I’ve been away on vacation with my son for the last week. That’s a long time in the games industry, and over the past few days I’ve been catching up with everything that happened while I was away… the games that launched, the industry rumors, the pre-E3 and WWDC rumors, Computex and Intel’s release of its new Haswell line of processors. However, the one thing that really surprised me, and caught my attention, was the unexpected release of “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” for the Apple iPad.
A brief retrospective is in order for younger gamers/readers. “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic”, or KOTOR, as it’s usually referred to by those in the know, was an role-playing game developed by Bioware for the original Microsoft X-Box console, back around the turn of the century (LoL, I always wanted to work that phrase into a post :P). The game is an absolute jewel, and widely considered to be the best Star Wars game of all time, as well as one of the best overall RPGs of all time. It’s fondly remembered today, and fans are still clamoring for a proper third installment, instead of the MMORPG that EA/Bioware eventually put out (“Star Wars: The Old Republic”.)
So this hardcore console RPG is now available for the iPad, and it plays beautifully with touch controls. The graphics look even better than on the Xbox, because you are looking at them on a higher-resolution screen. The story and the characters are as amazing as ever. Gamers can now have this “experience” without the need of a gaming console hooked up to the television set.
The release of KOTOR on the iPad got me thinking about the Wii U’s lackluster sales, and how it’s struggling in the market. I own a Wii U, and it’s an excellent console, with the usual Nintendo classic games, and a unique controller with its own touchscreen. Games look beautiful on it, because it has newer hardware internals than both the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3. But it’s not selling, not just in North America, but in Japan as well. The weekly sales numbers for the console over there are about 6,000, well below even PS Vita numbers (another struggling gaming device, but a topic for another day.)
Due to some leaks in the past couple of days, I’m fully expecting Nintendo to phase out the Wii U Basic Set, and sell what was formerly the Deluxe Set at the $299.99 price point. Nintendo will also announce Wii U versions of its most beloved franchises at E3, like 3D Mario, Zelda and Super Smash Bros. But what if its efforts fail to reinvigorate Wii U sales? What if game developers abandon it en masse, and Nintendo is forced to discontinue it, like Sega did with the Dreamcast?
Let’s take this “nightmare scenario” one step further. Over the past few months Sony announced their Playstation 4, and Microsoft announced their Xbox One, both for release in November of this year. We already know their almost-identical, PC based hardware-internals, and, unlike with the Wii U, the gaming public is wary of suspected DRM, anti-piracy and, in the case of the Xbox One, privacy-threatening concerns, thanks to its always-on Kinnect 2.0. So what if these console are released this Holiday Season, and they don’t sell? Maybe the Wii U’s struggles are a sign of something more significant, a permanent shift of gaming to other, multi-function devices, such as tablets and smartphones, or even the PC, where free-to-play games attract millions of players every week. What if gamers decide that they don’t need a TV screen to play their video games, or worse, that they can get their “fix” elsewhere for a buck a pop, or even for free? The days og the gaming console and $60 (or, as rumored for the Xbox One and PS4, $70) game may be numbered.