Cantillon: Console makers need to up their game

Mobile, tablet and cloud-based gaming will pose a strong challenge to the Xbox and PlayStation

Workers arrange new Xbox game console boxes on stage during the midnight launch event in New York last Friday.  Photograph: Victor J Blue/Bloomberg

Workers arrange new Xbox game console boxes on stage during the midnight launch event in New York last Friday. Photograph: Victor J Blue/Bloomberg

 

In the early hours of this morning, the Sony PS4 symbol lit up the Liffey between O’Connell Bridge and Ha’Penny Bridge in Dublin.

This evening, 100 fans will try their hands at winning five of the new PlayStation consoles hours before the official launch. Over at GameStop Ireland, 350 gamers who have pre-ordered the new PS4 console gathered for an invite-only event at the firm’s Henry Street store for the midnight launch.

The hype surrounding tonight’s launch and that of Microsoft’s Xbox One earlier this month reflects not only the persistent level of interest in console gaming but also the resilience of these devices against the rise of alternatives.

When PS3 was launched in 2008 it seemed the device was on its last life, with Nintendo’s Wii capturing the public’s gaze thanks to its novel motion-sensing wireless controller. Meanwhile, the Xbox360 had been out a year, stealing a major slice of market share.

There are suggestions that the delay in launching the PS3 was down to the inclusion of a Blu-ray disc player, giving it more of a sense of home entertainment suite.

The new Sony console was set to become the gateway to all things digital. However, it seemed to arrive too early to the digital party; the other elements were not fully in place for the strategy to prosper. Meanwhile the Xbox’s devotion to pure gaming seemed to win it favour.

This time around it seems there has been a role reversal.

Sony is strongly pushing the PS4 as the ultimate gaming platform. Meanwhile, Microsoft with its Xbox One is now beating the all-in-one entertainment drum. It’s courting video content providers in major markets, with the ultimate plan being for the Xbox One to hook up with your TV and offer interactive programming, with the ability to change channels by voice control.

Despite the enthusiastic welcome for both devices and likely strong sales this Christmas, neither strategy seems foolproof. Consoles face strong challenges from the rise in mobile and tablet games, along with cloud-based gaming.

Console makers can take heart from the devoted gamers who loyally turn out for the launch parties, but a longer term strategy will be needed to map out a future for these devices against a range of new tech developments that seem ultimately destined to end the console game.