1. Are You Experienced?
Consoles feel prehistoric in 2021, but from the chip to the controller, consoles have often been bleeding edge tech for games. The Moore’s Law approach to console development has been a mixed bag of success and failure. I remember back in 1995 the software development kit was the size of a caravan, yet in 2021 it can fit into the palm of your hand.
I worked on the original PlayStation and at the time the fanfare was definitely justified: it was the first time in the west, especially, that we had a piece of hardware that nestled wonderfully between our Kenwood stereo and our desktop PC that also had the versatility to be a family entertainment system. It was Atari, Magnavox and NES/SNES/Famicom plus. It was a place to bring people together, bringing multiplayer to life.
2. Harder, Better, Faster (Smaller)
Rainbow Six 3 came at the right time for me, as UK Garage was taking a distinct downturn in the music charts (thanks Blazin’ Squad) and we started putting our own mixtapes directly onto CDs, organising them with our games next to your Sean Paul, Black Eyed Peas and Evanescence albums. This connection between what we had started to take for granted in technology (see Moore’s Law) happened with the convergence of hardware and software, music and movies, tech and TV: all moving into the same consumer space. The idea that consoles were moving with the times at such a rate was almost too difficult for the developers to really keep a focused eye on what was on the horizon – while they were trying to figure out everything from copyright infringement to community. Therefore the product became pretty amorphous in terms of output, a bit like now. It didn’t matter if you were playing Crash Bandicoot 2 on your GBA, watching Crash or listening to Crash (thanks, Usher).
3. Everywhere You Go (You Always Take Your Console With You)
The excitement of CDs and DVDs (sod off MiniDiscs) wore off quickly: seamless entertainment became very matter-of-fact. So when the next shiny thing came along it was pretty hard to look away. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce you to the Dreamcast: possibly the most exciting console of a generation without question (I will fight anybody about this).
The Dreamcast was the prototype for – and this is just my opinion – the metaverse. Yes, you can clutch your pearls and gasp in horror then laugh at the fact that ultimately this was a failure for Sega. But look at the specifications of the Dreamcast models and wow at the level of futureproofing that was taking place in 1998 – it’s pretty hard to say, “Yeah, but…” The Dreamcast controller alone, with its dock connectors, was designed for multiple accessories and plug-ins the likes of which we take for granted today (AirPods anyone?). The idea that you could take a gaming experience with you in your pocket, and swap it or connect with it on-the-go is like a dream to somebody who architects the future of technology/metaverse experiences. However, Sega seemed to think about the future seriously and create for it at a time when I guess none of us wanted it. The Dreamcast remains the most forward-thinking and connected console ever. If the metaverse looks like anything or behaves like anything, to me, it feels like the blueprint was written by Sega.
4. C.R.E.A.M (Cash Rules Everything Around Me)
Consoles are banks. Don’t believe me? Okay, let’s call them walled gardens. The metaphor tends to be quite negative, but I would say the opposite is true as it’s one of the great things that has come out of console development. This approach to buying games from game libraries on consoles has (mostly) been about loyalty, and that means ease-of-use for the consumer or player. The walled garden also confirms a level of security by effectively moving the transaction out of a traditional one-size-fits-all payment system and into something that works for the individual console developer, be that Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft (insert your console here). As a point of order, I’m not talking about Ouya or Sega as I know that games are still developed for these consoles because the transaction, as I understand, is possibly physical. Now that Steam has joined in, outside of its usual PC-focused world, there is an added opportunity – this is a good thing.
Console developers, as I said in that first sentence, really are becoming more banking corporations and less distribution platforms. And, that’s not a slight on the console at all – it’s simply that until we find a system of monetary transactions that suits everybody we will unfortunately have to make those walled garden choices.
5. We Are Your Friends
In my day job, one of the first questions I always ask is, “How sociable is the game?” It doesn’t have to be sociable to be good – some of the greatest games I’ve ever played been single-player focused – though I do love an opportunity to share my progress, make friends or have conversations; and pretty early on the bigger console developers had this nice problem to solve long before we had Facebook, Twitter, etc. So how did they deal with that basic human condition of being sociable? Accessories. Well, mostly accessories. Clunky, not always user-friendly, but they did meet the needs of the end-user which was to connect people. Outside of the ten-year-old kid shouting “REPORT!” down a headset, the ability to talk while playing games literally increased our awareness of each other while playing but also enhanced our enthusiasm and passion for gameplay. So even if the game was not all that, you knew that you had friends who could talk to you while you’re playing and that really does give rise, in a sense, to the metaverse (hello Zoom/Facebook Horizon/AltSpace VR). Finding your clan, your people and, in my case, your band of weirdos is pretty high up on the metaverse hierarchy of needs.
