Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Are Game Consoles in Decline?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 14, 2015

PSX-Console-wControllerThere was a bit of buzz last year about the decline of gaming consoles. The buzz itself has gone into decline. I think it was in part this conjecture (building up over years) that led to the creation of microconsoles. The logic was sound, if the premise was correct and the conditions had been unchanged: The console era blossomed at a time when “gaming PCs” were very expensive and became obsolete very quickly. Consoles were a significantly less expensive, significantly more convenient alternative.

However, things aren’t the same as the were in 1990.

For one thing, game-capable PCs are a lot cheaper today than they used to be. While many of the AAA games still demand top-of-the-line hardware to run well, the vast majority of games have far more lightweight requirements. These days, if you don’t need a new monitor, you can get a PC capable of a reasonable amount of gaming for not much more than the price of a new game console. And if you wait two or three years into the console generation, the new PC will probably be more powerful.

The bad ol’ DOS days were painful for gamers, and we had to do weird things like configure our sound drivers for every game. Nowadays, that’s not nearly as much of a problem. So while consoles are still more convenient, it’s not quite the gulf that it was in the heyday of the consoles.

But if you want to talk convenience, hand-held devices still pretty much take the cake, unless you are already sitting at your computer with your mouse hovering over a game icon. For short, quick gaming experiences, tablets and phones really are winning. And having pre-installed games really beats inserting a disk on a console.

While the microconsoles are really cheap, they don’t offer much beyond the capabilities of mobile devices aside from the controllers, and are still feel pretty underpowered. They aren’t quite as convenient as a mobile device. And there’s a chicken-and-egg problem that keeps them niche… they can’t escape the niche without some killer exclusive content, and they can’t get that killer exclusive content without breaking out of their niche (or pouring out tons of money that they don’t have).

And so we’re back to the big consoles that once ruled the world. After some serious launch disappointments, the new-gen consoles are at least mustering what seems to be acceptable sales. While a lack of a stellar launch can be considered a decline… and I think I probably do… it sounds like more of a “correction.” It seems reasonable.

So I don’t think the big consoles are going anywhere. I think they may have hit a soft ceiling in terms of AAA budgets and perceived quality of the experience, but that’s more a limit on future growth, which may lead to a contraction but not a major decline. Sadly, I don’t think the microconsoles are going anywhere good, for now, although I would love to see it differently. And PC… well, PC seems to be doing what it keeps on doing. I keep hearing rumors of the death of the PC and PC gaming, which always seems to precede a banner year for PC games for a year or two. Long live PC gaming!

What do you think? Are we experiencing the beginning of the end of the classic gaming console, or are things just reverting to a more even distribution of popularity after a period of console dominance? Or something else? Or will VR goggles eat everybody else’s lunch?

Filed Under: Biz - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Tesh said,

    I’m tired of the console push to be “everything entertainment” centers. It makes them more expensive than they need to be, and in the XBone’s case, more intrusive. I don’t want voice control, movies on demand and biometric spy cams, I just want a good controller and great games.

    There’s this weird space between the microconsoles and the stupidly expensive machines that used to be where the Playstation and SNES would fit (I’m framing the XBone and PS4 as the modern NeoGeo). I miss the modest consoles that were content to just be gaming systems and be really good at that job.

  • MalcolmM said,

    I’m done with consoles. I’ve bought at least one console from each generation from the SNES era up until the current one, which I’ve decided to skip.

    I mostly bought Nintendo consoles and nothing Nintendo is putting out interests me in the slightest. Although I use to love their classic Mario, Zelda etc. games, I’ve grown tired of them.

    Not that I’m disappointed, PC games have always be my primary gaming platform and for me this is a golden age of PC gaming.

  • McTeddy said,

    I’m with Tesh. I love console games, but I want gaming console to be about gaming. I don’t want to pay an extra $150 so they can build in voice controlled television.

    Besides, right now, there is very little reason to get a console. There are only a couple worthwhile exclusives for each, and that’s not worth $400+. The price is far higher than it’s worth to me.

    The exception, for me, is the Wii-U. If I want to play the games it has, I need a Wii-U. They have a decent library of unique games and I am interested in picking it up one day.

  • Felix said,

    To the degree that there’s a slump in console sales, it’s because the number of hardcore gamers willing to buy an expensive device just for games, and use it enough to justify the cost, is in sharp decline. And even among hardcore gamers I can see a fatigue — they have dozens of games but play one or two, tops, and that’s because those let them have fun with friends online. It’s not even a new trend. I was seeing it clearly 6 years ago, and it’s only getting worse.

    And don’t even get me started on VR sets. They’re right up there with 3D movies — a technology we want because we’ve seen it in sci-fi as kids, but it turns out to be just a pointless gimmick in practice. It just that VR sets are a lot easier to build and operate than jetpacks, or flying cars…

  • Felix said,

    I just thought of something else: used to be, gaming consoles were cheap enough — cheaper than most contemporary computers — that a parent could justify buying one for their kid to play on. Doubly so if they were family-friendly. Like, you know, the NES was. But nowadays consoles are luxury items. Who’s going to buy them? Answer: geeks with money. Adults with their own disposable income. And *those* are increasingly few, not to mention increasingly busy.

    The gaming industry still caters to an audience that was the majority decades ago. Demographics, the economy, the tech landscape… all of that has changed radically in the mean time. But the industry still wants to pretend it’s business as usual. And the only thing keeping them afloat is that the world’s population is large enough to support a hit-driven market no matter what.

    Used to be, companies were successful because they were good. Now they’re successful because they’re big. (How’s that for circular logic?) But even a runaway train will slow down and stop sooner or later.

  • Modran said,

    I’ve recently bought a controller for my PC. Since then, I basically haven’t started my PS3 even once…
    I can even emulate a PS2 on it for chrissake !

  • Xian said,

    So far Bloodborne is the only console game this generation that has interested me, outside of Wii U games. Ni No Kuni was the last game I played on the PS3 and that was 2 years ago – it’s been a BluRay player exclusively since then.

  • lakerz said,

    I am no longer a console gamer. I stopped at PS3 and Xbox 360. For me, PC supplies all I need to both be functional *and* entertain me. Especially now when most PCs can output video to one’s HD TV and it is commonplace for PC gamers to own the xbox 360 controller for gaming.

    Console gaming started turning me off as soon as they basically morphed into PCs, requiring constant patches to function (not to mention constant patches for the games!). On top of all that, they required one to pay up each month/year to game online! As a PC player, I found that strange. So no thanks, I’ll be quite fine without PS4 or XboxOne. Even Wii-U has no allure for me. I’ll just have to do without the few AAA releases that don’t make it onto the PC platform eventually.