Mobile Mavens

Will PS4 and Xbox One embrace the mobile explosion or will unconsoles eat the nextgen lunch?

Mavens through the LookingSmartGlass

Will PS4 and Xbox One embrace the mobile explosion or will unconsoles eat the nextgen lunch?

The PocketGamer.biz Mobile Mavens is our panel of experts drawn from all sectors of the mobile gaming industry.

With the E3 2013 console battle between Sony and Microsoft heating up, we threw our favourite curve ball...

Does either Xbox One or PlayStation 4 look like it has the capability to link up with the mobile market?

And which out of Sony or Microsoft is best positioned to bring smartphone and tablets into the console space?

John Ozimek Co-founder Big Ideas Machine

John is co-founder of PR and marketing company Big Ideas Machine. Also an all-round nice guy...

I really think it's too early to tell. Both the Xbox One and PS4 'announcements' were just teasers for what we'll see come out of E3 and other events this year.

You'd expect there to be a degree of mobile integration, but I suspect that's going to be just a slightly deeper integration of profiles and cloud saves than we've seen so far - at least to start with.

For all the bells and whistles that have been shown so far it's going to be down to developers, and how they come up with ways to link the console experience with the mobile experience.

I think the whole idea of pervasive gameplay - where you can take an aspect of your console game, say your star striker from FIFA, with you on your mobile and then sync that back to the console later on - isn't going to arrive in this generation.

But I'm sure developers will find some great ways to build new experiences that use both platforms.

Dave Castelnuovo Owner Bolt Creative

The Xbox One seems a lot more likely to embrace mobile than the PS4. SmartGlass is already out and has rudimentary support for connecting most mobile devices to any Xbox game that adds support for it.

On the other hand, Sony is more interested in pushing the Vita. I think it's very unlikely that Sony will go beyond that and add support for tablets and smartphones unless SmartGlass catches on and becomes a must-have feature.

The other thing is Microsoft has a better track record of delivering on promises and getting developers onboard. Sony introduced Remote Play with PS3, PS Vita and PSP. So far it hasn't taken off beyond some really basic games.

SmartGlass has potential

Home has also proved to be incredibly underwhelming compared to what was demoed during the PS3 launch.

Oscar Clark Chief Strategy Officer Fundamentally Games

Oscar Clark has been a pioneer in online, mobile, and console social games services since 1998. He is also author of the book, Games As A Service – How Free To Play Design Can Make Better Games.

I think John has hit the nail on its head... The current announcements are just teasers. Sony and Microsoft are just laying out their initial plans of attacks; they have yet to really get into it.

I also wonder if the question is missing something as I suspect mobile devices are more likely to challenge the console for dominance of the living room, rather than us seeing the console usefully embrace the mobile device. That being said I admit that it will take a while before the experiences will be truly comparable.

Looking at the respective announcements, I'm neither hugely impressed nor dismissive about the devices themselves.

For Xbox One, I am interested in the Kinect improvements.

New Kinect - new interest

They offer genuinely different user interaction possibilities. But I already understand how I can get TV, and accept I'll use my console to make controlling that easier; but it's not why I buy that box. The previous emphasis on SmartGlass still appeals to me however, and I think it has huge potential as an idea.

Even if only because of the open approach to support second screen integration (at least in principle) with any other smart device.

I think that Sony's side of the story has yet to evolve and they haven't really shown more than a spec and a controller. However, I still think they are pretty well placed to bring in not just mobile and tablet, but also smart TV.

They obviously also have the potential to bring along all of their music and film brands, but making that a reality will take a dramatic shift in global corporate culture to pull off.

What has changed for me is more about the attitude of Sony towards developers. Their embrace of the indie dev community is a big step in their favour and I get the sense that their mobile team is also much better connected with the games business than in the past.

PS Distraction?

Plus I still believe that the emotional values which the PlayStation brand still embodies is something many of those developers really care about. But I fear that the PS Vita is essentially a distraction which might harm their strategic thinking.

The battle for the living room is far from won, and I am dubious that either of the two big players are really ready to adapt to satisfy the changing consumer needs of a world where ever more users have smart devices capable of delivering amazing experiences.

I don't think the answer is the Ouya or GameStick, but these represent other people trying things which might lead somewhere in time.

