[E3 2015] Xbox Game Preview And Console Gaming’s Inevitable March Towards PC

xbox-game-preview

Some of the announcements I saw at Bethesda’s and Microsoft’s E3 2015 press conferences look to me like some people are really trying to bring some of the advantages of PC gaming to consoles. This could end up being a continuation of how consoles are becoming more and more like PCs.

Bethesda came out with two of the major announcements that could possibly further the trend. First you have DOOM’s SnapMap thing which basically looks like an extremely in-depth map and mode editor for all versions of the game. Then you have Bethesda’s attempt to make Fallout 4 PC-created mods available to console players. Then you have Microsoft’s new Xbox equivalent to Steam Early Access. This is all gonna speed up and further diversify content creation on consoles, which I think are in dire need of diversity in their software libraries.

I remember hearing some developer saying in response to Sony’s and Microsoft’s recent indie pushes, “If the next Minecraft can’t be developed on your platform, it’s seriously behind,” or something like that. Basically they said this kind of public alpha style game development is the future and is where tomorrow’s indie hits will come from, and mining for those hits is the whole reason Sony and Microsoft want indies on their consoles.

I for one think this is all the kind of evolution console gaming needs in order to stay relevant, especially to the most dedicated consumers, but it may also bring changes some don’t like, just like the transition from the PS2 era to the PS3/Xbox 360 era did.

That was the point where Microsoft really started steering console gaming in a PC-oriented direction. Digital games, patches, hard drives, game installs, DLC, Xbox Live, and firmware updates are all features Microsoft basically took from the PC world and made work on a console, forcing Sony to follow suit. I think these features have undeniably improved console gaming by changing it from just putting a disc inside a black box to interacting with a fluid operating system and fluid software. These new consoles are moving even further in that direction with mandatory installs for all games. The problem is some people miss the days of just putting a disc into a black box.

I’ve gone over this before, but console gaming used to be distinct from PC gaming largely because it was simpler and more accessible. You never had to install a game or patch it. You just put the game in the machine and played, like a VCR. It was a quick, accessible child of arcade gaming. Now consoles are turning more and more into a child of PC gaming, but why engage with that if you already have PC gaming? More and more I see people lament that the PS4 and Xbox One look less like consoles and more like weak PCs.

Already I can imagine console owners complaining about how mods might ruin the “pure” experience of Fallout 4 that’s already optimized and confirmed to run well on a console, inserting the uncertainty of whether or not a piece of PC-generated content will run. People will probably start to complain about too many indies on Xbox relying on Game Preview and not just finishing the games. Things like Early Access and Game Preview are where I believe software development in general is headed, if it’s not already there. Basically everything starts as a public beta these days and is never really “done” with development. Console games are just joining that trend.

Like I said above, the whole reason Sony and Microsoft want indies on their consoles is so one of them turns out to be the next Minecraft-level phenomenon. It’s why Valve started Early Access on PC. DayZRust, and similar games are probably viewed as big successes for the program. All those platform holders want the initiative when it comes to getting the next big idea, and right now the next big idea occurs on the platform where developers can sell games while still making and updating them. Game Preview is Microsoft’s attempt to shorten the typical lag between indie games on PC and indie games on console. Ark: Survival Evolved isn’t coming to consoles until June 2016, but PC users who want to, can play it right now.

People are probably afraid this will result in lots of shovelware or even downright broken games on their console. Alongside the free trial option Microsoft is implementing into Game Preview, I have a feeling its quality assurance gate will let in less software than you might see on Early Access. If you want to wait until the games are “done,” then wait. That’s what I do, as so far I’ve only bought one Early Access game.

I just hope the publishers behind console games can realize the kinds of time scales ideas like these usually demand. Big pushes for user-generated content and ongoing experiences aren’t new to consoles, but I feel like they are too often cut short in favor of a fast and profitable release schedule. user-generated content is a great way to keep people playing a game for years and years after release, but publishers want you to be ready to buy the next game every year or two. Fortunately Bethesda Game Studios is a bit different, letting Skyrim’s mod community thrive for three and a half years now. With SnapMap id probably wants to modernize the old DOOM WAD community and bring it to consoles, but that’s a community that was allowed to grow for 20 years. Even in 2015 we are still getting new original DOOM mods like Brutal Doom version 20 and DemonSteele. Is id ready to keep SnapMap going for 20 years?

A really important part in all this is how companies like Bethesda and Microsoft plan to make all this accessible to the console user. Fallout 3 and Skyrim mods work in various weird ways, needing to be installed in various ways. It would be amazing if Bethesda actually got something like Mod Organizer working on Xbox but I doubt it. I say this because if you look at iOS, Apple has figured out how to redirect today’s advances to make media consumption quicker and easier, not more complicated. Downloading and installing a game on your phone is at least as easy as locking in a cartridge, whereas PlayStation and Xbox games today have lengthy startup processes. Maybe fewer people would complain if new developments in the console space actually did make things easier while also adding functionality, though I know that must be a hard balance to strike.

BULLETS:

  • Looks like we still have a lot of people who don’t understand post-1960’s comic books. Even people who were born in the 1990’s. http://t.co/eYChfezzMQ
  • We’re getting a lot of big open-world games this year. I think Just Cause 3 could be a dark horse among them.
  • That new Torchlight mobile game will be an original title like the other two, not a port. http://t.co/ahLr7I9ttk
  • If you’re still curious about No Man’s Sky, here you go. http://t.co/XEqqsMW155
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