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How likely is Kojima's dream of a console-less future?

So Metal Gear Solid Director Hideo Kojima has been talking up the idea of a console-less future. A future free of platforms and competing exclusives, where every man and woman is free to play whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want, as bees softly buzz and deer frolic in the meadows.

But how likely is it? This kind of thing has been mooted almost since gaming began, but we still don’t have it. But could we? Do we even want to? Here’s a run-through of the current options and possibilities.

Cloud-based gaming

This is the current main direction championed by the no-consoles brigade. Games that are run on remote servers which simply relay the video output of your controller input back to your screen via a broadband connection. There’s no processing going on in your room, so all you need is a monitor or TV and a way of interacting with the game.

The up-side: It’s massively versatile in terms of the hardware you can use. There’s no need to buy a new console or upgrade your PC every few years. A bog-standard computer or a cheap, dedicated web-device should be all you’ll ever need. And by extension, a portable device with a decent wi-fi connection should bring about the ‘any game, anywhere’ dream rather well indeed.

The down-side: There’s no real physical sense of ownership with any of the games you buy. Yes, you could own the rights to a game, as you do on Steam, but for some of us nothing will ever replace the tactile joy of having a big stack of boxes showing off our collection on a shelf. Also, you can probably forget modding, as all games are held and maintained on the servers, with not a bit of code available in your home. Good for updates, bad for community. Also, if you’ve got a piss-poor internet connection, you’re probably boned.

Plus, with two services (OnLive and Gaikai) competing already, you can forget any ideas of a caring, sharing, single platform dream. Console exclusives might become a thing of the past, but you can be sure as hell that any streaming platform available will be doing deals with publishers from day one.

Quake Live

id’s recent-ish foray into free-to-play fragging can be seen as a version of this sort of thing. Operating as a browser plug-in available via free download, you can play Quake 3 Arena’s deathmatch on any computer with a half-decent ‘net connection.

The plus-side: It’s Quake 3! It’s free! So the growth of the community is potentially exponential.

The down-side: That community won’t be able to mod or customise things anything like they can with the original game. And although Quake Live is free-to-play (supported by in-game ads) and could theoretically be adapted for a whole bunch of devices, it’s still limited by hardware. Anyone not using a sit-down, keyboard-and-mouse set-up would be at a definite disadvantage. And although the idea of free games as browser plug-ins is a nice one, Quake 3 gets away with it by being an old game, and thus playable on any aged rig. If we accepted this model as the mainstream way to play games, we could say goodbye to our much-loved mega-eyecandy.

Browser games

If you’ve ever heard of Facebook, you know about these. You’re spammed with details of your friends’ achievements every single day. But it’s not all Farmville. There are loads of games out there running through their own in-page web portals, and with the addition of iPhone apps a lot of them are fully portable.

The plus side: A huge variety of stuff is available, often exploring design ideas too niche or weird to ever make it on the mainstream store shelves. Phone compatibility also means that you never need to be without them, and lengthy multiplayer games can be drawn out at your leisure.

The down-side: These sort of games are still kind of limited by technology and developer budget, so what you gain in freedom of use, you lose in complexity. Also, certain browser games are so all-consuming they’ll become your lord and master within days. As explained in a certain tale from this week’s TalkRadar UK.

A single, unified hardware platform

The most ambitious idea, this one, and it’s rarely been attempted. One standardised set of gaming hardware, licensed out to manufacturers, with all games running off the same technical specifications. No more fanboy wars over horsepower. No more platform holders. Throw in a hand-held portable with some kind of remote-play facility and you’re pretty much sorted.

The plus-side: See all of the above.

The downside: No-one would ever accept it. The current platform holders would do the right deals to smash it out of the market within a year of release, and eventually gamers will demand a hardware jump. If a rival company brought one out first and marketed it right, it would be lights-out in no time. 3DO? Yeah? Yeah. 

19 comments

  • DavidELDiablo - April 8, 2010 4:15 p.m.

    Also since "Cloud-based" gaming is based on a remote server, if that server crashed then there would be no games to play and millions of people would be very, very angry/
  • SonicX_89 - April 8, 2010 4:36 p.m.

