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A Brief Study in Competitive Console Evolution

As game designers and programmers, we need to understand the console and gaming market and its constant evolution. The competition in the video game market is only becoming more intense, and there are new contenders in the field.

Since the death of the Atari 2600, consoles have been viciously competing for market share. In recent years, the addition of mobile gaming and independent consoles has made the console market even fiercer.


Mobile gaming is now a strong competitor for market share

A Brief History of the Video Game Console

Video games originated with arcade games, moved to video game consoles and only then transitioned to personal computers. In fact, the first game console -- the Magnavox Odyssey -- was released in 1972, a full five years before home computers reached the main stream. Video game consoles were initially designed as a type of home arcade.

Generations of video game consoles have come and gone since then. Technology has "crashed" multiple times -- in 1977 and 1983 -- due to obsolete technology, low quality games and internal company issues. Each generation has usually had only three to four major players. Our current console generation is dominantly comprised of the Sony Playstation, the Microsoft Xbox and the Nintendo Wii.

The 3 Major Contenders: The Playstation, Xbox and Wii

As of May 2014, the Playstation 4 has shown itself to be the most popular console by far. 8.1 million Playstation 4 consoles have been sold, compared to 6.3 million Wii U consoles and 4.5 Xbox ONE consoles.

Playstation managed to gain a significant lead against the Xbox ONE due to pricing issues, as well as delays that prevented the Xbox ONE from being sold in some international markets for some time. The Wii U, however, has proven to be the surprise second horse of the race -- a family and party-focused console with an emphasis on more casual gaming.

Market Disruption by Mobile Games and Independent Consoles

However, the Big 3 consoles aren't the only ones that are in this race. Mobile games -- games played on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets -- have become very popular among the casual gaming set. Mobile games have a farther reach than console-based games because so many people have smartphones. Using the Statista statistics, a total of 18.9 million Big 3 consoles have been sold. In comparison, 500 million iPhones have been sold. Android phones number far greater.


All gaming market venue is increasing, but mobile and PC gaming is topping the charts (Source)

In addition to mobile phones, independent consoles have also come to market. The Steam Machine, being released later in 2014, will let gamers stream and play PC games directly on their home entertainment system -- just like a console. As today's Big 3 consoles are essentially small computers, they are steadily being rendered seemingly obsolete.

Kickstarter-backed Ouya was one of the earliest generations of indie console and managed to sell a total of 58,000 consoles on pre-orders alone. While this may seem minimal, it was a ground-breaking effort at the time -- somewhat botched via implementation.

Gaming Division: A Question of Genre

However, console competition lines are not delineated only by popularity, convenience and success -- but also by genre. Different types of game tend to be more popular on different platforms, and this is very likely to continue.

For casual, fun games on mobile phones and tablets, card games like mobile poker applications like Full Tilt and puzzle games like Match 3 games, such as Candy Crush, tend to be more popular. For mobile phones and tablets, many consumers look to games that they can play and finish quickly.

For consoles, engaging social games like Call of Duty and sports games such as the FIFA series have become dominant. Shooters are also very popular on consoles. The Wii is a bit of a different case; social and party games are more popular on this platform.

Finally, adventure games and RPGs tend to be more popular on the PC, such as the Mass Effect and the Elder Scrolls series; this is because the amount of inventory manipulation, dialog and commands required in adventure games and RPGs tend to be prohibitively difficult on a console.

The Future of the Gaming Console: A Full Experience

The core problem is that traditional consoles such as the Playstation 4, Xbox ONE and Nintendo Wii are quickly becoming obsolete. Thus, they are adding new features such as motion capture, gesture and voice mostly in an effort to remain relevant; otherwise, they are merely computers with custom software. Other technology, such as Oculus Rift, are being explored to make games more engaging -- and thus be able to compete with the PC gaming market.


A peek at new generation consoles

In the future, consoles will likely become more comprehensive gaming systems, utilizing multiple methods of player input and interaction. However, it's likely that many people will still occasionally reach to their mobile devices for a fun, casual experience.

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