This year’s range of HDTVs from pretty much every manufacturer have a common theme – the ability to download applications, from weather widgets to video games. Surely then it’s only a matter of time before the flat panel TV replaces the games console completely? Mark from Kotaku and I debate the possibility that in the future, you’ll spend more time gaming through your TV than your Playstation…
NICK: *Sniff, sniff* You smell that, Mark? That pungent odour wafting through the air that gives you goosebumps? That’s the smell of change, and it’s headed your way. Because the inevitable has just been laid out before us – within the next five years or so, the humble flat panel TV is going to become the de facto gaming console of choice.
I know, as the gaming guy, you’re destined to disagree with me, but all you have to do is look at what’s happening in the TV market to know that I’m right. Last year, TVs made like Skynet and got connected, with the vast majority of quality panels offering built in ethernet or WiFi connectivity. This year, the trend has taken a huge step forward with LG, Samsung and Panasonic all offering their own app stores, where customers can download games (and other apps) to play using the TV’s remote control. While the games on offer today are still rudimentary, it’s only a matter of time before developers begin to push the boundaries and create engaging gaming experiences that can be played without the need for a dedicated console.
MARK: Well, Nick. Funnily enough, Fox News just ran a story saying the precise thing. ‘Will Nintendo’s Next Console Be The Last Of Its Kind’ ran the shlock inducing headline.
“Consoles are a thing of the past,” said Avid Gamer/Son of Fox News producer Mark Ormond.
“Gaming will move to the cloud,” said ‘outspoken’ gaming analyst Michael Pachter.
Reading beyond the hyperbole, the one thing we can all be sure of is that we’re in a transition phase when it comes to the manner in which we purchase and consume games.
What I am sure of, however, is the fact that neither LG, Panasonic or Samsung will produce app stores that become definitive game platforms in their own right. I can 100% guarantee that right now.
Firstly, these companies do not understand games. They do not understand a gaming audience, but more importantly, the games these services are offering aren’t coming close to offering the level of experience that aging home consoles have been providing for over six years now.
NICK: Hey! Way to deliver an uppercut to the gonads, comparing my claims to Fox News. Shame on you, Serrels. Shame. But you know what? You're right. Those particular companies don't understand games. But what they do understand is money. Cold, hard cash. And the road to TV gaming is paved in virtual gold, my friend. If you don't believe me, take a quick look at Apple's financials for the last quarter, which is a pretty good indication of what's possible with a vibrant app ecosystem. Also worth taking note of is the fact that gaming is worth more than $2 billion in Australia alone.
If the dollar argument isn't enough to convince you, then consider this: What's next for TV manufacturers? Unlike console makers, TVs are updated annually, and sometimes even more frequently than that. Every generation of LCD and plasma has to offer something new to try and persuade consumers to upgrade. For so many years, those annual upgrades were focussed around improving picture quality, but today we've reached a point where picture quality is pretty damn impressive, even on the cheaper sets. So manufacturers have started looking at alternate revenue streams by dabbling in content. Pushing for more engaging games to be offered directly through the TV will allow manufacturers to boost the hardware over the coming years so they can handle more advanced gaming experiences.
Consoles aren't going to disappear entirely - at least not in the short term - but they are going to find themselves competing with the convenience of games being delivered directly through the television.
MARK: I think you make a decent point there – if your Panasonics and Samsungs try hard enough, they might manage to sway less dedicated games away from their consoles. That’s totally viable – but I think another point you make is equally as important:
“Every generation of LCD and plasma has to offer something new to try and persuade consumers to upgrade.”
HDTVs are almost ubiquitous. Chances are the kind of casual tech user these app stores are aimed at are not on the cusp of technology, they’re not early adopters. Chances are they already own a HDTV, they might have just purchased one in the last year or so. Convincing this market to pick up a new TV for a handful of derivative games and slightly deeper blacks is the epitome of the hard sell.
Point being – most early adopters tend be core gamers. This is most likely not the market Panasonic and Samsung have the ability to pitch at. The casual gamers they dowant to pitch at probably have no interest in spending another $4000 on a TV when they just upgraded.
NICK: But if Nintendo has taught us anything at all in recent years, it's that core gamers only make up a small percentage of gamers overall. It isn't core gamers who buy the Wii Fit and do yoga on a set of scales, it's the mums and dads who don't think of the Wii as gaming.
Actually, the Wii is probably the best possible starting point for comparison of what to expect from these TV games - Less than stellar graphics, coupled with a novel controller system. LG have even gone so far as to create a remote control that works exactly like a Wiimote for this generation of TVs - point it at the screen and wave it around to navigate through on screen menus. It works surprisingly well, and offers them an advantage in the early stages of TV-based gaming.
But for all the effort that Sony, Panasonic and LG have been doing with their app stores and SDKs, the elephant in the room here is Sony. Considering they have both a consumer electronics division and the Playstation division, it's them who we should probably expect the most from. We know that Sony filed for a patent on the 'PS Cloud' back in 2009, so would it be too big a leap to expect them to offer a true cloud based gaming service that's accessible directly through Bravia televisions? The Japanese giant has been looking for a way to better integrate the different arms of its business, and this seems like a pretty logical step to take (current cloud-based Sony dilemmas aside).
MARK: Sony is the one company that could make it work – but we’re talking about a company that has really struggled to define themselves – especially when it comes to digital distribution.
In addition, a move like this would only subvert the hard work Sony has put into making itself the brand in console entertainment.
Ultimately I think consoles have a place, and the vision Sony is currently attempting to implement – the PlayStation as convergence device that “only does everything” – is a far more viable solution. Games may stream from the cloud, but they’ll probably do so from a console, or media centre that handles all different types of content – TV, Movies, Music and games.
That seems far more in keeping with what we’re seeing from both Microsoft and Sony, and I don’t see Panasonic or Samsung being able to halt that juggernaut anytime soon.
NICK: I don't think it's about halting the juggernaut, so much as creating another juggernaut to run alongside (or maybe just slightly behind) it. If you look at what Sony is doing in the mobile space, opening up the Playstation brand on Android devices, it shows that Sony is branching away from the idea that Playstation hardware is tied to the Playstation software. If you expand on the idea that the Xperia Play is the start of a whole range of Playstation Certified devices, is it really such a stretch to consider a Playstation badged television, that lets you play classic PSOne games directly through the television? Hell, if you look at Google TV - which can already run Android apps - we're practically living that scenario already.
TV games aren't going to drive us all out to the shops to replace our consoles, at least not any time soon. But I do think that they will become the dominant form of gaming in the home in the years to come, as traditional non-gamers open up to the idea of playing through their television screens. If I was a developer, I'd be watching this space like a hawk eyeing off a field mouse...