In the past 5 years, Sony and Nintendo have lost the battle on mobile gaming. The PSP and the NDS have been replaced by phones and tablets, while the PS Vita is having a hard time to convince players (2 million units sold, to compare to about 10 millions iPads sold in 2012, and that’s not even counting the hundreds of millions of android owners). The 3DS, with about 20 million units, is in a much better shape since it dropped its price, but will most likely not do as well as the NDS.
Casual gamers have progressively moved to tablets and phones for their gaming needs “on the go”, but so far Sony and Microsoft remain the kings in our living rooms. Nevertheless, 2012 has been a strange year for gaming so far. Current generation consoles are getting old and players don’t know what to expect from the 3 “Big”. The Wii U has so far been a disappointment, and Nintendo is in the red. Meanwhile, while everybody was expecting some form of announcement from Microsoft and Sony about their next gen consoles, nothing happened at E3, and some analysts claim we might not see an Xbox 720 or a PS4 before 2014.
In the meantime, it feels like new competition could indirectly come from Google. Android is lowering the software costs of building a new system from scratch, and it’s in that context that the Ouya, an android-based TV console was just funded on kickstarter, with more than 8 million dollars in funding (close to 10 times the expected result) and more than 60’000 preorders (in absolute, that is a relatively small number, but for a crowd funded project, this is pretty impressive.)
Recently, I also reviewed the Droid X360, a Chinese portable console running on Android. Although that portable console is not a Vita killer, the interesting point is that despite a few flaws, it is an interesting device. 5 years ago, a “Chinese clone” of the PSP wold have been something like the polystation: a device with only one black and white game running on it. But with android, it is now possible for unknown Chinese manufacturers to come up with a device that embeds a good browser, a very decent amount of games (from the google play store), and good multimedia support. It turns out that with a few hardware tweaks, the Droid X360 could have been a strong competitor to the Vita (with less “high quality” games but more apps and better media support).
The Ouya itself will probably not compete in terms of numbers with the Xbox 360 or the PS3. Similarly, the Droid X360 is a niche console for people with a weird fetish such as me. The upcoming iReadyGo will probably not do any better overall.
But if you look at the big picture, you will start to see a pattern: Google is progressively gaining huge market shares in gaming, not only on mobile, but in your living room as well. Whatever innovation the Ouya might come up with will most likely benefit Android in the long run: more game developers will get some interest in the Ouya, then realize that they can port their Ouya game to android tablets fairly easily. And if a Chinese manufacturer can get a reasonable portable console out for 100$, is it a weird idea to think that the team behind Ouya could also give a try at mobile gaming in the years to come (a bit like the openPandora, but crowd funded in order to keep the prices low)?
Streaming game services such as Onlive also enter the equation. In countries like Japan, the network is good enough that streaming games to your tablet is a valid solution for high end gaming. Initiatives such as Google Fiber also make this a huge possibility in the US. The result is that you don’t need an expensive “next gen” console in your living room to play the latest games. Of course, Sony and Microsoft will manage to secure some exclusive content and games, but how long will that last?
We’re at a step where I don’t even see what next gen consoles could bring to the table that would blow our mind into thinking “wow, I’ve got to buy this”. There are 400 million Android owners on the planet, and the number keeps growing. Surely, game developers are starting to take these numbers into account. the Playstation and Xbox brands will probably remain a significant share of their sales, but it could be that they become less and less the platforms of choice for developers, even for AAA titles. Don’t get me wrong, I love the build quality and the power of Sony’s consoles, I just think it might not be where gaming innovation will happen in the years to come.
How about you? What’s the most important device in your living room right now? Is it a tablet? A PC? A console? And what’s your next purchase, will you trust Sony/Microsoft for your next console, or are you going to try something else?
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