Oft-quoted industry analyst Michael Pachter, of Wedbush Morgan Securities, had something to say about E3’s announcements. All that games chatter was one thing, but Pachter thought the real news was all the other web media deals that Microsoft had made for the 360.
“The announcement that I thought was missed was the opening of the Xbox Live Dashboard interface to the internet,” Pachter told Gamasutra. “Later this year, Microsoft will allow members to access last.fm and to select music, to access Netflix and instantly watch films/TV shows, to access Facebook and interact with other friends, and to access Twitter and post/read tweets.”
Pachter argues that the gaming media entirely missed the significance of this announcement, which puts the 360 firmly in the same territory as Apple’s AppleTV, only with a library of awesome games. With so many 360s already installed around the world, MS have a good chance to become the default choice for web media on your TV. A colleague of mine – one of the big boys of the games media who definitely didn’t miss out on the significance of the this particular announcement – proclaimed that “Microsoft have won, and no one even said anything.”
My kneejerk reaction was to say that no, it’s not that this idea has been ignored – indeed it’s been bounced around for so long that I don’t think it really came as a surprise to anyone and, consequently, it didn’t get a great deal of coverage. But, far more importantly, this is gaming, and the platform which ends up having the best library of games will win.
But maybe that doesn’t make any sense anymore, not least when you look at how we play games. Perhaps Pachter and my chum are right. All I have to do is consider that I already spend most of my time gaming on a PC. Partly that’s because I’m an old man with a fetish for humming boxes that I built myself, and partly it’s because I want all the other features that a PC offers: instant access to my email, Twitter, screen-grab software, and my own music to replace generic rock track X on racing game Y.
If the 360 does start to support all these things (there’s no confirmation as to whether Last.FM will be able to run in the background as a soundtrack to your games), it’ll become the kind of gaming machine that I want to spend my time with for more reasons than just because it has some games that my PC doesn’t.
It will become a device that has more of the networked infrastructure, and more of the media tweaks and toys that I take for granted as part of my desktop computer.
Now it could be that I’m just a mutant with a job that means I play too many PC games, but I don’t think this kind of feature-proliferation and convergence is limited to a single platform, or even a single mode of media consumption. When I look at my own behaviour towards electronic gadgets, I can see that I want them to do more than simply deliver games.
A while back someone said to me, of the iPhone, that “a real gamer has a DS, not a glorified cellphone”. And he was right, I do have a DS, but – actually – it’s my iPhone that I take everywhere, and my iPhone that is costing me a freakin’ fortune every time some miscreant like Brandon posts a list of awesome games. The point about the iPhone is not so much that the games are pretty good – although lots of them are – but that the games are embedded in a device that offers more. And if more is on offer, that’s what I’ll use.
In fact, smartphones have only really made sense in my head with the appearance of the iPhone. Our imagination, I think, ends up spoiling quite a lot of tech. It’s imagination that feeds half the grumbling threads of commentary across the internet. Sure, game X looks pretty awesome compared to its predecessors, but I can still imagine how it might be better. And I can do that with almost zero effort.
It’s been the same for me and mobile gadgets. Okay, they can do some useful stuff, and the cameras are a nice touch: but where is my all-encompassing pocket nano-computer with wireless, video, and decent games? Oh, there it is. The iPhone, it seems, is finally up to speed with the future I was expecting.
And so, perhaps, these kinds of expansions – and changes in perception – will end up delivering a similar change in status for the 360. Sure, it does games, but that’s why you bought it. Someone else might be buying into it to watch TV, to read emails, to listen to music. Rather than having to release a new console, the 360 just gets cheaper, and makes more sense, to more people, because it does something that it didn’t do before: Guitar Hero, Last.FM, Twitter, motion-tracking control… A spiralling feature list, a net that gets bigger and drags in more people.
The 360 evolves back towards its PC heritage: a machine that is awesome not simply because of its processing power, but because of the things you can adapt it to do, and the modularity that it demonstrates. A device you can bend to your interests, rather than its stated purpose.
And what, indeed, of that other possible future for gaming: Cloud Gaming? Hasn’t the fact that we’ve again and again needed more powerful client-side architecture for gaming always been the argument for why the all-in-one set-top box cannot work? Clearly the 360 is powerful enough to handle the decoding end of things in this gaming-on-demand future. Assuming the infrastructure hurdle for Cloud Gaming can be cleared, then why would anyone try to reinstall boxes, when it could just be another service for the 360, or indeed the PS3?
[Jim Rossignol is an editor at RockPaperShotgun.com and the author of This Gaming Life, an account of the life of modern videogames and some of the people who play them. Ragdoll Metaphysics is his Offworld column exploring and analyzing gaming’s vast world of esoterica.]