I have a love/hate relationship with game consoles. I was first introduced to them by way of the Sega Genesis back in 1992 or ’93, when my uncle, who was a huge tech enthusiast, bought me and my sisters one. We even got a game to go with it: The Lion King. And, while my sisters took gaming as a passing fancy — only interested at short intervals in their lives — games became a focal point of my life. While many people mark their lives with important life events — graduation, first job — much of my life is marked with games that affected me.
I spent weeks depressed after watching Iris die in Zero’s arms in MegaMan X4.
I almost cried watching Ramza drag himself through the snow after the apparent death of his best friend, Delita, and the very real death of Delita’s sister in Final Fantasy Tactics.
I pulled the first all-nighter in my life beating Batman Begins: the Video Game. I know, it wasn’t very good, but it still holds a special place in my heart.
But as much as there is a fondness for games in my life, there is also a bitter relationship with the consoles themselves. They were a pay wall against gaming.
I was not born into a wealthy, or even reasonably well off, family. My dad was a cop, and my mom didn’t work in a effort to recreated the rose-colored glasses, 1950’s, Brady Bunch life they believed they had had. This meant there was less money to go around for things like games and game consoles. Everything else was perpetually bought on credit.
It also didn’t help that my dad didn’t really understand games either. He believed real boys played baseball and beat up gay kids. I just wanted to catch Pokemon.
I often missed out on classic games — like Zelda, Mario, most of the Tony Hawk series, the original MegaMan series — because investing in multiple consoles was not something my family was willing to do. Even upgrades presented problems; my dad refused to upgrade to a PS2 when we already had a PS1 (also, thank you uncle). Trying to argue about better graphics and newer games was like trying to haggle with someone who spoke a different language than you.
Sometimes I elected not to try for an upgrade. I felt like I’d hit the lottery when my parents were willing to switch out my Gameboy Pocket for a Gameboy Color. Then a year later the Gameboy Advanced came out. It felt like only a year after that, the SP, and then finally the DS followed. My mobile gaming head was spinning, and I said to hell with it all, and stuck with my GBC, progress be damned.
2021, though, marks a year that this need not happen again. I think we have finally reached a point where games need not exist in their own physical ecosystems. My reasoning for this is in two products: the AYA NEO and the GPD Win3. Two of the first truly viable portable gaming PC’s.
Just a few minutes search through YouTube and you’ll find videos of both consoles — both roughly the size of a Nintendo Switch, though a bit heavier — running modern games, as well massive catalogues worth of previous generation games.
This is PC gaming where it has never really been before: packaged in a way that it is approachable to the uninitiated, and affordable. The cost of the GPD Win3 and Aya Neo (prices between $799 and $1,000 if you go crazy) are roughly what you end up paying for a Switch, once you’re done buying all the extra parts and charge accessories. And the Switch — unhacked — only plays Nintendo games. These plays anything. To own an XBox One, Switch, and PS4 (all last gen consoles) costs well over $1,000.
This is where gaming needs to be in the future.
With this model of a generic console, game companies can instead focus on software, building app-like emulators to run their games, building a digital ecosystem instead of a physical one. Boiled down, it is time that Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo adopt the Steam model of gaming.
Not only for the benefit of customers, this model also releases the burden of hardware development. Consoles are often sold at razor thin margins, or even a loss, just to get you locked into a game library. Perhaps most infamous, the PS3 in its first iteration was sold at a wallet aching $399. It was a price point that made gamers gag. But its manufacturing cost actually sat somewhere around $700 per unit, bleeding the company’s game division for years until they were able to revamp the system, turning it into something people eventually liked, and they could afford to build.
There was no real way of avoiding the PS3 debacle. PC technology wasn’t where it is today with solid state drives and powerful integrated graphics, and 64-bit support. When the PS3 launched, I didn’t even own a PC. I was using the university’s public PC’s to do all my homework. And my phone as a knock-off Nokia brick phone.
But today we can run high quality games on everything. It’s time that Sony and the rest take the next step in gaming, and give up the console. Let us choose what hardware we game on, and simply provide the ecosystem.
I imagine a world where I can play Final Fantasy on my PlayStation app, pause the game and jump to my XBox app for whatever exclusive they may have, and even jump to my Nintendo Online app for some retro gaming, or the latest Pokemon game.
In this world, no kid will need multiple paywalls to get a game. No one need take up the entire entertainment center for bulky consoles. Instead, we make one purchase — the gaming PC of your choice, be it mobile or otherwise — and then all the gaming ecosystems are yours for the choosing.
It probably won’t happen in this generation. After all, they’ve got Switches and PS5 to sell. But maybe one day.
Well, here’s to hoping.