I left PC gaming on November 15, 2001 with the launch of Microsoft's Xbox gaming system. I believed in Microsoft's pedigree in the gaming space back then and their ability to build networked systems and data centers. Both of which would be key to realizing their vision for Xbox Live which released a year later and recently celebrated it's 10th anniversary. I had been totally dedicated to Xbox gaming ever since, that is until part way through 2012.
Is this the future of gaming?
There's no question that gaming over the past 10 years changed a lot. It's big business now and that's probably where most of the problems stem from. We're seeing many innovations in the PC gaming space that we aren't seeing on the consoles such as “Free to Play,” the rise of innovative games from small Indie developers and MMOs, which aren't new, but still aren’t readily available on consoles.
In the meantime, I believe consoles are starting to show some significant issues. Online cheating is just as bad as it was on the PC. Patches cost money to deploy so it takes much longer to get them if we get them at all. PC’s always had active modding communities extending the life of your favorite games, correcting flaws and making them look better. We get little to no support for that kind of thing on consoles aside from a few experiments. Now we're starting to see schemes like season passes for DLC, online pass tokens and increasing fees just to play multiplayer. All this on top of the extra $10 for the console version over the PC version. As a console gamer I feel like publishers have leeches permanently connected to my wallet.
Or is this the future of gaming?
In the past ten years though, Valve changed the face of PC gaming. Many of the features that drove me to console gaming like friends lists and later, matchmaking, in-game voice and chat as well as achievements are all available on Steam. Valve also released VAC, an automated anti-cheat system that detects and takes action against online game cheaters. Steam eliminates the need to go to the store since you just download your game-in some cases you can pre-load the game so on launch day it’s ready to go, no waiting. Valve also rolled out their big screen interface designed to make it easier to game on the largest screen in most houses effectively freeing you from the typical desk/chair PC gaming setup. EA understands the potential and launched Origin to compete with Steam, and although not yet as feature rich or clean, the competition should drive innovation. PC gaming is still not all roses though, you still have drivers to maintain and since PC is an open platform, not all games take advantage of all the features Steam offers.
In the past ten years we've also seen the birth of the tablet PC. These devices allow gaming on a larger screen than traditional portable systems and games are generally very inexpensive. Tablets are starting to feature quad core processors with combined GPUs that can pump out amazing graphics at a very reasonable $200 price tag. Since this is really a new market though, it lacks a lot of the extras of PC or console gaming such as friends lists, achievements, multiplayer internet gaming and other social gaming aspects. That's not to say there aren't any multiplayer games-there are. Apple is trying to bring some social gaming aspects to iOS with its Game Center application and Steam is also available in a more limited capacity on both iOS and Android. Overall though, tablets are not quite up to par in these areas but you do gain game anywhere portability.
The Real Future of Gaming?
At this year's Consumer Electronic Show, two new gaming devices debuted that really caught my interest. Both Razer's “Razer Edge” gaming tablet/PC and Xi3's “Piston” have me questioning what I really want out of a next gen gaming system.
Razer Edge-The “Razer Edge” is a PC Tablet running a full desktop version of Windows 8. It is equipped with a dual core i5 or i7 with 4-8 GB of RAM and an NVidia GPU with 1 or 2 GB of RAM. This is a work horse of a machine for any class of PC device, but the fact that it's all crammed into a 10" tablet is engineering awesomeness.
With this device you can buy AAA quality games ONCE and play them in the living room console style, play the same game on the go or set it up and play PC style with a keyboard and mouse. The Edge also features a mobile gaming platform accessory with thumb sticks on either side-which I think is kind of ridiculous but also innovative at the same time.
Combine all these features with Steam, a couple Razer controllers and this is a VERY compelling consideration for a next gen gaming system. Not only is the Edge a fully functioning Windows PC, it plays today's hottest games and you can take your games and play them on the go! With a full set of accessory attachments, this is one very versatile package.
Xi3 Piston-Valve is heavily backing Xi3's development of this small PC called the “Piston.” Details are scarce on exactly what the specs are of this box, but it's intent is clear, a console replacement bringing PC and Steam gaming to the living room.
The Piston is expected to be similar to Xi3's current "x7a" line of gaming products offering dual and quad core AMD processors, ATI GPU, SSD, USB3, HDMI and eSATA. Looking at the back of the Piston, it seems to have dual video ports and fiber out for audio. While this doesn't offer gaming on the go like the Razer Edge, it looks like it'll also be a full Windows 8 PC and would be easy to travel with and hook up to a screen at your destination.
All that being said, with new consoles on the horizon I find myself at an interesting crossroads in 2013. Do I really want to buy Microsoft's next console and maintain the status quo that I've kind of become bored with over the past year? Or is this the ideal time to take stock of all the innovation and question if console gaming is really where it's at anymore.