A little while back I wrote about the video game medium’s problem with preservation. Mainly that it’s very bad at it.
Then CES came along with dual reveals: Valve’s Steam Machines and Sony’s PlayStation Now, two ideas that could change how we access our games. Both companies teased their respective “solutions” for a while now. Both will endure slow roll outs plagued with doubt. Both have faced plenty of raised eyebrows already. But what if both could be the beginning of some very interesting stuff down the line?
I mean, once PlayStation Now gets going (Sony said a beta will start “later this month”), it will let you play PlayStation, PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 games on pretty much any Sony device — the PlayStation 4, phones, tablets, you name it. It already represents a vital step in the right direction.
Going back to my Final Fantasy V for Android piece, wherein I lament the video game industry’s lackadaisical preservation skills, the comparisons I made between games and movies insofar as “ease of access” are concerned do have a bit of false equivalence. Movies and TV shows have the benefit of being linear media. They don’t have to worry about the strange architectural and input issues that video games have to deal with. You can only play Project Justice on a Dreamcast (or poorly-coded emulator, cue the canned laughs) with a controller, whereas you can watch George Clooney go nuts in Solaris on almost anything with a screen.
However, movies and TV shows are undergoing a distribution revolution, and that might help clear up how we’ll play games much further down the line. You can access streaming services like Netflix from a lot of different places through a lot of different devices. Looking at what Sony’s doing right now, and what OnLive tried to do some years ago, having access to a game and being able to play it on anything you own is just a thing that will happen sooner or later. That could be a new standard.
That doesn’t mean consoles will disappear in the near future, but they will definitely be different from how they are right now. Valve’s SteamOS is a step in that direction. SteamOS, as we see with the 14 recently announced Steam Machines, could function as the backbone of all kinds of console-like devices, in addition to regular old PCs. Consoles with more standard architecture, like the PlayStation 4, make it easy to implement stuff like that while retaining unique input devices like your Dual Shock 4 and Kinects. We’ll see traditional consoles stick around for a long time while also providing that new backbone functionality.
It will be nice to be able to play a game on any SteamOS device and/or PlayStation Now-enabled device you own by just having to log in. In order to play a friend’s or family member’s games you will be able to use something like Valve’s Steam Family Sharing, currently in beta. That will allow users to lend their entire game libraries to ten users across ten different machines. More devices will likely go in that direction in the future.
And no matter what happens Nintendo isn’t going anywhere despite the doomsaying I see on Twitter and elsewhere. Even if traditional consoles disappear as we know them in the future, they can still make special input devices for whatever everyone ends up using, be they GamePad-like things or something else.
And of course, handheld consoles like Nintendo’s 3DS and Sony’s Vita will stick around even longer because, for usability purposes, smartphones can’t have so many game-specific physical buttons. Until they can do exactly what dedicated handheld consoles can do right now, as far as physical buttons go, they’ll never replace them.
Essentially, we’re headed for an open future with even more choice than we have now in how we play our games and what we play our games on. Everyone who sticks around will adapt accordingly, one way or another.