The Eternal Abyss of Services

E3 2019 happened less than 20 days ago but has already been forgotten. It was overlooked by the gaming world and proved to be a disaster. Not only did PlayStation dodge the whole event out of embarrassment for their lack of offerings, but Microsoft may as well have done the same. It was the worst E3 ever, and it’s especially grim when we see it as a forecast of what’s to come: that is to say, services and mediocrity.

Failure leads to cheating

Two years ago, after seeing what was shown at E3 2017, I was so disappointed that I asked whether we were witnessing the twilight of living room gaming itself. Back then it was all about pushing VR and 4K, and I correctly stated that these were doomed attempts, and that their failure would lead to the end of “gaming eras” which had their own personality and rituals.

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. …. 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. … 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.

Then last year, before E3, I shocked the gaming world by correctly predicting that there would be no major announcements and no next-gen news to get excited about at the event, but instead be all about cloud gaming and more subscription services. It was as if I had a crystal ball. Through the sheer power of deduction, I knew that Sony and Microsoft were locked in a waltz to nowhere, but would follow the growing corporate trend of milking their dedicated users for more and more money instead of appealing to broader audiences and traditionalists.

We already know that Microsoft has no shame about abandoning their consoles early, and Sony isn’t much better. By advertising they were switching to a “smartphone model” of “constantly upgrading” both Sony and Microsoft admitted that they were never going to innovate in hardware again, but continue to release budget PC hardware, and then make up for the money they lose on hardware with ridiculous subscription fees for basic online services and multiplayer.

In other words: the profit is all in the “cloud”.

Sure enough, at E3 last year we saw Phil Spencer try (and completely fail) to excite people about the prospect of streaming console games on phones and elsewhere. Check out this new video, which literally shows how they’re sticking their unpopular, boring, outdated Xbox hardware into server farms around the world to deliver mediocre gaming to tiny phone screens:

Did you notice that they added fake applause after that first clip of Phil Spencer announcing their streaming service last year? Yep, it’s that bad.

But this isn’t just about gaming becoming worse. This is part of a much larger trend that has been happening for over a century, and which we have a responsibility to resist now and totally bankrupt if we can.

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