I don't think it's Apple TV (although I might regret saying that). Perhaps it will be something like a big OEM such as Samsung offering a DLNA dongle with every phone, which plugs into your TV's HDMI and uses its own CPU/WIFI connection to grab your content from the cloud, controlled by your phone or tablet.

Unconsole disruption

There are already dongles out there that cost $40. What if we connected that to a smart cloud-based service... Crazy? Possibly? But if we had an offer which was good enough in quality, would we necessarily care to have another the big black box under our TVs, even if it had better tech specs?

Scott Foe Chief Product Officer Ignited Artists

Both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are connected smart terminals, and, so - even if the integrations come after launch - any integration is possible.

(So, if one console sports a popular service integration or feature, odds are that the feature or service can be quickly adopted by the other console , unless Sony buys Google to get YouTube exclusivity - you heard it here first, folks!)

That said, people consume mobile and tablet games differently from the way that console games are consumed: 30-to-90 second play sessions, 11 minute play sessions, and 40 minute play sessions. So, even if you could play a tablet game on your console, would you want to do so?

To do a second-screen integration between say, tablet and console game, the console would probably have to be serving web content to the tablet, and the performance might not yet meet consumer expectation; we will see.

Serving all popular tablets natively presents development complexity and, in-aggregate potentially huge incremental costs. The platform holder itself might provide some middleware to make second screen easy.

I can say, having worked on the launch of three online gaming platforms (two of which were hardware), that every time you pay Peter, you rob Paul.

Is it really worth investing in second screen, when some more important experience might suffer for it?

Contributing Editor

A Pocket Gamer co-founder, Jon is Contributing Editor at PG.biz which means he acts like a slightly confused uncle who's forgotten where he's left his glasses. As well as letters and cameras, he likes imaginary numbers and legumes.

Comments

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Robert Green
I should clarify that I was only suggesting that there are a range of possible markets, with different open and closed elements, and I wasn't necessarily suggesting that minimum prices, no IAP and a quality bar was necessarily the best way to go, just one that would produce a different result.

This part is just my opinion - when people think of indie games on consoles, they're probably thinking of games like Braid, Journey, Limbo, Fez, Shatter, Trials, Bastion, etc. I love these games, and when people talk about indies self-publishing on consoles, it's usually in reference to these kinds of developers.

But if we imagine a system where anyone can put out a game on the XB1 or PS4 at any price, do you really think games like these would thrive? Imagine there are only 10-20 million customers in the first year, and those consumers have a choice between hundreds of games, available for as little as $0. What's keeping people buying those premium games? And why didn't those same factors prevent the race to the bottom on iOS/android that largely prevents games of that nature from succeeding?
Fraser Ross MacInnes Product/Design Director at Danke Games
I agree that discovery is chiefly a developer issue and not a consumer one -(though over abundance has its consequences for the consumer as you point out - I wrote about that in my column this week ;)).

I think minimum price points, no IAP and a vendor policed quality bar sounds too similar to the models that already exist on console though. For all the problems that come with overabundance, I still think consoles would benefit from adopting more democratic publishing practices - a la mobile.

We should not assume that low barriers and open publishing models mean that every developer who takes part should win. It will always be the case that only a small number of worthy developers break through to meaningful sustainable revenue - but at least everyone gets a chance to compete.

And for those that do, and who lose, are there not other benefits? Games on their CVs, friendships made, experiences gained, professional relationships forged, ideas borne, bigger better opportunities found?

Robert Green
I think you may be looking at this from the wrong perspective. Over-abundance, in the short run, isn't as big a problem for consumers as it is for developers. If over-abundance lead to an excess of XBLA-quality games, then as a consumer I'm sure I could live with having to scroll through large lists of games.
For developers though, it means that supply dramatically exceeds demand. When you combine that with the ability to set any price (including zero) and the essentially zero-cost of each unit sold, the race to the bottom is inevitable. The most basic laws of economics demand it.

And that race to the bottom is what's primarily responsible for the other effects that I described. The race to the bottom inevitably leads to F2P, as it has on mobile. There's nothing preventing good narrative on iOS, and tablets are a particularly good fit for adventure games, but it's very hard to make that work with F2P. The nature of the F2P model encourages games where you do the same thing over and over (because making new content is expensive) and don't have any real concept of 'ending' (because then you'd never need to spend another cent). Hence the rise of the endless runner.

