When it comes to new gaming hardware, things aren’t usually announced at CES. So it was somewhat of a surprise that this year three new consoles saw the light of day (well the artificial light of the Las Vegas Conference Center, that is).
The smallest surprise came from Valve with the unveiling of its new platform that everyone, up until now, has called the Steam Box, but is now called Piston. This has been much mooted and discussed in more than 1,000 online forums for a while.
The idea is that Valve (the people behind games such as Half-Life 2 and CounterStrike) will bring its hugely popular and not that expensive games to the TV, where they have, up until now, been PC only games.
The Piston will do more than play games though, as with other consoles, and support NetFlix for example. And whereas consoles have one specification that can’t be modified, Piston will be modular so that gamers can add more memory and swap out the motherboard. In fact the Piston is just one possible Steam Box as other manufacturers are likely to come out with other designs. Talk about muddying the waters.
Straight off this sounds like a bad idea. One of the reasons for consoles’ popularity is their uniformity, you know exactly how a game will play, which you don’t have on a PC, where every single one is different.
The other announcements were the OUYA (a crowd sourced Android-based games console) and Project Shield from computer graphics manufacturer NVidia.
The latter was the big shock as no one seems to have known it was in development. In fact the developers themselves see it as something of an experiment. Unlike the other two it is a handheld console, a market that is not quite as healthy as it once was.
Nintendo dropped the price of the 3DS and Sony is struggling to sell the PS Vita, so I can’t see why anyone would want to bring in another platform, though Project Shield does promise to play Android games so, in one way, it is only new hardware, not an entirely new platform.
OUYA is a slightly different take on the standard console. Again it uses the Android OS, but is designed to connect up to your TV and do all the multimedia stuff the other consoles do.
Although I can see why each of the consoles has been developed, to a degree, a large part of me does wonder why at the same time.
The Android platform is ideal for gaming, but I don’t think many people will want to use it in their living rooms to play games on. In fact the only way I think it will take off is if Google was to launch its own Android set top box that could play games and do the streaming TV / film bit as well. Now there’s an idea! They could call it the Google (not goggle) Box.