As Microsoft and Sony prepare to release their new PS4 and Xbox 720 consoles this year, many analysts and tech journalists have questioned the future of console gaming. They see the rise of tablets and smartphones and think that traditional game makers are going to have a hard time competing.
Although there's no doubt that mobile gaming has become a permanent fixture in the landscape, does that mean consoles like the PS4 and Xbox 720 have no chance? Is all the posturing in the console wars pointless considering the popularity of iPads and Android phones?
According to former Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello, absolutely not. Riccitiello recently wrote a column for Kotaku in which he explained that while mobile gaming is certainly compelling and great, it's really quite different from the kinds of experiences players can have in front of their television.
"Mobile and console scratch different itches," he wrote. "Satisfy a very different hunger. Mobile is here to stay. But, I firmly believe that after eight long years of waiting, we're all ready for the next generation of consoles to bring us to a new frontier of immersive gaming."
Riccitiello is clearly bullish on gaming's future, but he still understands that there's no guarantee the PS4 and Xbox 720 become successful. In addition to getting the prices right and ensuring that consoles are widely available (no more artificially inflating demand when other options are abundant), he said that Sony and Microsoft need to remember why they're here.
"The first and most obvious of these pitfalls is if Sony or Microsoft forgets who brought them to the dance in the first place. Gamers. I certainly see the temptation to emphasize all sorts of experiences that these boxes might bring to the living room," Riccitello said. "These new machines can do a lot. The risk is that either or both of the new platforms emphasize these 'value-add' experiences too much, both in the user interface on the consoles themselves, or in the story they tell consumers when they unleash their avalanche of advertising."
Focus on the games and the buyers will come. After all, we already know game consoles are capable of more than simply playing games. The Xbox 360 and PS3 both offer music services and others like Netflix, so naturally their successors will, too. What the companies need to focus on are video games, and ensuring that players are getting interesting experiences unavailable elsewhere.
Sony seems like it understands this. The PS4 is a highly capable console, but the company is choosing to focus on getting developers onboard instead of touting the "living room box" aspects of the console. Microsoft will reveal the Xbox 720 for the first time shortly, so it'll be interesting to see how it chooses to present its vision for the future.