Essay on Gaming Consoles

The video games industry is known for its fast growth and high rate of innovation. Although the current (seventh) generation of gaming consoles is considered to be strong enough to hold on the shelves for several more years (Morris), it is clear that manufactures are already gearing up for the next generation. Taking in minds the technological and business environment of the gaming industry, this paper reviews several major trends in the field of consoles and make some estimations regarding the main features of future devices.

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Notwithstanding the importance of further innovation in the field of hardware, one might keep in mind Nintendo President Satoru Iwata’s referral to hardware as “a kind of box that consumers reluctantly buy in order to play our games” (Morris, n. pag). The focus in aspects of hardware are thus on enabling enhanced games (and perhaps more efficient programming) rather than on increasing the attractiveness of the console as a gadget (as it arguably the case in the smartphone industry). In light of this assumption, it is possible to identify two major directions for further development of hardware:

Not surprisingly, the future consoles’ graphic capabilities receives a lot of attention from developers and companies. Current video cards, though powerful, will be replaced by cards containing graphics processing units (GPUs), whose architecture might be described as a hybrid between a GPU and a central processing unit (CPU). That is, by using architectures that resemble CPU (such as Intel’s x86, which will be used in its Larrabee GPU), future GPUs will enable more flexible processing, thus allowing game developers a greater variety in terms of video details, 3D gaming, real-time raytracing, etc.

A second development, which accelerated with Microsoft’s November 2010 launch of Kinect for Xbox 360, is the growing popularity of devices that use body motion instead of traditional controllers. The basic technology is not new, of course, as wireless motion-detecting remotes (most notably Nintendo’s Wii) and camera-based technologies (such as Kinect) are already offered and are highly popular among consumers. The difference, however, would stem from improvements in the devices’ ability to interact with users much naturally as today. In other words, these “collection[s] of off-the-shelf cameras, sensors and microphones packed into an array that sits atop or under your television” (Crecente, n. pag) will be equipped with better algorithms to face current challenges such as:

Motion detection of multiple players
Voice recognition and differentiation through learning different users’ voices and diction. Enabling control through more delicate motions, such as moving fingers, slight nodding and blowing.

Finally, it is very likely to assume that with their growing features, the consoles will also become more reliable. Less console failures is certainly a major goal for manufactures as they gear up towards the 8th generation era.

New Technology for Consumer
A major question facing both consumers and manufacturers is the extent to which game console integrate into, or even replace other home entertainment devices. This is a difficult realm because it combines technological capabilities with an array of non-technological issues, such as conflicts of interest among suppliers of devices and content and risks related to predominance of consoles (thus being predatory to other products and product category). In addition, competing manufacturers of chips, monitor, etc. tend to pursue different programming strategies and protocols, thus complicating content providers’ ability to comply with the different platforms.

As a strong piece of hardware placed next to one’s television, the future game console can by all means offer all the essential features of home entertainment technologies, i.e. to play all kinds of content and media. However, in order to facilitate live television broadcasting consoles will require either extremely wide bandwidth or direct connection to cables. Since the latter seems to be rather unattractive to cable companies, it can be assumed that manufactures will continue to contact with content suppliers to use online streaming and will simply increase the range of content provided.

A bigger change may stem from the growing popularity of 3D televisions and content. Improvement in 3D technologies (particularly screen that do not need glasses), combined with standardization of 3D protocols, will allow the designers of future consoles and games to introduce a more realistic gaming experience and greater variety of games. This is because growing demand and economies of scale among all suppliers will reduce the price of 3D games and televisions, thus turning this promising technology from a high-end gimmick to the standard of video games.

Game Play
The technological trends discussed so far are obviously merely a tool given in developers’ hands to improve users’ gaming experience. It seems indeed that the gaming industry takes a holistic approach to their products. Future improvements are expected not only in terms of the content and graphics of games, but also in terms of platforms, interactive communication with other players, as well as in terms of artificial intelligence, which accommodates for better interaction between man and machine.

8th generation video games will continue to depart from their classical nature and will expand into larger domains of one’s life. Portable devices (such as those offered by Apple and Nintendo) will mark this trend by transforming games into an instrument of social exchange. For example, Nintendo’s 3DS is assumed to be the first portable device to allow users to see what games people in their physical proximity (e.g. in the train) are playing and even join them, even if they are complete strangers (Govan). After ‘getting to know’ each other through their portable devices, users might be able to continue their games (and, of course, playing others) on their respective consoles, thus establishing long-term social exchange.

Such exchanges would also likely to be less and less virtual, as the integration of communication technologies such as webcams, microphones and chats into the consol provide a direct means of interaction with other players. This applies to interaction during a game, as well as to pre- and post-game communication with friends, past and/or future collaborators to games, etc.

Artificial intelligence technologies pay a great contribution to video games, with a growing trend towards allowing interaction between users and virtual characters. Instead of using the latter as avatars or programming them to automatically act according to a script, developers will be able to create a virtual being, which changes throughout the game according to its experience with the user. For example, a tennis games can learn one’s weak spots and use them to challenge and improve the player’s performance. Similarly, when a player commands a battalion in a warfare game, his subordinates can approach her with questions, act according to her commands and even, have a conversation, argue or change their behavior following as order. In addition, this technology may underlie professional use of gaming consoles, such as a therapeutic tool to help people with social phobias by providing them gradual access to one of human kind’s earliest forms of social interactions – namely games.

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