For a decade or more, some in the gaming industry have been predicting the death of the console. In fact, there are those who believed that the Xbox 360 or PS3 would never have come to market. They argue that PCs are much more powerful, upgradable, and robust than consoles, and that game developers have much more flexibility on that platform.
Unfortunately for these futurists, their predictions have failed to come true. This is at least in part due to the fact that console gaming has historically appealed to the masses; a family can invest in a gaming console for a $300 price point and use it for 4-5 years before replacing it with the next generation. Gaming-worthy PCs cost 5 times as much and have to be upgraded just as frequently.
Yet, there’s a new trend that may really strike a serious blow to not only console gaming, but PC gaming. Like so many other services, gaming is now moving to the cloud.
Cloud gaming: OnLive
OnLive is the first such service of its kind, but it’s certainly not going to be the last. The basic premise of OnLive is this: you should be able to play the games you want to play anywhere, anytime you have an Internet connection. If you want to play a game on your TV, great. If you’d rather play it on your PC, that’s fine, too. You can even play it on your tablet, in some cases.
How this obsoletes consoles
Cloud-based gaming services don’t require constant hardware upgrades. Because the heavy lifting is done on the service provider’s equipment, all you really need is a reliable broadband connection to get a high-quality gaming experience. Buying games via a cloud service means never having to upgrade to the next generation of console, and not having to purchase multiple consoles. Sure, you need a game system like the OnLive system to play on a TV, but these systems come much cheaper – and don’t require you to upgrade.
There are, of course, limitations to the cloud gaming proposition, at least right now. There are a very limited number of titles ported to the cloud gaming format. In addition, while it sounds like it would be cool to play certain games on a tablet, most games simply aren’t built for a touch-screen implementation.
For cloud-based gaming to really catch on, it will have to receive support from multiple development studios. If there should be another generation of consoles released, it will be a hard fought battle to get the consumer to move away from their trusted format to a cloud service.
In the same way that Netflix has, for many people, replaced the DVD player, so too cloud gaming could one day replace the console experience. Even in the PC realm, users may find that they’re more likely to use a cloud-based version of a game rather than the PC port, simply because they’ve already purchased it for the cloud.
Whether cloud gaming will be the nail in console gaming’s coffin is yet to be seen, but one thing is clear: if done right, there’s a heck of a lot of potential in this technology.