SEGA: Harbinger of the Future?
It’s nearly time for PlayStation Vita! … if you’re American. Have you pre-ordered yours? No? Why not?
Stop! Wait; this is not a Vita hate piece. Nor is it a piece on why the Vita probably won’t set the world alight, and what Sony should have learned from the lessons that the PSP evidently didn’t teach them.
No. This is a look at the fuuuuttttuuurrrree™.
You see, whether you love or hate the PlayStation Vita – or the Nintendo 3DS, for that matter – most people are in agreement that the current generation of dedicated hand held gaming devices will not have the success that their predecessors did. They may be successful, but not as successful.
The reason? That darned iOS and it’s partner in crime, Android.
Nobody can argue that the quality of game you get on a PSP or DS is generally better than that of a $0.99 iPhone game, but the very nature of portable gaming has become one of killing time. Uncharted: Golden Abyss looks amazing, but if you have five minutes to kill in the doctor’s waiting room, are you going to pull out your Vita and play Uncharted, or are you going to pull out your Galaxy Nexus and play Angry Birds? Likewise, if you’re at home with an hour or two of free time, are you going to play Resistance on the 5” screen of your Vita, or the 55” TV on the other side of the room?
Garnett Lee put it best on his Weekend Confirmed podcast when he said (and I’m paraphrasing), “You kill time with an iOS/Android game, you make time for a 3DS/Vita game” and that’s really what it boils down to; when people make time for a game, they generally make it at home with their big screen TV and comfy sofa. Why buy a dedicated portable gaming device when you’re only ever going to play ten minutes of Tiny Tower on the bus ride to work.
Now, bear with me, but I think SEGA had the answer back in 1999. Hey! Come back.
Look, mobile phone games are nowhere near the quality of 3DS/Vita games, but how far off are we, really? The Xperia Play is already playing PS2 quality games. Heck, the Vita isn’t all that far off of being phone-sized, and that’s a PlayStation 3 with a screen! Phones are getting more powerful everyday, and at a faster rate that consoles.
So, what does this have to do with SEGA? Cast your mind back to 1999, and a console that, while an utter failure commercially, has a special place in the hearts and minds of most gamers. The Dreamcast.
The Dreamcast controller had a nifty little accessory called a VMU (or VMS, or VM, depending on where you came from), which, in addition to being removable memory, also served as a second display while gaming and a hand held gaming device when unplugged.
So picture this; a company puts out a “console phone”, which, by itself, is just a powerful phone. Maybe Android, maybe Windows Phone 7/8/95/XP, but a phone, with all the features we’ve come to expect from our glorified walkie talkies. You’d be able to get your Angry Birds and your Cut the Rope, just like you can on any other phone, but you’d also be able to get your Uncharted and Legend of Zelda (depending on the phone manufacturer), if you so desired.
But here’s the best bit.
You get back home to your big screen TV with wireless gaming controller on hand, slap your phone into a dock, and, BOOM, it’s a fully featured gaming console.
I say dock because your ultra high powered PlayStation Android or Xbox Phone 7 will probably have a battery life of about three hours, but if it was charged, it could act as that second screen. Like the Dreamcast had. Perhaps the controller, rather than being a separate entity, could actually be the dock. You would just slide your phone into the middle of it to create a Vita-esque device to control your console gaming.
This isn’t as far a fetched a future as it might appear. Sony already make gaming consoles and phones. Microsoft make gaming consoles and a phone OS (and pretty much own Nokia at this point). The odd one out is Nintendo, but guess what they’re doing for their next console; a hand held controller that acts as a second display!
You were so close, Nintendo.
It’s not surprising that SEGA thought of this years ago. As hardware manufacturers, they had a habit of coming out with the next big thing a little too early. They pushed the Game Gear before they could make the hardware compactly or cheaply enough, and people were happier to have the crappy monochrome display of the Game Boy rather than the expensive and bulky SEGA offering. They released the Saturn at a time when developers were still making games for the Mega Drive and SNES, and they pushed the futuristic Dreamcast when people were perfectly happy with their Nintendo 64s and PlayStations. SEGA were far too advanced for their own good.
I for one hope that SEGA’s pioneering vision of gaming future comes to fruition soon, but if there’s one thing you should take away from this article, it is this;
You mushroom fiddling fat plumber lovers are lame! Sonic rules!
John Bullock’s debut fantasy novel, The Returners, is on sale now. You can find all the places to get it (including for free!) here.
(Banner credit: Time Vortex – BBC, SEGA logo – SEGA.com)