boxy
Take mobile phones for example, you might be able to use it to browse the Internet or take photos but the Internet connection can't possibly compare to your desktop computer or laptop and despite the fact more photos are taken on iPhones than any other medium, the quality of those images will never be as good as a proper dslr camera because of the lens quality. Ask any photographer or film maker and they'll all agree. When something is made for a sole purpose, it will more than likely perform it's function with more efficiency.  

If I want to watch a film, I'll use my blu-ray player because it was created for that very purpose. I don't think, let's use my gaming console because it's better as a platform for gaming than it is for watching films. If everything becomes connected and your "entertainment centre" fails or breaks, everything breaks. 

I feel as though I'm being disregarded as a gamer. Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are so desperate to encompass all forms of entertainment, they're forgetting their original purpose. When Xbox Live was at it best, it was full of great content and I used to watch Inside Xbox every week. Now it's full of 3rd party apps and advertising which I've barely looked at. Yet, I still pay for the privilege because I enjoy playing online.

I miss SentUAMessage and InsideXbox
Ultimately, our next gen consoles are just very expensive remote controls, allowing us to switch between gaming, watching TV shows and browsing the Internet - as if we could get even lazier as species. Is this really advancement? Am I just thinking backward? I hope not because I like to think I'm down with the kids...even though I know the fact I just used that phrase negates my point.

I can see why gaming consoles are trying to take over our living rooms, apparently Microsoft registered that more time is spent watching Netflix than playing games. Still, that doesn't mean much when you consider how different the mediums are. TV and film require set amounts of time to watch, three episodes of a series or a whole film might equate to an hour and a half. Yet, gaming doesn't work that way. The very appeal of gaming is the fact you can drop in and out whenever you like. 

You can play 20 minutes of a game before work, spend 4 hours playing online with your friends or spend an entire day. If you try and break up a TV series or a film into small parts and watch them over a few days, they won't make sense, you'll forget what was going on and what your watching will eventually lose momentum. So, of course people spend more time watching films or TV shows. Because you have to spread out a 20/50 hour game. 

Hey PS4 guy, any chance we can just have games without all the extras? No? Oh.
Chasing after what people spend their time doing and trying to capitalise on that means the gaming element is being ignored. Companies are meant to innovate and show people what they need or could be doing not just re-iterate what they're already doing. No one thought the notion of SMS would catch on but mobile phone companies insisted it was the new way to communicate, overtaking phone calls - which in turn has led to Twitter, the biggest social media network in the world.

By the same token, no one believed that we would ever need a motion controller to game but our last generation of consoles changed that. The Wii out sold everything else and Kinect could have been something awesome. The technology has so much potential but there weren't/aren't enough games to back it up so it never really got off the ground.

I acquired an iPad recently, it was a gift and despite my scepticism, I really enjoy it's functionality as a web browser and tool for filming (I enjoy using it for scripts as it's easier than printing one out and you can edit lines that naturally change during filming). I'll admit, it's a useful, functional, transportable tool - one I'm currently writing on now. However, I wanted to transfer a film I'd created onto my iPad but I was unable to, not without buying an adaptor at least. How I view my iPad's function is akin to "notepad browser" as I don't use a great deal of apps and have played few games on it despite the fact it's heralded by many as having everything in one place. 

I feel like these next gen consoles are trying to re-invent themselves in the same way, as entertainment centres - as if they're ashamed or have forgotten their origins, like a teenager entering their twenties and growing out of their toys when really they should be embracing that part of themselves. 

Games consoles are part of a niche market - games are unlike other mediums, they're wonderfully distinct from everything else. If they're not careful, Nintendo, Microsoft and even Sony may well lose dominance like Atari and Sega before them. Almost twenty years ago, when Sony announced plans to move into gaming, people didn't take them seriously but because they focused on games and not on peripherals or trying to out-do the competition, they and Microsoft after them succeeded.

Pfft...All in One Experience - how about Gaming Experience?
Now their values have shifted towards connectivity and living room dominance, there's a good chance they'll eventually be surpassed by others (Valve, indie companies or maybe even Apple?). A gaming console created solely for games is now a novelty, so if one is released it will no doubt out sell the Xbox One, the WiiU and the PS4.

Gamers want an amazing gaming experience. We don't want to combine entertainment or utilise expensive remote controls. We just want to play, damn it!

Of course, I will be withholding any more judgement until E3 though rather hypocritically I know I'll end up with the Xbox One or a PS4 or even both (sorry Nintendo, I lost you a long time ago - also due to the lack of new games and the over reliance on peripherals..and Mario). Though, I can't help feeling that buying a next gen console is the equivalent of buying a ten room house and only ever using one of the rooms. 

But unlike opting out of a mortgage, there's no way I'll ever boycott games consoles... so I guess that makes me part of the problem?

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