I used to have this magazine that was a holiday 2000 video game guide. It detailed what sorts of games were worth getting, for what consoles and even speculated about the future. This was around the time the PS2 launched in America and the Xbox and GameCube were only a year away. SegaNet was also a thing, so there was an expansive piece on the future of online gaming and what it would mean. I wish I still had the magazine itself but I remember it being very much a fluff-piece. In essence, it argued “the future will be great!” It’s interesting to think back on that magazine in a similar way that people get a kick out of seeing what the future would look like according to someone in the 1950’s.
It’s an article I thought back on when reading about the new Xbox console upgrade. “In March, Xbox boss Phil Spencer dropped some hints about this new approach, telling journalists that he’d like to see consoles take a PC-like evolution.” Well, hell, consoles have been on that trajectory since 2000 (at the very least)! At this point, there’s no discernible difference between a console and a PC that’s relevant. Some will argue hardware technicalities but as someone who values more important aspects like plot and functionality, arguing how graphically powerful a device is will fall on deaf ears here.
The first step towards console-PC integration was the inclusion of an internal hard drive with the original Xbox. The magazine touted this up as a great feature that would “reduce load times” and be a substantial improvement over memory cards/cartridges. That prediction was true for a time. There was more than enough hard drive space for games on the original Xbox and the first half of the Xbox 360’s life span. Then the attitude changed where players had to directly install games on to the drive to avoid issues (of the stability or loading variety) with games. The Xbox One and PS4 now mandate it as a prerequisite to playing.
Games have also ballooned in size too. It was pretty notable when an installed game on the 360 took up a few gigabytes. Now games on the Xbone take up at least 20 and it’s not surprising to see them surpass 40. 20-40 GB games eventually add up on a game console, even if someone’s not using it as a multimedia device for Netflix or whatever else. Factor in the paltry hard drive space of 500 GB and it’s a complete mess! Compare that number to the store-bought computer I have that’s 6 years old, which has 700 GBs on it! I suppose it’s just a marketing gimmick to sell external hard drives…
The real damning bit is online connectivity. The magazine thought online gaming would be great: “Keep playing your favorite games as developers can update them after release via the Internet!” “Play with random strangers across the globe!” It didn’t mention overpriced DLC. There’s no mention of developers releasing unfinished games and then patching them later, if at all (or, if they’re really cruel, pricing them behind a paywall). There’s no consideration that online gaming would be a factor in the death of split-screen multiplayer.
But enough sounding like a grognard, the damage “a PC-like evolution” has really done to consoles is rob them of what made them unique. Before this generation, it was possible to buy a console and have a reliable piece of hardware that would last 6 years minimum. If I ever wanted to scratch an itch for a certain game, all that needed to be done was take care of the console and it would still work. Compare this to the nightmare of playing older games on a PC, where a change in the operating system can cause more than enough headaches.
That wasn’t enough of a selling point for consoles, though. Now, companies need to “update” their hardware so they can keep up with the latest technology. Shit like this is why it was difficult to get into PC gaming: Every time a new and interesting PC game was out, something like a graphics card had to be updated so the game could be played. And Sony and Microsoft want to bring that hassle into the console market? More power to them but I’m going to go find a new hobby to pour time into.