Games Consoles should do Games First.

With all the hype for next-generation media hub interaction, perhaps the greatest threat to games consoles is that for some reason, the gaming aspect is being thrust further aside to make way for more sponsored media apps and technology. But don’t we generally buy games consoles for… well… games?

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Microsoft’s SmartGlass is interesting, but not in the way they envisage.

I am all for new and interesting ways of interacting with games and my television. That we still find new things and new methods is a very real consequence of our need to simplify and add value to a product, to make things better for everyone. Smart TV is one such example; very soon, we won’t need games consoles for our Netflix/LoveFilm apps, or to catch up with On Demand services. That stuff is now being integrated into any half-decent television worth buying, and it’s an important thing for it to do so: Televisions themselves haven’t changed much, and with the continued decline of the 3D Market, that creative drive and push must be aimed in a new direction or risk losing big portions of investment money. If a television can do more, then it frees up other things to do their more specific jobs better.

I could end it there, but it wouldn’t make for an interesting blog post, would it?

For you see, the social media hub argument for the PS3 and X-Box 360 has always in some part been a bit of a distraction from more pressing issues. You’ve never NEEDED them for this purpose, whilst it is arguably nice to have by putting so much emphasis on that aspect really takes away from something quite important, and the reason we buy these games consoles in the first place; to play games and to enjoy games as well.

There is already a lot on the Durango doing the rounds that suggests Microsoft want to take it further and provide total media hub immersion into their new console, which will, perhaps debatable I know, be costing closer to the £500 marker. That is a lot of money for a games console; to be fair, it’s a lot of money for anything. You can get a pretty serviceable gaming PC for that money, or a really good Smart TV, or a half-decent laptop. But if you are going to spend that kind of money on anything, you need to know what it is aiming to do, and for a while Sony and Microsoft haven’t really been able to determine what that should be. Their games consoles aren’t games consoles, they are localised media hubs – and the games themselves are being relegated, despite that being the very thing they are designed and indeed, created to be.

You see, IF we’re going to be so focused on the idea of a media hub, I can’t see why the industry wants to push on ahead with more graphical grunt. All the technology for it is arguably already in the X-Box 360 and the PS3. All the apps and programming has been taken care of, and therefore if you want a media hub – spending £500 on a new one is perhaps a bit of a waste of money. Indeed, it is perhaps this that will see this generation survive even into a new one; there is no singular reason right now being offered to those who are attracted by this prospect as to why they should spend more money on untested technology. As long as the current teach allows all of this and games are still released, this generation could well survive throughout the whole of the next generation to boot. The illusion of progress is gone; the lies are now obvious. We can have this now, and we don’t need to buy more new things to get more of the same.

So we come back to a rather simple issue; if you are going to spend £500 on a PS4 or a Next-Box/Durango, what do you WANT for that money?

For you see, if you’ve spent £250-£300 on a TV in the last 18 months, then you will likely have some smart technology in it. It will pick up digital channels, often allow access to Freeview or Freeview+ and in some cases, allow internet integration for surfing the web and Facebook and the like. The TV itself is now pushing out as a media hub, and the TV is the common denominator of it all. You can’t use a PS3 or an X-Box 360 without a TV/Monitor, and if you have one of those doing all the apps work then you have no need for your media hub box below it. It’s a totally pointless object, a completely ridiculous notion.

So we must take a step back and realise a games console needs to sell on… well… games.

Games consoles used to be wholly about games and it is this generation where they have tried to do “everything”. But the world has caught up, and TV itself has caught up, and now these extra bonus additions seem worth less than they used to be. The E3 conferences the past few years, the games have been about 40% of a Microsoft/Sony conference. They are important – but still sidelined as they try to push something else. This has given the illusion perhaps that games consoles are… well… becoming obsolete. It’s hard to keep differentiating when the market is so quick to adapt around you. Games consoles are struggling to maintain the momentum they once had because other – better – devices have followed suit. We now have the Vita and iPad and Galaxy, all mobile and all have such things free of charge. Paying for the privilege is… well… looking silly.

So why not go back to games as a selling point? If the new X-Box and Playstation consoles are going to include silly-expensive graphics technology, then perhaps that should be the key selling point. In a world where everyone wants to be everything to everyone else, there’s a certain beautiful logic in shunning that and doing one thing – but exceptionally well. Games consoles are for games. If you’re spending £400-£500 on a brand new games console, the first thing you expect from it is games.

And truth is that’s often the first hurdle new consoles fall on. The Wii-U a nice near example; there are lots of ports, and some nice novelties but only one game which you’d say as a gamer was a killer app; Zombi-U. Nintendo aren’t alone however, all new consoles go through this bizarre launch issue where there just isn’t a lot there for the first few months, almost as if nothing is quite ready. I have a Wii-U on order for £319.99 with Zombi-U. The sad part is, I’ve played the ports on other machines and the rest don’t interest me much. For that money, I’m hoping Zombi-U takes a big cue from Dark Souls; a game that still keeps me occupied a year on from release!

Nintendo wants the U-Pad to also run TV. Nice idea, but don’t you already have a TV?

But it’s the extras that are supposed to sell it as well, and it is the extras that are being devalued by rivals doing it cheaper and more conveniently. Why watch YouTube on a console when you can flick on to it via your TV? Why go through the rigmarole of downloading movies when TV Set-top boxes stream them at much higher quality? Why play music when you can have it playing on a separate device so your console can do something else? What else? Oh I don’t know… play a game?

It’s just sad to me that the industry laments having money issues and yet the attention from the console makers in particular – companies whose priorities should be squarely on the games for their machines – seems to not be on the right track. They want to monetise everything. They want your cash, and they want to get it by whatever means necessary. Subscriptions and digital sales of music and TV and movies and Facebook and others. They don’t seem to care that it can be free elsewhere, or that you already have half a dozen devices that do the same thing – it’s an extra, and therefore they feel its worth paying for, when in reality most of us already know these things aren’t. The games section is relegated further and further from the fore as they try to push other ways to make more profit.

It’s sad then that they don’t see the folly of this. Sure, they’ll make a bit more now. But they’ll lose out in future, as their reputations and images are tarnished as they start to flounder on the very thing that is supposed to differentiate them; games. Because at the end of the day, a Smart-TV works because it’s still a TV. A Smartphone works because it’s still a phone. All the extras are nice, but it is their primary function that denotes their entire purpose.

A games console therefore has to be about playing games. And you don’t have to be smart to understand that.

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