The End of Games Consoles

Rumours are growing that we'll see a new version of the Xbox by the end of the year, the current model has been with us since 2005 so it's probably due an overhaul, although some of the update may relate to what Microsoft plans to do with it as a platform, rather than simply to improve the hardware (I've written before about how Microsoft could own the living room).

An interesting developing the arena of games consoles is the emergence of Android-powered gaming devices, the likes of the OUYA and the GameStick. One argument for them seems to be about opening up gaming, which is often a closed platform controlled by the device's manufacturer. The rise of gaming on phones and tablets certainly shows a relatively low-powered device can happily do the job (just look at the video showing the prototype of the GameStick in action) and app stores democratize distribution, allowing tiny developers to compete with the biggest, Android's open nature also guarantees there is no lock-down.

The GameStick is hoping to retail at $79 (£50) while the OUYA, which has better specs, is available for pre-order at $99 (£62). The days of a single-function games machine retailing at several hundred pounds appear over. (To be fair, the PS3 and Xbox 360 do more than just play games and are now available for under £200.) In fact, as broadband speeds improve (and more importantly latency decreases) will the next generation of consoles be the last?

Are we going to simply game through our TVs or cheap 'thin client' devices and use cloud gaming services to do the heavy lifting? Instead of queuing for the latest release and paying £40+ per title, will we just subscribe, pay on demand or even play for free with advert-sponsored sessions? The Android-powered consoles are showing that relatively low-power hardware is capable of good graphics and complex gaming and the chips that run them are improving at such a rate that waiting six or seven years between releasing hardware could see more powerful consoles overtaken by the 'low-end' processors anyway.

3D hasn't proven a draw, even to gamers, and everything seems able to handle full HD output. There's no point supporting super HD yet as nothing can show it, so it's only now the software franchises that would keep people interested in the next gen of high-priced hardware, unless they can think of another trick to tie people in. The end may well be nigh.

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