Is console gaming on its way out?

Yesterday IGN reported that the next-generation Xbox will debut in October or early November of 2013 with six times the processing power of the current system. While that sounds lovely, I’m stuck on the question of appetite: Will consumers line up for an expensive console in an era of extreme mobility? My colleagues and I have gone back and forth on this on our weekly podcast, and I can’t shake the idea that console gaming will fizzle as mobile devices like the iPhone, iPad, and Galaxy Nexus become more powerful and more capable.

Lest you think I’m anti-console gaming, I was crazy about the stuff not too long ago. I’m probably dating myself, but I loved going to arcades, and I spent countless hours in front of my Nintendo, Sega, Xbox, and Playstation. But as devices like the iPhone and iPad emerged and enabled me to get my gaming fix on the go, I found myself straying from consoles more and more. And I suspect I’m not alone here. In fact, anecdotal evidence supports my suspiscion: Friends with young children — once console gaming’s core audience — tell me their kids play games on iPod Touchs or iPads, not Wiis or Playstations .

That said, Microsoft’s Xbox has something over the competition, something I can’t deny or write off — it’s the best console out there, and it claims that top spot for an ironic reason: It’s not just a gaming machine. It’s a multi-purpose entertainment hub. In addition to rendering the latest games, it plays Netflix, HBO GO, Hulu, and a variety of other media. It also has Kinect, which opens the door to all sorts of interactive possibilities.

Still, I think immobility is the limiting factor — not to mention pricier titles. And a recent decline in retail game sales bears that out. Last week, marketing research firm NDP released a report that pegged the downturn at 8 percent in 2011. In December alone, game sales were down roughly 21 percent. Yasir, our resident gaming nut, was quick to point out that existing consoles are in their retirement phase, so it’s only natural that sales of their software and accessories would slowly dry up. I don’t dispute that, but I think the price of admission, for the consoles and their games, is just as responsible for making gamers think twice.

But I don’t think consoles will suddenly disappear from the gaming landscape, either. They’ll linger for years because, dwindling or not, they have a passionate fanbase that appreciates the graphics and controls that mobile devices haven’t yet mastered. But just as arcades took a back seat to consoles decades ago, and desktops have taken a back seat to laptops, I strongly suspect consoles will increasingly play second fiddle to mobile devices like iPhones and iPads.

Photo Credit: Great Beyond

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