E3 2017: The Twilight of Living Room Gaming?

This year’s E3 has me convinced that Xbox and PlayStation are in deep trouble, and that the de facto winners of this decline are the PC and Nintendo Switch. Xbox tried to advertise “exclusives” that were all going to be available on PC as well, while Sony kept talking about VR. The 4K revolution is dead in the water. Nobody cares about 4K, even though we recognize that it’s an improvement.

VR and 4K are things that would’ve been nice to have if they were fully-functional and properly showcased three years ago. But by now we’re so starved for quality games that we just want to have things to play on our existing machines. I’ve seen people argue that they’re totally satisfied with their PS4 and even their Xbox, and that they look forward to the release of the titles in development, but the overall excitement for this generation of machines is lower than I’ve ever seen with previous generations. The logic of a console cycle is that you’ll be given a front-row seat to the cutting edge of gaming for the duration of the console’s lifetime, building up a library that will some day stand as a distinct epoch of gaming innovations. Each console has its own gimmicks, branding, and eccentricities that you can incorporate into your identity, and the rituals you learn on that machine become part of the shared identity you have with your fellow gamers. But now there’s nothing special about consoles, since they all share the same controller layouts, hardware is always just a mid-tier PC, and the distribution models and features are homogenized. PC has never had the epoch-ritual-identity quality that consoles offered; they were generic machines that did a lot of stuff, and also gaming. Consoles are now in the same boat, and without that strange generational epoch psychology, they just become worse PCs with a smaller library and less features. This E3 proved that Sony and Microsoft have absolutely nothing interesting to offer.

Nintendo Switch stands apart from all of that, and is winning as a result. This E3 was a huge success for the Switch because they are creating an epoch-ritual-identity framework that people can become invested in. The games, tone, and features of the Switch are distinct and flavorful, and you can be guaranteed that you’ll be able to build a library that will some day stand as an epoch of gaming.

The “AAA” games shown at E3 were boring and mediocre. The indie games looked interesting, but we’ve learned by now that indie games usually fail to follow through on their enticing designs and premises, so we have to take them with a grain of salt. VR and 4K editions of exiting games are not even close to worth the cost, and only push us further into the outdated living room as the hub of entertainment. I suspect many gamers will look at this E3 and decide that traditional consoles are enjoying their final twilight days.

I’ll be discussing the games, hardware, and announcements themselves in future posts. This was more of a broad evaluation.

Microsoft lays off 18,000 people, including Xbox Entertainment Studios

Is 18,000 a lot of people?  It sounds like a lot.  It kind of sounds like the population of a city.  Here’s the report.

With a new CEO and pressure to create a new vision for the company, it’s not surprising that things are getting majorly restructured.  It’s also not surprising that they shut down the idiotic Xbox Entertainment Studios, headed by Phil Spencer.  Nobody cared about the Halo TV series, or anything else they promised.  Satya Nadella wants to focus on mobile and cloud, which means Xbox has become a red-headed stepchild of a past era.  We already know it loses billions of dollars a year for the company, and the vision of “taking over the living room” from Sony is pretty much dead.  Of course they say they will focus more on games, but Microsoft hates gamers and specifically wanted the Xbox One to shift focus away from them so they could get TV viewers and sports idiots interested (so they could collect information about them and sell ads, of course).  It’s all going down the drain.

Microsoft’s future, part 2

I feel like an archaeologist who just found one of those “missing link” skeletons, because even though I’ve been talking about how Valve’s push for Linux is justified and smart when you consider the potential downfall of Windows, there hasn’t been much evidence to support that fear besides Gabe Newell himself, who you could argue has a conflict of interest.  I need somebody in the tech world who is intimately familiar with Windows, its history, and its politics, who can attest to the problems today — somebody like Paul Thurrott, who asks What the Heck is Happening to Windows?

There are some important bombshells in here as far as I’m concerned, including the fact that Windows 8 was designed by a prominent “Steve Jobs” wannabe who messed it up so bad that it was responsible for restructuring Microsoft itself, including kicking out Steve Ballmer!  (Still believe Don Mattrick’s quitting in the face of the “Xbox 180” fiasco was a coincidence?)

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The Xbox 180 reversals and the Windows 8 catastrophe are deeply connected: mismanagement, scattered thinking, poor judgment, and lack of vision in the face of incredibly strong competition.

Whenever I criticize Microsoft, there are those who accuse me of being a Sony fanboy.  The type who hates Microsoft out of some juvenile, Highlander-type “There Can Be Only One” nonsense.  After all, I run a Metal Gear fan site, not a Halo fansite; I complain about the bro culture and Xbox tactics all the time; I seem to go out of my way to pick on bad news when it comes to Microsoft, but I don’t mention Sony’s troubles!  But the truth is, I am mostly a PC gamer, and as I wrote before this new generation started, I want Steam to lead the way of gaming.  I don’t hate Microsoft because it competes with other platforms that I like more, I hate it because it’s evil and it is going to drag down an awesome platform out of pure hubris, unoriginality, and greed, just like they poisoned the console culture with the Xbox brand and billions of dollars in dirty shenanigans.