6. Everybody’s Gonna Be Happy
Community and social focus aside, consoles give us a great insight of what we don’t have while preparing for the metaverse. If adapted controllers enable people to have an experience that they might not have been able to connect with, this is something we can learn for the development of what the metaverse can be. Accessibility is not just a statement: it has to be an assurance that everyone can play. With the metaverse being so ultra-connected and empowering it should also be about wider inclusivity too, right? RIGHT! Design 101 is about developing hardware and software for the games community, regardless of their spend, ability, race, nationality or religion.
Sales only happen when people have money. That is true, but sales also only happen when games or hardware is accessible to everybody and that is still a common design value that we can definitely all agree on in the games industry. Everybody should be able to play our games and therefore access all of the other exciting bits and pieces in and around the experience, universe or metaverse. If you come at this half-cocked, or you set the terms with which people can play, you are setting your users and yourself up for failure.
7. Take Me With You
I kind of already talked about connectivity earlier on but I feel it needs more exploration from the perspective of what else can I do with a console? The Nintendo Switch is one of the most exciting consoles possibly ever, and it’s for a very simple reason. Whereas, my game experience of playing, say, Crisis Core on the Sony PSP was totally different playing a Final Fantasy game on the PlayStation, I can say with a great deal of confidence that the Nintendo Switch has really cornered the market in truly connective gameplay. I love the idea of being able to play at home on a console, but also being able to continue that game on my commute to work in the morning on the train/bus. It makes me feel like there is no better solution to the metaverse problem of being in the moment 24/7/365 and that is exactly what the metaverse should stand for.
8. Welcome Home
I cried for about three weeks when PlayStation Home said that it was going to close its doors. This early incarnation of the metaverse was a modest predecessor to its contemporary counterparts such as Roblox and The Sandbox or even Avakin Life and, the combination of an ultra-developed play room, meeting place and world was like a dream come true! Over at Microsoft, Minecraft gave players an opportunity to live in an endless scenario; endless from the perspective of the server technology – certainly at the time – but has now surpassed its peers as a standalone example of why servers present the strongest infrastructure for continuous metaverse experiences. Again, as a side note, anybody who works in server technology is basically your new god.
9. I See You
Am I a Mii? Am I a meme? Is it an EyeToy capture from 2004 that I can’t be arsed to update, or am I in fact Master Chief? It’s hard to know as you wade through the treacle of avatars. Levels of quality, appropriation, etc, make the entire metaverse avatar system a smorgasbord of SynthWave album covers, baby pics and the Tron version of me. With some notable exceptions, I think we can simply consign avatars on consoles to the bin. The pantomime of this cartoony version of ourselves, has given way to a tranche of horrendous cartoony figures that none of us can connect with over the age of ten. In short, I think the avatar situation is something that we can learn from rather than poke fun at. The evolution of avatars on consoles has been nothing short of slapdash and if the metaverse is informed by consoles then perhaps it’s consoles we have to thank for a motley crew of ugly faces drowning in a sea of bytes (hello NFTs).
10. Virtual Insanity (other realities are available)
I talked about seamless technology and connectivity throughout this entire article but nothing really comes close to plugging in a VR headset and being in a space instantly. The idea that we can use mixed reality to get that head up display that we always dreamed of, that Master Chief’s visor, is here. Now. This democratisation of access through consoles is exactly what the metaverse is about!
If we continue to see consoles as just a gaming device we lose the future: more ways to be entertained, more discoverability, more accessibility, and moaaar! Unless we can attain more convergence from consoles, and bring all of these needs together, consoles will be a figure of fun for those who are serious about the metaverse. Therefore I suppose in closing, and on a more political level, I would say that consoles can be the birthplace of all multiverses, IP and the metaverse, but only if they are working together. If we can be more harmonious in our design for the metaverse because of everything that consoles have given us and continue to give to us the player, there will be some incredible leaps in technological advancements. So keep loving your console, it’s breathing life into the future.
PS: Playlist all the song titles.