Jim's post got me thinking about the future of gaming and a little theory I discovered a while ago called Telescopic evolution.
Telescopic evolution, also known as Period-Information Doubling (although the latter sounds much cooler), is a concept that human advancement doubles at increasingly short times; so much so that we may one day be able to see society drastically change, perhaps multiple times, within a single lifetime.
So, while this conjures up many different grand philosophical questions and discussions, I aim to address a much more crucial matter; How will this effect gaming and, more importantly, consoles?
Looking back just 10 years, at the N64 and Playstation, we can see how much has changed just graphically. As graphics evovle and with the rate at which technology advances, we may well see real life graphics within our lives. If we really do reach that pinnacle, what then? Where do we go from there? Nintendo have already given us a hint of a possible future in different interaction methods. But before I go off fantasising about virtual reality and the PS9 I have to ask; will we even get that far?
Are consoles doomed?
First, some background on the theory. I'll let Alan Moore describe it:
Transcription: "If we take one period of human information as being the time between the invention of the first hand axe, say around 50 000 BC and 1 AD, then this is one period of human information and we can measure it by how many human inventions we came up with in that time. Then we see how long it takes for us to have twice as many inventions. This means that human information has doubled.
As it turns out, after the first 50 000 year period, the second period is about 1500 years, say around the time of the Renaissance. By then we has twice as much information. To double again, human information took a couple of hundred years. The period speeds up, between 1960 and 1970 human information doubled. As I understand it, at the last count human information was doubling around every 18 months.
Further to this, there is a point somewhere around 2015 when human information is doubling every thousandth of a second. This means that in every thousandth of a second we will have accumulated more information than we have in the entire previous history of the world. At this point all bets are off. I cannot imagine the kind of culture that might exist after such a flashpoint of knowledge. I believe that our culture would probably move into a completely different state, would move past the boiling point from a fluid culture to a culture of steam."
Also for your viewing pleasure because it's a great film and you should see it:
Imagine this theory is correct. Imagine a world where information doubles every thousandth of a second, including technology. If you look at the world of PC gaming now you can get an idea. You could upgrade your system's components more than once a year, if you had the money, but these aren't significantly noticeable changes. I'm talking about a world where significant changes are visible very often, so where does this leave our humble friend the video games console?
If technology is advancing at such a rate then the five-year cycle is definitely out the window. At it's heart, gaming is a business and manufacturers always have to try and keep with the latest technological trends. But then will people be willing to pay $400 every 2 years or even every year? Doubtful. A more viable option would be to have upgradeable hardware but then that would make them like PCs and pretty much obsolete (which seems to be happening already in some people's opinion). Or would it?
Remember the N64 expansion pack? Although Nintendo have always been the forerunners of new add-ons everyone is doing it. Bigger hard drives, HDMI sockets, Wii Motion Plus. It seems ok now using longer periods of time but then the problem again is with the acceleration of technological advancement. Could we, at some point, be seeing an Xbox 360 with a new graphics card?
Would people be willing then to have a PC and a Console to upgrade? I don't think so, neither would they be willing to pay for upgrades for multiple systems. I know I wouldn't be too keen on it. Can you imagine having to keep 3 PCs up to date to play the latest games or to have the best experience? A financial nightmare. Yet they're already doing it and we're already being tempted.
Michael Pachter discussed an interesting idea on Bonus Round where he said there may not even be another generation of consoles unless we have a drastic change in the way the consoles work, not just in the traditional sense but like the Wii, only much greater, with new interactions and methods. He also mentions the move towards more multimedia based machines.
We're already seeing it this generation; you can download movies on your 360, you can view photo albums and listen to music. But this just makes them more and more like PCs. The great thing about a PC is it's freedom. You can put anything on it, any operating system, any programs, movies, music and it's not just for recreation but business use too. No one will want to give up that freedom but we're seeing restrictions like that now. Look at Battlefield: Bad Company, many of us got angry and began to fear that other developers would start making less of the game available and charging extra for this "Downloadable Content" but some of them are clearly already doing it. Take Mega Man 9 for instance.
We are definitely on the verge of a huge shift in the way gaming works, with more and more people getting into gaming it's moving into a globally, socially, accepted form of entertainment like films and TV.
There are so many different avenues of possibility to explore that I could write pages upon pages more about it. The most likely near future is a time of trial and error for the big guys like Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft; different ideas will be tested on consumers, like the bad company content idea to see what works or, more likely, what they can get away with.
I encourage you to watch the episode of Bonus Round for a few more points. I'd love to hear everyone's opinions and ideas on the future of our great pastime.
Whatever the future of console gaming holds it's looking likely that consoles, as we know them, are doomed. Relics of the past like typewriters, gramophones and cathode ray tubes. Remember, with time, science fiction becomes science fact.