Speaking of Windows 8, Paul Thurrott gives us insight into the warped mentality inside Microsoft at the time, and the consequences for its failure:

… I had found out from internal sources immediately that the product was doomed from the get-go, feared and ignored by customers, partners and other groups in Microsoft alike. Windows 8 was such a disaster that Steven Sinofsky was ejected from the company and his team of lieutenants was removed from Windows in a cyclone of change that triggered a reorganization of the entire company. Even Sinofsky’s benefactor, Microsoft’s then-CEO Steve Ballmer, was removed from office. Why did all this happen? Because together, these people set the company and Windows back by years and have perhaps destroyed what was once the most successful software franchise of all time.

He goes on to touch on some of the main problems with the jumbled Windows 8 interface, which can’t decide whether it’s a tablet OS or a desktop OS.  This is exactly the same as how the Xbox One can’t decide whether it’s an always-online Kinect media hub, or a next-gen game console meant to be controlled with a controller.

With a new CEO obsessed with chasing iOS with “mobile” and Google with “cloud”, but rejecting “traditional” hardware emphasis, it will be very interesting to see how the half-baked abortion, the Xbox One, fares in such turbulent times, with investors hoping to see the Xbox, Bing, and Surface scrapped since it’s clear Microsoft doesn’t know what it’s doing with any of them… and losing billions every year.

[Here’s a link to the article one more time.]

Steam Machines revealed, but confusion still abounds

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If you’re confused about the new lineup of Steam Machines, which range from $500 to a whopping $6,000, you’re in good company.  As I said before in “The Amazing Valve Strategy” Part One and Two, this is a unique and long-term strategy for keeping PC gaming alive and hedging against the possible failure of the Windows platform, not a “monkey-see, monkey-do” attempt to rival the existing console market.

Here’s some reactions I’ve seen already, with my rebuttals:

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News Roundup | I just straight up hate the Xbox One by now

PS4’s superiority is already unquestionable in comparison; there is no more debate.  But you might not realize just how dirty Microsoft’s policies have become…

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The amazing Valve strategy, part 1

In my Next-Gen Hopes article, I mentioned that I hoped the “Steam Box” would ultimately be the winner of the next generation of consoles.  Gabe Newell’s ambition to save PC gaming from the blundering greed of Microsoft is much more important than bragging rights in a “console war” that lasts for a few years and then becomes irrelevant.

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SteamOS is a real operating system designed to not only replace your keyboard and mouse with a controller, but do it in a way that looks comfortable at a distance on a big screen.  Here’s why SteamOS is an interesting proposition:

1. As it stands, Steam runs on top of Windows (or Mac, or Linux) which hogs a certain percent of the computer’s power for itself in the background.  But SteamOS wouldn’t run on top of anything, so it uses 100% of the computer’s resources for itself and the games.  This means less waiting for a game to load, less overheating, and more efficiency overall.  Anyone who suffered with Windows Vista knows how big a difference a shitty OS can make when you want to play something.  Of course SteamOS won’t do nearly as many things as Windows does, but why should it?  It’s for games and multimedia, not setting up an office network with a shared printer.

2. Windows has always been an open platform, but Windows 8 is threatening to move toward a “walled garden” system, which is terrible news for PC users.  Right now you or I can create programs for Windows and share them with everybody else, or download stuff freely.  And we take this for granted.  But it seems Microsoft would like to become the one who dictates what is and isn’t acceptable on Windows, which is why SteamOS needs to exist, to be a safe haven for developers who don’t want to bargain with the devil.  100% free.

3. Being designed “for the living room” means the buttons on the screen will be large, simple, and easy to see at a distance.  Steam’s “Big Picture Mode” already does this well, and can be navigated by a gamepad or a traditional mouse/keyboard.  They even have their own on-screen keyboard for typing with a controller, which is… interesting.  The emphasis on “living room” is because people who hook up their PC’s to their TV’s are always squinting and trying to find the cursor, having a super high resolution and tiny interface designed to be seen up close, on a monitor.  It’s about ease of use.  Turn on the system, SteamOS loads up, and suddenly you have access to all your stuff in a clear and cozy display — like a gaming console!

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4. Each and every computer running SteamOS is supposed to be able to relay signals to and from your primary gaming rig without actually doing the heavy lifting itself; which means you’ll be playing your PC in another room, wirelessly.  This is a new phenomenon, but an awesome one; the PS Vita will be able to relay the PS4’s signal as well, with minimal latency problems.  Think of it this way: you hook up a tiny, cheap computer to your TV, install the free SteamOS instead of expensive Windows, and when it boots up, suddenly you can play your entire library of Steam games instantly.  (I assume you’d need to have your PC turned on, with Steam application opened and synchronized.)  And because Steam uses cloud storage, you wouldn’t need to even save your game on the cheap device hooked up to the TV, or transfer saves back and forth between your primary gaming rig.  The more next-gen games get ported to Steam, the more silly the tiny catalog and limited functionality of your PS4 or Xbox One are going to look in comparison.

Hardware is another matter, and I’m sure that will be the subject of the next unveiling, in just a day or two!  I want to see what kind of controller they’ll be creating, and how it will stack up to Sony and Microsoft’s gamepads.  I want to see what kind of super-efficient “Steam Box” consoles their partners will develop, and how they’ll be sold.  I want to know everything!

(For the record, I agree with the theory that the third announcement will be the long-awaited Source 2 Engine, which will be 100% free to use, and automatically compatible with SteamOS.  That would be an awesome way to get big developers to develop for SteamOS, that’s for sure.  Of course it should ship along with Half-Life 3!)

HERE IS PART 2

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