Last Friday, Microsoft confirmed that Project Scorpio, a refresh of its Xbox One gaming console, will be revealed at the E3 this June.
Much like Sony’s Playstation 4 Pro that released last November, Scorpio hopes to win over gamers with substantially enhanced graphics power and compatibility with existing games. Thanks to a beefier processor and larger and faster system memory, Scorpio is rumored to be capable of playing at 4K resolution.
Gamers and hardware enthusiasts will soon be obsessing over performance numbers and screenshot comparisons. Such speculation misses the point. Scorpio — and the new Playstation, for that matter — represents a swan song for the gaming industry, a fleeting shimmer of hope in the inevitable death of the home console.
The console market is shrinking. For years, sales have been on a long, continuous decline.
Video games, however, are more popular than ever. Mobile gaming is where the growth is occurring and its revenue is projected to soon surpass that of traditional console gaming. The future belongs not to the Xbox and the Playstation, but to the iPad and the iPhone. Today’s children know Angry Birds and Clash of Clans, not Super Mario Brothers and Sonic the Hedgehog.
Console gamers can rant all they want about their “hardcore” platform of choice, but the advantages of mobile gaming are clear. Consumers value playing wherever and whenever they want on devices they already own. Mobile gaming means gaming for everyone, not just a select few with expensive machines.
Besides the new competition, there’s a deeper reason behind the decline of consoles. They simply aren’t innovative enough anymore.
Until now, each generation of consoles has been defined by a host of revolutionary new features. The Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 sported high-definition graphics and online multiplayer. Today, the selling points of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One are ... even higher-definition graphics and social media-enabled gaming. Fundamentally, nothing has changed. The consoles aren’t wowing us anymore — they’re rehashes of what gamers already had.
Gaming consoles have worked themselves into a corner. What new technologies on the horizon would befit a new golden age of console gaming?
Motion controls? Nintendo’s Wii struck gold with its unique, intuitive Wiimote controls at an affordable price, but it’s an anomaly in a long-running trend of declining Nintendo console sales. Meanwhile, the camera-based motion controls developed by Sony and Microsoft have not proved nearly as popular.
Virtual reality? Nintendo tried over 20 years ago with the Virtual Boy and failed miserably. Nobody seems to be sure how exactly the technology could enhance the gaming experience. Every year has been declared the year of virtual reality, but every year, it fails to catch on.
No wonder mobile gaming is taking off. The consoles are stagnant and going nowhere fast. Project Scorpio only promises prettier graphics — in other words, more of the same. Gamers will continue to see new and refreshed consoles like Scorpio, but don’t expect any game changing innovations.
The decline of the gaming console marches on. And someday, far into the future, it will feel as obsolete as the neighborhood arcade.
Young is a computer science junior from Bakersfield, California. He is a columnist.