The trends of environment appears to affect console sales more than hardware trends or gaming trends. Strangely, discussions revolve around the ‘hardware’ and ‘where games are going’ (where are they going? Oh where?).
This is most readily seen in the handheld consoles. The handheld console sales change drastically depending on the environment the gamer is in. In Japan, they ride trains more and are out and about. This different environment in Japan is largely responsible for handheld game consoles dominating the market there. In the United States, most people drive. The only time people will have for a handheld game console would be children being dragged to places by their mother. Handheld console gaming is associated with kids mostly in the United States because of this.
When we look at the Eighth Generation of Home Consoles, let us look at the trend of the living room as that will have the most serious effect. Since the PS4 and Xbox 720 haven’t shown anything off yet, we are just left with the previous generation and Wii U.
In 2005, both Microsoft and Sony declared each other the target and the living room was to be the prize. They wanted to take over your living room. If Sony put a Blu-Ray player in their PS3, that means Microsoft had to put out a HD-DVD. Both companies wanted the game console to be the ‘main hub’ or ‘brain’ for all media in the living to connect. Both offered movies and TV shows. If living room entertainment was trending digital, then they wanted to be the platform for all non-gaming entertainment as well as gaming.
But what neither Microsoft or Sony anticipated were the new trends of the living room. The home game console’s “power” over the living room was that it was the computer that connected to the TV. And with the move to HDs, it was a safe bet that the TV would remain expensive. What no one expected was the massive drop in the price for screens.
Today, there are screens everywhere. There is a TV screen on your iPhone. Another is on your tablet. Your music player has a screen. Everything has a screen now. Controlling the main television no longer means controlling the living room. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft and Sony adapt their strategy to this.
Screens everywhere present a more hostile environment for the dedicated home game console. Instead of the game console competing against other game consoles and television and movies, it now must compete against the Internet with its Youtube and various other media located on tablets and all. The biggest problem is that the television can be used to watch while people use their tablet on the side. The tablet ends up becoming more useful since it isn’t competing with the TV. The game console, however, is.
The Wii U isn’t a tablet, but it is definitely co-opting the job that the ‘screen-everywhere’ devices are doing. We won’t be able to properly judge the Wii U until a month once it has been in homes. The question is not how does the player interact with the game console (as it was with Wii) but how does the Wii U fit with the living room constellation of devices? The huge advantage ‘screen-everywhere’ devices had of being able to be used while the TV was being used by someone else is now gone.
You might hear some people say the ‘play on controller’ is the feature they are most looking forward to with the Wii U. Believe it, reader. While I’m a bachelor and this ‘sharing a TV’ is foreign to me, it is a big deal to these people in their mission to keep peace in the household. When you babysit bratty children who fight over the game console, the Wii U allows someone to play on the controller while someone to do something else.
The Wii U is fitting the trend of the living room. It is not fighting it. I wouldn’t be surprised that once people have a Wii U in their homes, they become more passionate about the little console because it performs this job. Keep in mind that many DS systems were used in the living room. I expect Wii U to even cannibalize 3DS sales because the Wii U performs that ‘living room handheld’ job as well.
So in the midst of talking about hardware trends and ‘where gaming is going’ trends, let us not forget about living room trends. The living room of 2012 is not the same as 2006 or earlier. And living room entertainment no longer revolves around a giant television set.
Unless you’re a bachelor. And if you’re a bachelor, you wouldn’t be interested in Nintendo’s ‘family friendly’ games anyway.