So, if the personal computer will fail to drive the console out of our lives, as I argued in part one, and the console fails to remove the desktop computer as a part of the household, as I suggested in part two, then what is the future of household computing, and by extension of gaming?
First of all, a more realistic view of where the trends are heading. I do think the desktop is going to become less and less popular for the average home buyer. The price of laptops is falling, sales are rising, and the performance of most new laptops is more than enough to do what most average home users would want to do. Uses like burning CDs, playing a few games, wandering the internet and working from home do not take the latest and greatest systems available. Laptops can handle it, in an attractive and mobile package. Laptop sales are reflecting this. Even in the recent slump of technology sales, laptops have remained a fairly bright spot. While laptops may not totally replace the desktop in the realms of education or business, I do not see why the trend towards increased home use of these compact wonders will change substantially over the next few years.
That is not to say the desktop will vanish. If nothing else, we gamers will keep this machine around. The idea of all games moving to consoles is ridiculous. Imagine trying to play Starcraft with a controller instead of a keyboard. After the failure of Diablo on console, I would hate to see someone try to port Diablo II. When I say “First Person Shooter,” most people I know immediately say “Quake.” That is a PC title, not console. In short, there are far too many genres of games where keyboards and mice are almost undeniably better than gamepads. Moving entirely to consoles would not be good news for any of these genres, or the companies, like Blizzard, that publish in them. It is hard to see any of those companies making such a radical change when there would be every reason to believe it could negatively impact the bottom line. Beside the almost certain continued availability of games, desktop towers have another major factor in their favor. Nothing is as upgradable as a tower. Nothing is as tweakable as a tower. There is an entire subculture dedicated to the overclocking and cooling of computers. There is an industry that is built around providing such nifty and utterly useless products as fans with LEDs and cathode ray tubes that plug into a standard computer power supply. For some reason, consoles do not seem to capture the imagination in quite the same way. As long as their are new video cards to install and better benchmark scores to obtain, the tweakable tower will never die.
So if the typical home user is trending towards the laptop, and the gamer and power user will keep the desktop, where will the console fit in? Why, right by your TV set, of course. And from that niche it will continue to handle a vast array of pretty decent games, as well as a variety of multimedia applications. Yes, the console will be the media center of the future. The argument I made for that future in Part 2 of this article still holds in Part 3. It makes a great deal too much sense. The success of TiVo-like units shows there is a market for the digital recording of TV shows. Many new stereo systems have large LCD displays anyway, and could benefit from a TV screen and an improved input device on a console. Digital music is surging, and will soon pass CDs as way music is delivered to the masses. One box makes more sense than three or four separate boxes. This box could be a PC. My PC is already handling all these roles, and so is the computer of thousands of other people, judging by the sales of video capture cards. However, I think the console is much better suited for multimedia uses. It is already nicely situated near the TV, has the capability to handle all these functions, including internet access, and should remain at a nice price. I really do not see surfing the internet on a TV screen catching on, but who knows. Some people may never need a computer, so the option is at least a nice one to have.
So, where does this leave gaming? In good shape. The next generation of consoles looks to have amazing capabilities. The next generation of personal computers promise to have 64-bit processors, a development which may have huge implications. Eventually, games will sort themselves out into those that are good for consoles, and those that need a keyboard and mouse and the better visuals of a computer monitor. Right now, I would guess sports games and some shooters will stay with consoles. Strategy will belong to the PC, and so will some shooters, depending on the developer. RPGs I think will settle on the PC, given the lackluster success of most RPGs on the console. Certainly the fact that some developers are choosing to make console games over computer games is nothing to worry about. Warcraft III selling that well that quickly surprised a lot of people. Once again, money talks, and Warcraft III generated large sums of money in a hurry.
If there is any major change looming in the realms of gaming this year, I think it will be in the console market, and related to the XBox. Looking at the numbers, the XBox is in trouble. It is losing money, having a hard time finding exclusive games, and not selling as well as Microsoft had hoped. The struggles of the XBox are a large part of why I think the console becoming a media center is inevitable. Microsoft will have to do something to set the XBox 2 apart.
Selling a Media Center Edition should do the job.
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.