Anyone under the age of around 45 has grown up with the games console as an integral fixture of home entertainment. Of course, PCs also run games and PC gaming has its disciples. But for real ‘gamers’ and even many of those who dip in and out of burning the midnight oil battling baddies or building empires, the specialist gaming technology of the dedicated console is centre stage. From the early Atari consoles, through the various generations of Sega and Nintendo consoles of the nineties, joined by Microsoft’s Xbox series from the early noughties, the latest technology in the world of gaming has been led by consoles. The Sony PlayStation, in its current PS4 iteration, is widely considered to be the present standard bearer in excellence but Nintendo and Xbox generations have also had their moments in the sun.
This week sees LA host the E3 2018 expo. The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is the biggest gaming showcase event on the tech calendar and where console makers and games studios provide a sneak peak of their upcoming releases and showcase new technology innovation. As one pundit put it the E3 is akin the gaming world’s equivalent to Hollywood releasing the trailers for every hoped-for blockbuster over the coming year at one event.
With the PS4 and Xbox One both turning 5 years old in 2018, this year’s E3 has seen a focus on what the ‘next generation’ of gaming console technology will hold in store. As well as announcing the acquisition of a handful of promising game development studios, Microsoft also intimated that the company is currently working on the successor to its Xbox One console. Sony, however, has remained tight lipped on that front, maintaining its focus on new exclusive titles, an approach that has seen it dominate the console industry over recent history.
Sony’s silence has seen conversation turn to the possibility that the latest technology in streaming and high speed internet might mean the days of the three decade+ era of the console may be numbered. Speculation centres on if the future might be internet streaming allowing for specialist gaming console-quality games being playable across devices such as smartphones and smart TVs. This would mean the processing work and the rest of the technology so far housed in a console being migrated to the cloud with the end result streamed to whatever screen is most convenient at the moment. Both Microsoft and Sony have already made public that they are working on game streaming technology.
The end result would be the companies that have dominated the console market competing to become the ‘Netflix of gaming’ in a new business model less reliant on selling console hardware. It doesn’t necessarily mean consoles will immediately become obsolete as the best experience is still likely to be achieved through a console, hooked up to a large TV and good sound system, for the foreseeable future. The first step in any future transition is most likely to be a ‘complimentary’ relationship between console gaming and online streaming to alternative devices. The hope will be that whichever way the latest technology in gaming develops over coming years, and regardless of any shifts in the balance of power between the biggest companies, it is gamers who will ultimately benefit.