This unusually long console generation has left consumers chomping at the bit for new consoles, but they’re not stupid, either. Just because there’s a dearth of fresh technology in the console market right now doesn’t mean that they’re willing to pony up an unreasonable amount of cash for a new system, as the recent lackluster launches of the overpriced 3DS, PS Vita, and Wii U all proved (Nintendo eventually remedied the 3DS situation with a drastic $80 price cut; at $170, the system experienced a sales resurgence in 2012 and became the money printer it should’ve been from day one). With no official word yet on the successors to the Xbox 360 and PS3 (though they’re rumoured to be dropping in 2014, which makes perfect sense to me), other hardware developers have been coming out of the woodwork to grab a piece of console market share. First there was the OUYA, the tiny Tegra 3 console with the tiny price point to match; after CES last week, Razer, Nvidia, and Valve all unveiled new consoles, and unsurprisingly, I’m skeptical of all of them.
Razer’s Edge is a tablet with controller handles on either side of it, and it basically looks like someone duct-taped two Move controllers to an iPad. To be honest, this one’s less of a brand new console and more of a “gaming tablet” (Razer’s even marketing it as such), but what is probably going to sink this thing is the price. Tablets aren’t cheap, and game consoles have been getting more expensive, but at $1000 the Edge is a very tough sell. To me, it seems like a target audience mismatch: who are they going after with this tablet? Anyone who wants to play Starcraft II properly will do it on their high-end PC, not on an underpowered, overpriced tablet. The best tablet games are the ones that truly take advantage of the touch screen and deliver an experience that you can’t get with a joystick or a keyboard/mouse combo; adding traditional control options, while a nice touch, seems superfluous, not to mention not worth the huge leap in price compared to the iPad. The Edge is a tablet for the hardcore gamer, but gamers have long since decided that tablets aren’t worth their time, and that’s only partially due to the awkward touch controls of the handful of high-profile ports that make their way to Android and iOS. Who will spend the time to port games to this thing, given how fragmented the mobile market currently is, and given that only the Edge has the horsepower and controls to deliver a mobile gaming experience comparable to a console one? You’re essentially making games specifically for one tiny niche of the mobile market. You can port Temple Run to every mobile device under the sun (including the Razer Edge), but there’s only one device you can launch Starcraft II on, and it’s sure as hell not gonna be the market leader, so why bother?
Nvidia’s Project Shield prototype is just about the ugliest console I’ve ever seen in my life. I know, I know, it’s still in development, but the damn thing currently looks like someone duct-taped an iPhone to a 360 controller (yes, yes, I love the duct tape analogy; years of watching Red Green have rubbed off on me). It’s little more than another handheld Android device about to fragment the market even further, and it seems like it was dreamed up solely to hype up Nvidia’s new Tegra 4 chip. Of course, announcing the Tegra 4 for Project Shield has the effect of already making the OUYA look outdated, but with the latter launching in two months, they’ll have to stick with the old SoC. It seems like a lot of new hardware makers are buying into Google’s pitch about how well-established the Android market currently is, their userbase totals blah blah blah up year-by-year, but Android hardware is quickly becoming as varied and nonstandard as PC hardware. Not all Android devices are created equal; getting an app to work on every Android phone or tablet is difficult, and definitely much harder than trying to do the same thing for iOS. I wonder if developers will be willing to make software for these high-end Android devices when the majority of the market is using cheaper, underpowered smartphones and tablets.
Valve’s Steam Box/Piston thing with Xi3 follows Gabe Newell’s recent obsession with getting people to boot up Steam on their television (I personally haven’t used Big Picture mode yet, but I imagine I will when it comes time to run through The Walking Dead with my mother). This thing is basically a Linux-based computer that runs Steam games through your TV (for, you know, all those Linux games currently on Steam. Sigh). I can’t imagine the use of this thing in a world where Steam exists, HDMI cables exist, and Big Picture exists, but I guess clueless parents could buy it for their kids who want “a new game console” for Christmas. Word on the street is that this thing is expensive as hell though, so I’mma stick to my good ol’ PC, thanks. Compared to the Edge and Project Shield though, Valve’s hand-sized Piston is a sleek, tiny, unobtrusive cube that could easily fit within any entertainment deck. Here’s hoping for a Companion Cube skin.
The flood of new console announcements is notable because none of them are truly “new consoles” in the traditional sense. This isn’t like Microsoft clawing market share away from Nintendo and Sony with the release of the Xbox in 2001; Razer and Nvidia are releasing tablets with built-in gamepads, while Valve is releasing a PC. It’s tough to even see whether these things will be in direction competition with the Big Three. Valve’s Piston might, since it’s gonna be connected to your TV and all, but the Edge and Project Shield seem more likely to be going after Apple and Samsung than Nintendo and Sony. At any rate, they’re all probably way too niche to make a splash in their respective markets, and I would be genuinely surprised if any of them become household names.