Is This the Last Console Generation?

Future shock.

Is the home game console market in trouble? Some analysts certainly think so. Despite reports of record-breaking sales for both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, some industry doomsayers are forecasting the end of the home console as we know it, citing increased competition from mobile games, a resurgent PC space, and spiraling costs in AAA-game development. So will the PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U be the last "generation" of consoles? Or will dedicated game machines continue to have a place in our living rooms for many more years to come? Check out what some of our editors think about this vexing issue.

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Consoles have a future -- Justin Haywald

Consoles as we know them are going to go away at some point, but the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Wii U certainly won't be the last. Everyone always talks about the cloud, and that it's going to bring in some great ways to access updated content that does not require buying a new system with upgraded specs every couple of years. But there are a lot of obstacles that stand in the way of that future, with one of the biggest being a lack of cheap, widespread access to the Internet. Right now, decent Internet services are expensive, and even in a tech hot spot like San Francisco, not everyone has access to the faster speeds you need for reliable online gaming and multi-gigabyte downloading.

When and if those pipeline issues get cleared up across the county, we'll see rapid changes and a focus on delivering streaming gaming content, but without some technological innovation that can circumvent the virtual cable monopolies that rule our Internet connections, that future seems like a long way off.

There's going to be another round of consoles that provide the high-quality and immediate gratification that physical media provides.

Justin Haywald

But even then, the most vocal arguing for the death of the console say that the demand for another console itself is nonexistent because of the strength of casual, mobile experiences and the failure of so many AAA studios. Besides the fact that the people enjoying mobile games are a different audience entirely that extends beyond what we consider gaming, the movie industry provides a pretty good analogue to what we're seeing in games. There are a lot fewer middle-tier movies these days; you either have ultra-low-budget indie films or Hollywood mega-blockbusters. There's some middle ground, but generally if a studio wants to spend a lot of money, it wants a guaranteed success, while smaller indie outfits are able to take risks and work outside the system. Access to online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime hasn't killed movie theaters; it has just made consumers more cautious about how they spend the $20 plus it costs one person to go see a film. And games are just the same: of course there's room for a $60 Grand Theft Auto V experience, but consumers aren't going to pay that for every game that comes along. Gaming studios may be changing, but there is still a strong demand for high-quality AAA games, and that isn't going away anytime soon.

Consoles have a future, but I think they're going to be less about providing an all-in-one media service (since more and more, our TVs take care of all of that for us); gamers still want something that fills their needs as gamers. And no matter what, I need a solid gaming experience that isn't dependent on whether I have the bandwidth for streaming HD graphics online. In a few years that will change, but there's going to be another round of consoles that provide the high-quality and immediate gratification that physical media provides.

The end can't come soon enough -- Tom Mc Shea

Exclusive is a dirty word. Games are the only medium where you have to buy a multitude of devices to enjoy everything out there. We briefly had this split with movies, where Blu-ray and HD-DVD vied for content, but the industry reached an agreement that elimated that separation. Imagine how annoying it would be if you could only watch CBS programs on one television while another broadcast NBC, and you needed a third set just for sports. We wouldn't stand for it. And yet, we've accepted that games are supposed to be like that. It's a mentality that will not last forever.

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I hope that this will be the final console generation. Games need to adopt a universal standard so that segregation is no longer built into the ecosystem. I can't believe I'm going to praise the 3DO, but it's a model that's welcoming and oddly prescient if I have my way. Multiple partners brought their own version of the hardware to consumers, tearing down the boundaries that separate different consoles. Every game runs on every version of the 3DO, no matter whose name is imprinted on the front. Granted, no one wants to play Way of the Warrior (sorry Naughty Dog!), but the idea the system was built on is still a great compromise.

We're seeing Steam Machines now borrow those themes for the modern age. But we need more companies to cede to the inevitable future. After all, Steam Machines are nothing more than bite-size PCs, and we've already had variability and inclusion in that market for decades. No, what we need is for Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to jump into this pool. People will still buy whatever games these companies put out, but instead of forcing people to spend thousands so they can play Mario, Uncharted, and Halo on three different devices, they can coexist in one place.

Yes, I envision a magical future that's so idealized it hurts. But for games to grow even larger, we need to tear down the walls that confine us. There's no gain for people who just want to play games in our current ecosystem. None. So we should be happy if the dark days of exclusivity burn away, and we're left with a utopian industry where the best games can be played no matter which hardware you decide to purchase. Consoles are going to die off. It's just a matter of when.

Give the new consoles some time -- Daniel Hindes

To think that a supposed dip in launch sales of the latest generation of consoles could signify the end of consoles themselves is not looking at the bigger picture. Microsoft and Sony shot themselves in the foot by committing to a 10-year life cycle for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Those systems have become entrenched, offer a fantastic selection of games and excellent media functionality.

Gamers will be coaxed out of their 10-year comfort zones. Then we'll see numbers that won't spell doom and gloom.

Daniel Hindes

What are the new consoles offering? Few experiences that can yet justify the boxes' price tags (what kinds of numbers do you expect when you launch with Knack, or Ryse?) and media functionality that focuses on new, closed services rather than your existing library. But give it time. Must-play games will show up that won't also have previous-gen versions. Sony may introduce media functionality to the PS4 to bring it on par with the PS3. And all while the consoles themselves get cheaper. Gamers will be coaxed out of their 10-year comfort zones. Then we'll see numbers that won't spell doom and gloom.

But even if everything does go belly-up, we'll still have Steam Machines.

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Don't lament the loss of traditional consoles -- Eddie Makuch

The Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Wii U console generation very well might be the last. But don't cry at their funeral. Their impending death is not something to be afraid of, but rather a proposition we should be excited about. My prediction of their demise is not an indictment of their technical prowess--they are mightily powerful boxes, and I fully expect them to remain relevant for the next five years or longer. But do you really think we're going to be playing physical media eight to 10 years from now?

Some form of local hardware might remain, but it won't be much more than a channel through which your games are delivered. You need only look at video services like Netflix and Amazon Instant for evidence that this is the future gamers are in for. Just this week Amazon announced its own set-top box, and it's a wonderful window into the future you can expect for gaming. It streams TV and movies, and it plays games. Not Grand Theft Auto V or Skyrim, sure, but don't you think we're headed that way?

What's more, platform holders like Sony and Microsoft are already preparing for and investing in this future. Sony snapped up Gaikai in 2012 for $380 million and put it to work on the streaming service PlayStation Now. Meanwhile, Microsoft has been open in saying its network of Azure cloud servers are capable of streaming full games. It's only a matter of time before these services--as well as some we don't even know about--become commonplace. Don't lament the loss of traditional consoles; be excited about the future and what's to come.

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