How VR Could Save Consoles


There's no other way to look at it- the console industry is in decline. Cell phone gaming has put a huge dent in mobile consoles, and the commercial failure of the Wii U has unseated Nintendo from their once lofty throne of influence.

The emergence of the PC Master Race has shown that high quality home gaming systems cost less, have cheaper game libraries that go with you from PC to PC, and have enough modularity to keep gamers from having to buy a whole new PC every year. To put it bluntly PC's are winning.

Consoles Used to be Top Dog

I've been PC gaming since the 80's. I remember playing Battle Chess in 1989 on my dad's 486. And I will never forget the emergence of Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D and Doom- all PC games that redefined their respective genres.

But back then- consoles were still king. Every kid on the block wasn't PC gaming- they were console gaming. I remember going over to my next door neighbor's house to watch my friend's mom play Super Mario Bros with a lit cigarette clenched between her teeth. I remember being astonished by the gameplay and graphics which were far superior to the Apple II games I played in 1st grade or the Atari 2600 games I had at home like ET and Breakout.

Consoles had survived the market crash of 1983 and were here to stay. This ushered in a sort of golden age of gaming during the 90's- where triple A studios were forged and gaming hit the mainstream. Every home had a console it seemed, and every kid in class knew the kids who believed that Genesis does what Nintendon't. We saw the pinnacle of sprite gaming with the release of masterpieces like Street Fighter II, Donkey Kong Country, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

My favorite game of all time: Chrono Trigger

My favorite game of all time: Chrono Trigger

But something changed around the time of the release of the Playstation and N64- PC gaming started catching up. Suddenly we were seeing releases like Half Life, Quake, and Warcraft which were offering experiences that simply couldn't be matched on consoles (despite often lackluster attempts at ports). In 2002, a very buggy, very ugly, but very promising digital game management software called Steam got started, and consoles met their first major competition ever.

Enter: The Golden Age of PC Gaming

It could be argued that the golden age started in 1998 with the releases of Half Life, Grim Fandango, Fallout 2, Unreal  (which was the launch of the Unreal Engine) and Starcraft. In 2000, we saw Deus Ex, The Sims, Diabolo II, and Escape from Monkey Island. Then came 2002 which heralded Neverwinter Nights, Battlefield 1942, and Warcraft III. But holy cow, did things start to happen in a big way in 2004: Half Life 2 and World of Warcraft- arguably two of the most important PC games released during the 2000's.

Since those days, Steam has become the must-have PC gaming distribution platform, and the release of Minecraft in 2009 has changed the entire landscape of both PC and console gaming forever. Now indie developers have the powerful tools they need to make high quality games. 

Today in 2015/2016, the rise of indie gaming has spread the marketplace out and given players more options specific to their tastes. Titles like Journey and Limbo have taken us into deeper psychological territory than we've ever gone. And now we are on the cusp of a new era- an era of immersive gaming like we've never seen: The VR gaming era. With VR devices due out in 2016 for both PC and console, what will this mean for the future of console gaming?

Could Playstation VR be a Game Changer?

There's no doubt about it, Sony has gone all in with VR. They recently announced over 200 developers working on content for the PSVR. Have a look at a recent showreel that demonstrates the experiences they are going to bring to players:

I don't know about you but that video got me amped when I first saw it.

The Ubiquitous PS4

Despite the dip in sales, there are PS4 units in a lot of living rooms.

Source: Ars Technica

Source: Ars Technica

By the time the Playstation VR hits store shelves, this number could be as much as 10 million units higher. It's easy to imagine a craze for PSVR as so many gamers will be ready to use it. Bring it home, plug it in, and you're in VR. This ease of integration into the home will make it stand out in an interesting way from the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive.

Performance May Become Irrelevant

One of the biggest problems with modern day console gaming is that it can't even come close to comparing with PC's when it comes to frame rate and resolution- but that might not forever be the case. There is a limit to the density of pixels the human eye can see, and streaming game services that process on the server side may make hardware irrelevant. Playstation already offers a service called Playstation Now that streams video games straight into your PS4 as if you had downloaded and installed them. The console industry may actually be saved by software- exclusive franchises that players want to keep paying for. Another selling point may end up being the ease of getting setup with VR without souping up your computer. Streaming games, hitting that maximum resolution, exclusives- these things might not only stop the bleeding for consoles, but restore them to health.

Keeping it Optimistic

As an enthusiastic console and PC gamer, I hope we don't ever see the death of consoles. More innovation is better- and as gamers and enthusiasts, we're all in this together. It's true that PC's are far out ahead right now- but we can't forget the lasting legacy that consoles have brought us. The Playstation VR will be an HMD to watch. I'll be getting mine on day 1. Here's to seeing consoles restored to their former glory.

Daniel Allen is the co-founder of Block Interval and co-creator of the in-development VR game Life of Lon. For more information about the project, check out lifeoflon.com or the VR announcement.

 

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