Having said that, there are ways to potentially avoid this. If MS were just to say that anyone can submit a game, but there is a quality bar to actually being approved, and a minimum price of $10, with no IAP, then I imagine you'd get a very different outcome. Just being open to independent developers self-publishing doesn't mean you have to be completely open in all regards.
Fraser Ross MacInnes Product/Design Director at Danke Games
Don't fully agree with you there. Don't get me wrong, I agree the ills of mobile you point out are real concerns, but I don't think they apply on consoles so directly. It's not like there's a long history of mass market narrative driven games on mobile, so despite the advances in tech and market fit, their absence now is less a function of new monetisation trends than they are of the platform. Given that there is a long history of narrative driven games on console, it will be interesting to see if the added overhead of figuring out sound monetization mechanics compromise quality in that department long-term.

Also, I'd argue that the cloning ratio is similar on consoles - it's just a significantly lower volume of product overall. In fact, genre and style wise, I'd say it feels intuitively like consoles suffer from more homogeneity than mobiles.

The overabundance thing is a problem but I do think there's a plateau past which more volume does't increase the negative impact on discovery. For example, Xbox Live has way more choice than I can reasonable deal with these days, despite having a vastly smaller number of titles than the App Store.
Robert Green
It's also overly optimistic to think, in the hypothetical situation anyone could publish a console game and set their own prices and offer IAP, that the console in question wouldn't also replicate the worst aspects of iTunes/GooglePlay as well.

Few people want a scenario where talented devs can't get their game published, but also nobody necessarily wants a situation where they have to sort through 200,000 different app choices, 99% of them no good, anything successful is cloned a thousand times, monetisation becomes as important as game design and most attempts at actually presenting a narrative and a game world worth exploring are largely abandoned.

If consoles embraced the good aspects of the app store model, you have to take the bad too. And right now, the bad seems to outweigh the good.
Fraser Ross MacInnes Product/Design Director at Danke Games
There's fighting talk from both Sony and Microsoft about how they plan to support indie developers (though to be honest, a low barrier benefits all developers, including experienced ones, not just fledgling outfits), but if that support is anything like last gen, the publishing model will still be relatively closed. As you say, Unconsoles have learned the right things from mobile gaming as a business.

Having said that, this is all speculative until one of the Unconsoles proves that the mobile model for developing and publishing games works in the living room. If one of them achieves real scale (20-30 million installed base in 2-3 years with a strong growth curve) then that might be the catalyst for the big three changing how they do business.
jon jordan
You've hit the nail on the head, Fraser.

I call them unconsoles not particularly on hardware issues, but because they are free-to-play platforms that are open to all developers - unlike the walled gardens we've previously seen with Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.
Fraser Ross MacInnes Product/Design Director at Danke Games
To be honest I don't think the console space needs to do more learning from the mobile space in terms of hardware (though I'm a big fan of the unconsole hardware set-up i.e. low power fast iteration system on a chip architecture a la mobile). Neither do I think it's about making mobile, tablet and console platforms work more seamlessly together, whatever that might look like.

I think the biggest things console can learn from mobile are in software pricing for consumers and support for developers. The mobile model of keeping the barrier to entry very low for developers and letting the community sort the good from the bad is the most democratic way to allow creativity to flourish and consumers to benefit. The very expensive one way street of top tier console development (and the corresponding publishing model) is the most archaic part of the whole console set-up and I think many developers would be happy to see the back of it.

Robert Green
It's hard to tell at this point what 'consoles embracing mobile' would look like. Smartglass didn't exactly set the world on fire, and if playing console games via a tablet controller is the future, then sales of the Wii U aren't making a great case for it. The idea of playing a game that persists across multiple platforms is pretty cool, though it creates a lot of extra work for a feature that many players won't use.

The bigger questions for MS and Sony are whether or not the people who are already at home sitting on their couches playing games on their phones and tablets will see any point in spending hundreds of dollars/pounds/euros on new consoles regardless of how well those devices interact, and whether people who don't currently own tablets will be comparing the two in their minds when they come to spend their gaming dollars.