    A universal console sounds good on paper, but I don't think It will ever happen. Also, I don't think I want it to happen.
  • Imgema - April 8, 2010 5:14 p.m.

    cloud gaming sounds terrible. What if a game you like becomes old or obsolete? Will it still be available in the server? I still have the original Dungeon Keeper disc and i can play this classic whenever i want, no matter how many years will pass. Or, What if you don't have enough money to pay for your internet connection for a while? How will you be able to play the games you already bought without internet connection anyway? Also, not every gamer in the world has a fast internet connection. At least most Steam games can be played in offline mode in case you don't have access to the internet. And of course paying for the right to play a game isn't the same thing as paying to actually own a game.
  • saamimatloob - April 8, 2010 5:19 p.m.

    I dont like any of the above possibilities , as i would like a game to be with mod it and other than if there is a single platform , there would'nt really be much innovation as competition will lack. I like browser games but they are not the same.
  • nitefall04 - April 8, 2010 5:26 p.m.

    I prefer consoles to PC. Always have and I always will. Also, not enough people in the country have a broadband connection. It was only available in my area in late 2008. There are still millions that wouldn't be able to take advantage of Cloud based gaming. Plus Cloud is very flawed if you think about it.
  • oryandymackie - April 8, 2010 6:42 p.m.

    Why would you want to get rid of consoles? It's ridiculous - God knows Kojima's just wanting some attention. And if the evil rule of consoles is thwarted, where is he going to go?
  • DeadGirls - April 8, 2010 7:41 p.m.

    Imagine a console that could play ANY game... Imagine if it was 100% modular so you could take it apart and replace any piece you wanted, and that the hardware was widely available at competitive prices... Imagine if it had a nearly infinite number of optional peripherals and input devices... Imagine if game developers could develop games for it for free... Imagine if there were no extra fees to take the system online, on top of your internet bill... Imagine if it was powerful enough to do SO MUCH more than just play games... Now imagine if, as of right now, 3/4 homes ALREADY had one or more of these consoles! Yeah, it is called a PC. The only thing separate gaming platforms do is fill the greedy pockets of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. Developers DO NOT benefit from having to either focus on one market or waste time porting their game to different systems. We gamers DO NOT benefit from having to shell out for an overpriced toy-computer, or wait (possibly indefinitely) for a game we want to play to be available. Don't feed corporate greed, learn how to use your PC, learn how to get the most out of it for games, and you will come to understand how INCREDIBLY SUPERIOR it is. Seriously, its like the difference between owning a Formula1 race car and owning a gocart.
  • JohnnyMaverik - April 8, 2010 8:24 p.m.

    Yea, it's called a pc... one day we'll kill all of you consoletards, then we'll see who EA want to offer Dead Space 2 to -_-
  • Felixthecat - April 8, 2010 9:29 p.m.

    Lulz PC fanboy's. Console's will never die. So many people play them and with all these newbies buying Wii's and playing Wii Sport's all the time will mean that they will want more, and that mean's that they will want another console, and so on. Of course, all we have to hope for is that games like Wii Sport's don't overthrow the entire industry and leave Guerilla factions of true gamers.
  • Cyberninja - April 8, 2010 9:56 p.m.

    heres the problems with pcs. 1.to be able to play better games you have to keep spending money to upgrade 2.pcs can have tons of virus and problems consles makers would deal with quickly. 3.if you dont have your own personal computer only you use your mom will be playing farmville too much for you to have time to play a game as large as FFXIII. 4. thanks to ubisoft now if you dont have internet some games you cant take on the go if you have a laptops. 5.your gaming set up is not something its easy to take on the go like a handheld or be able to set up easily at a party for different people to play like a consle 6.if your computer breaks your out of the money you spent on it and games if you only download games like on steam.
  • TheGreatStone - April 8, 2010 10:39 p.m.

