Next Generation Game Consoles Will Revive PC Gaming
By Olin Coles
Electronic video games have come a long way since the Golden Age of Video Arcades to become an industry generating nearly 1-trillion dollars in annual revenue (according to Gartner – 2011). Once video games made the leap from quarter-gobbling cabinets to console and later PC, home entertainment turned into big business. That business was dominated by the desktop PC platform for decades, later shared with Windows notebook computers. But once seventh-generation Sony PlayStation and Microsoft XBOX gaming consoles debuted, PC market share quickly diminished to a point where software developers were forced to shift platform priority. Now many years later, modern mobile devices such as SmartPhones and UltraBooks are poised to grab the market away from what little remains of the competition. As fate would have it, I believe PC gaming could be revived as a direct result of updated gaming console platforms such as the XBOX ONE and PlayStation 4.
It’s no secret that console systems have made desktop PCs a difficult proposition for new buyers, especially those who primarily use them for playing video games. Even some of those few remaining die-hard performance-hungry enthusiasts have a problem swallowing the pill with each new hardware launch, and seek refuge within the lengthy product lifecycle of the console platform. Making matters worse, video game developers are in this business to turn a profit and therefore favor the platform of choice among consumers – and that focus has been on game consoles for the past decade. This puts PC hardware manufacturers in an awkward position, as they’re forced to increase marketing efforts that help convince consumers they should buy new hardware to play the latest games – even when those games are coded to utilize outdated technology.
Most agree that high-performance hardware is only as impressive as the software designed to utilize it. Since gaming consoles demand so much developer attention, PC hardware manufacturers must discover ways to create market relevance. This means that while companies such as NVIDIA, AMD, and Intel may each produce impressive technologies for the PC platform, they must also generously support software developers with massive resources if they want their hardware features included. Battlefield 3 is an example of NVIDIA’s influence, which helped produce one of the most visually stunning games of recent time. PC gamers are keenly aware of the technologies relevant to their time as they actively seek the advantage of their features, such as DirectX 11 that was launched as part of Windows 7. So it’s understandably upsetting to have a blockbuster FPS game like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 debut with 2001-era DirectX 9 graphics simply because developers were interested in matching the performance profile of game consoles and not PC.
So you’re probably wondering: how does the next generation of consoles restore PC gaming? Consider that the Microsoft XBOX360 came to market on May 2005 (approaching seven years as of this writing), featuring an ATI/AMD Xenos graphics processor developed during a two-year period prior to launch. Sony’s PlayStation 3 debuted back on November 2006 with NVIDIA’s RSX ‘Reality Synthesizer’GPU based on their GeForce 7800 (NV47) architecture from June 2005. Unlike prior-generation consoles that maintained a five-year product lifecycle, these two examples are forging a ten-year cycle likely influenced by a slowed economy. The lack of official news regarding upcoming eighth-generation game consoles further supports this extended product cycle. Despite this, the details I’ve shared should illustrate that current-day graphics technology generally takes at least 1-2 years before they’re packaged into a gaming console, meaning that PC graphics technology announced in 2012 could realistically become integrated in the console of the future.
If you consider past historical evidence, it’s possible that 8th generation game consoles such as the Microsoft XBOX ONE or yet-to-be-announced Sony PlayStation 4 could potentially launch sometime in 2013-2015. If this estimation is accurate, then it’s also feasible to expect AMD Tahiti and NVIDIA Kepler graphics technology available in 2012 to also find its way into these new game consoles. Presuming this happens, the console gaming market could then promote DirectX 11 era graphics in their video games, and thus PC. It used to be that PC games were ‘ported’ to console, but now it’s exactly the opposite. PC gamers, regardless of preference for desktop or notebook platform, must patiently wait… for game consoles to make PC gaming better again.