Game Buzz is a weekly opinion column designed to take an irreverent look at one of the biggest news stories to break in the past week. Every Friday we’ll be bringing you another slice of reaction to topical gaming news, and inviting you to agree, disagree, shout assent, vent rage, scream and complain to you heart’s delight. This week, we take a look at Hideo Kojima's recent prophesying of platform unification under one remote console.
That little genius Hideo Kojima has been loudly pontificating once again, this time strangely twisting a question on why Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker ended up bound for the PSP to make a prophetic statement about the future of games consoles and how he believes that remote gaming and hardware unification will be the way forward.
Speaking at a press conference in Tokyo a few days ago celebrating the imminent release of the long-running series for Sony's handheld device, Kojima spoke of the traditional console’s doom:
“In the near future, we'll have games that don't depend on any platform. [...] Gamers should be able to take the experience with them in their living rooms, on the go, when they travel -- wherever they are and whenever they want to play. It should be the same software and the same experience.”
With Microsoft experimenting with cloud based system for Windows Azure and remote gaming services such as OnLive and GaiKai looming large on the horizon, you could be forgiven for thinking that Kojima might have a point. Perhaps Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft will sit down in a few years time over a pot of tea and finally hug it all out, putting past difference aside for the sake of gaming culture, allowing one and all to experience the very best games out there.
The words 'fat' and 'chance' spring to mind.
Kojima is pretty much the closest thing that gaming has to a demi-god and deserves a great deal of respect, but I for one can't see this happening any time soon, and this is really two big questions rolled into one: 1. Is remote gaming the future ? 2. Will we ever see brand unity?
Let's deal with the former question first. Digital distribution, arguably a precursor to remote gaming, is already beginning to come to the fore, that much is certain, but it is an expensive alternative at the moment to hard copy software. It shouldn't be, the cost of producing games on discs and cartridges is significantly more than that of offering downloadable services, but for some reason gamers aren't seeing that price difference. If anything at the moment it's completely the opposite way around with the PSN, XBL and Steam especially, guilty of some severe overcharging. One only has to look at the rather hostile reception to the PSPGo to witness the level of consumer scepticism and, in some cases, anger, when being told that the future is digital.
But remote gaming is not the same thing: the services offered by OnLive and GaiKai are based on monthly subscriptions to a library of titles. Based on the cloud computing system, games are synchronised, computed, rendered and stored on remote servers and delivered via rendered video to TV sets and monitors everywhere else. Basically, all you need to play any sort of game is a solid internet connection and video playing capabilities on your computer, or the OnLive MicroConsole if you want to hook things up to a TV.
With PCs able to process the information themselves anyway, this really is a simple console debate. OnLive is set to launch this summer but I foresee a few problems. The first is this: as a gamer I like to know what games I own. I bought them, they're mine to do with as I please. Even when it comes to digital distribution marketplaces, what you buy, you own. Putting faith in a remote server is akin to handing all of your save games over to someone you don't know, and there are going to have to be some pretty basic mandatory stipulations in the small print of that monthly contract to provide gamers with the peace of mind that's going to come with knowing that the FPS they've been busting through for the last month isn't suddenly going to disappear.
There are technical difficulties too to do with latency, bandwidth and video compression. Sending raw HD signals all over the internet would produce a bandwidth too high for most households, and whilst Japan and some of America might be able to boast exceptional internet services, those over here still leave much to be desired. At the very least you'd want your ISPs to be offering performance guarantees. Remote servers and cloud computing might point the way forward for gaming's future, but we're not there yet.
Of course, even if the technology allowed for mass distribution, and we shall have to wait and see if OnLive can deliver the goods on that one, there are still three big companies that would be likely to have something to say about the whole thing. Make no mistake, unification would be the last thing that any of the Big Three would want.
There's too much brand equity tied up in existing consoles for the hardware manufacturers to go down without a fight. It's clear that OnLive provides an attractive proposition for game publishers, and has managed to secure a number of publishing partners, but Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo make the majority of their money from third-party licensing fees, in Sony's case using that money to counterbalance the loss being made on essential hardware production, and it's difficult to see them moving away from that model.
Kojima's words about platform dependence are, I think slightly, misplaced. It is entirely conceivable that we shall see a certain amount of standardisation and it is with this in mind that Microsoft have taken the digital route rather than bowing to Blu-ray pressure, OnLive might indeed point towards the future for the Big Three, but the most likely scenario is that they'll simply assimilate technological progress into the next generation of consoles.
A single development standard would lower the costs of development considerably, and is far more likely than a unified single brand of console. The latter would be disastrous for the industry, it would kill consumer choice and be a step backwards for gaming. Competition is a healthy aspect of life, and it is no different with gaming: console rivalries force companies to innovate and speculate, to push boundaries and make risky steps forward into new, and often exciting, territory. The independent sector would suffer greatly as a result of a single gaming platform, as gaming favourite analyst Michael Pachter notes, 'Adoption increases with choice'.
Kojima is not alone in his altruism, and he'll certainly make a clear statement if his actions were to speak as loud as his words and he starts developing exclusively for OnLive, a remote (excuse the pun) possibility that was not lost on Sony Computer Entertainment Japan boss Hiroshi Kawano when he nervously said, "It's a bold prediction. We hope [Kojima] continues to develop for platforms, but we deeply respect his sense of taking on a challenge." But even if that does happen, and OnLive or one of its competitors does blossom into a platform to rival the Big Three, you can expect that they won't take it lying down and before long, there'll be a handful of 'microconsoles' to choose from down at your local Gamestation.
What do you guys think about Kojima's comments on the future of gaming? Will we ever see total platform standardisation? Is remote gaming a fad that will pass? Let us know you thoughts on the matter in the comments below...