    @ Cyberninja 1. My computer is pretty dated and I haven't upgraded for about two years. I'm running Bad Company 2 just fine (though it isn't as pretty as it could be) 2. PCs only get a ton of virus problems if you use Limewire to download porn. You would be more correct in saying that, due to slight hardware differences and the millions of options and settings in software, PCs have some game compatibility issues -- most of which are solved quickly by game devs, not Microsoft 3. Uh... replace your XBoxStation9000 with your own personal computer? 4. You can't take your Xbox on the go at all. 5. A computer has extra peripherals, like a mouse and a keyboard. It isn't a stretch to think of hooking a PC up to a television. 6. You don't make sense here. Steam doesn't care about your computer, your account will still have the games.
  • gopikmin - April 9, 2010 12:12 a.m.

    a consoleless future is much like communism. Looks good on paper but it is/ will be implented horribly recaptcha: swine benefit'
  • DeadGirls - April 9, 2010 1:34 a.m.

    @JohnnyMaverik- I'd actually prefer to 'convert' (or upgrade) them to PC gamers. Some console gamers grow up and play games on the PC. @Felixthecat- The way you feel about Wii Sports "newbies". Is very similar to the way PC gamers feel about Xbox360/PS3 players. That is, partially excited that they want to share our hobby but partially irritated that they are so popular.
  • 4fromK - April 9, 2010 4:19 a.m.

    quake live should really be under browser based games, as technically it is browser based even though you have to download a small client. and also, I see no reason why the modding scene would die down in this game; theres already been talk of holding mapmaking competitions once the game is out of beta.
  • philipshaw - April 9, 2010 10:47 a.m.

    I don't like the sound of cloud gaming, what if your net connection drops, we already seen what it meant for AC2 DRM on the PC
  • pin316 - April 9, 2010 1:43 p.m.

    always with the pc vs consoles...not everybody is rich/lucky enough to be able to afford to spend that much on hardware every year, plus i like being able to just power on and play. i love my console but not to the point that I wouldn't be up for cloud gaming if it came along succesfully, if nothing else it would stop the annoyingness that regardless of which console you own, there will always be awesome games you can't play. however, until either the Uk gets it's act sorted out with a network infrastructure that doesn't belong to the 50's, or i move to a country with decent universal connection, no thanks...
  • GamesRadarWannabe - April 9, 2010 2:57 p.m.

    haha pc gamers callin it their hobby! not wantin to start a war here but thats a bit ridiculous. anyway nothing will change, games downloaded from steam or Live will become more populor but i cant see consoles becoming obselete.
  • Sabtos - April 10, 2010 2:14 a.m.

    You totally forgot a more logical approach such as the path of PCs, TVs, cell phones, etc. The tech to play a game (downloaded or bought on some sort of disc or memory device) on any type of device without losing any of its integrity. This seems the best option. You're really just your own enemy if you want consoles to continue to be the gaming norm in the future. I've recently submitted a suggestion to Sony Suggestions about being able to connect to the PS3 from anywhere on the globe and play any of your games using your PSP, but they'd have to change the controls (i.e. with an attachment). You can ALREADY connect to your PS3 and use an extremely limited amount of software but I think they already have the technology to go all the way. I mean today, not "in the not too distant future." This is really not even the way of the future, it's the way it should be now and the only reason it doesn't exist is because the major companies in control are already making so much money and they have a lot of power and influence and are frankly intimidating. With OnLive coming, hopefully they shatter the whole status quo and shake things up to the point that afterwards, there will be no consoles. This is not utopian, this is not a dream, this will be reality, and if the current console manufacturers do not create it, they will be forced out of the market by someone who will. How can anyone not understand this? There are only 3 companies out there producing consoles. THREE. WTF else out there in the world only has three competitors in a multi-billion dollar market? (I'm not an economist, so really, tell me). When there is a tech that anyone can develop games for, games that can be accessed and purchased by anyone, this tech will be utilized by any and every hardware company out there and there will be just as many types of "consoles" as there are types of cell phones, making the concept of the non-evolving, single company console/platform really obsolete. And the person that first develops the tech that allows this will easily be the next richest person(s) in the world.
  • R_U_Guys_From_British - April 10, 2010 3:44 p.m.

    F**k kojima, every developer out there has some assumption of what gaming's future will be, and it probably will be nothing like all these predictions anyway. ReCaptcha: movement giggle. The first project natal launch game?

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