System Wars 1: The Death of the Console?

    This is the first in a series of three articles looking at the two main classes of gaming hardware (personal computers and gaming consoles) and what may happen now that consoles are becoming more and more like personal computers, and vice versa. In this first article, I will argue that the console will soon lose its role to the personal computer go away for good. In the second article, I will argue that the console will soon replace the consumer desktop computer. The third article will contain my ideas on how these two different platforms will continue to coexist in the future. Keep in mind that I do not necessarily agree with the arguments I present in the first two parts of this series. Not until part three will I give my own opinions. Ready? Then let us open the question of gaming?s future with the question of the console.

    Do I have a deal for you! I found an awesome little gaming PC the other day. This little guy features a solid, highly optimized, mid-range Pentium processor, an excellent video chip set, DVD drive, reasonable hard drive space, and is easily upgradeable for network gaming. With the network upgrade, this computer will cost you right around $250. Sound good? A lot of people think so. In fact, at one time, everyone who bought an XBox thought that way. Yes, that decent ?gaming PC? I just described is nothing other than the XBox. I could have used the Playstation 2 and written a similar review. All three of the top-of-the-line console systems have powerful hardware similar to what you would expect in a desktop computer. Two of the three will soon be able to act just like a desktop computer in just about every way that matters. With the console becoming so personal computer-ish, is there really a market for it?

    It does not look good for the console. The machine is ideally suited, in both form factor and price range, to morph into a control center for all home entertainment apparatus. The idea, though, seems to be a popular one. It works like this: all cables would run into the console, and with on screen menus you could program the VCR, configure the surround sound, order a movie off of HBO, pick an MP3 playlist, or any of the other things that can be done with any of the number of multimedia appliances that are common in most households. All the various media systems could be controlled centrally from the same machine. Since most consoles sit near TVs already, this type of function would seem to be ideal to make the console more than just a gaming box. But there is a problem with this happy scenario.

    The personal computer beat the console to the punch. Already systems equipped with Windows XP Media Center Edition are rolling out across the country. These boxes will do just about everything my hypothetical console could do. And there is no sign that the console will be competing in this arena in the near future. Microsoft is banking heavily on the Media Center capabilities of Windows XP, and no matter how poorly early versions may be received, it appears Microsoft is in the market to stay. It is very doubtful that any console would be able to displace HP/Compaq or Dell in the home media control center arena once these giants have had a year or so to operate. For the console, it will be too late.

    What is left for the console? We do not need it to be a weak personal computer. It has been beaten to the media control niche. There is no reason to believe that the personal computer will leave the gaming market, or that the console will ever hold a permanent performance advantage over personal computers in gaming. Is it really possible for this device to exist purely for gaming?

    It is possible, but not likely. As more and more titles are being ported to the personal computer from the console, it may be only a matter of time before the console disappears entirely. The personal computer will certainly not go away; the internet, digital video and photography, and instant communications will keep this machine around for a long time. It may make more financial sense for developers to write for the platform they know will always be around, rather than try to pick the winner in a crowded console market. Already the Dreamcast has fallen out of the picture. The XBox is losing money very rapidly, and may yet force Microsoft into stopping development and production of it. Rumors persist of the plans for the Playstation 3, but so far these rumors are only rumors. There is now little hard evidence that there will be new consoles being produced two years from today.

    Anyone who has a console today should not panic, however. The distant future may look bleak, but in the short term there is much to look forward to. Nor should the dedicated personal computer enthusiast be disheartened. With the console heading towards an inevitable demise, there will be more games than ever for the gamer to choose from. Should it go away, the console will not be the first piece of technology to fail, and it certainly will not be the last.

    Disclaimer: Salem’s Fire was written by Luke Blaize and hosted by diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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