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Future of the PC: "the de facto single format"

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Games For Windows top spokesman (and RPS’ favourite name in the games industry), Kevin Unangst, has been interviewed by Gamasutra’s Brandon Sheffield. In the interview Unangst is careful to talk up the PC, while avoiding the clear and present fact that the humble box will ultimately outmode and obliterate the console toys and become the de facto single format for gaming. Wuh? Crazy talk? Nolan Bushnell is with me. Find out what I’m wittering about after the link.

So here’s the interesting bit:

Okay. I was talking to Nolan Bushnell a little while ago. I was asking him if he ever thought that there could only be a single format for games, and he said he’s pretty sure it would be the PC that would be the de facto single format on which games are released in the distant future. What do you think about that?

KU: That’s interesting. I have a lot of respect for Nolan. I hadn’t heard that he’d said that, so that’s an interesting view of the future. I think that we’re uniquely in both the console business and the PC business, and I think there are certain instances where consumers like playing in their living room for some types of games. I like playing on the biggest screen in the house.

But I think we share the view that the PC will always be at the center of the innovation that is happening for gameplay — new game types, new business models, new distribution models.

It’s lead in the Internet, it’s lead in the acceleration of graphics, and I don’t see any reason to believe that the PC will change, and that trend will go away any time soon. It is at the forefront, and I believe it will continue to be at the forefront.

And who knows, in that vision of the future, everything may be called a PC, right? Everything’s going to get more intelligent and more Internet-connected, and the investments that Microsoft’s making in both of those worlds I think will allow us to bring better experiences to consumers, no matter where they come in. They start on the consoles? We’re going to make sure that when they add a PC to the mix that that experience gets better, and vice versa.

That last paragraph was basically the message I got from the last GDC. (A GDC at which Mr Sheffield told me he never used a PC to play games, except when he did…) The point is that everything is converging on being a PC, from your phone to your Playstation. They all want to be the beige box.

My personal future, for say fifteen years time, sees things like this: a similarly open-ended PC market to today, only there’s several powerful standards and ultra-scalable technologies that everyone is running with. The PC is sat in your office, but is wirelessly tied in to every other screen in the house, from your phone to the TV in the kitchen and the machine renders appropriately for the display device. The household PC is used to browse the Net and check email in your office, but also becomes a kind of central entertainment handler and games TiVo. No need for another box or a pile of discs in your TV parlour: the PC is already handling that, and it’s busy downloading the stuff you might want to play, even if you never do. You’re paying for a couple of different services, one that makes sure you can play the games you’re likely to want to play on your TV as soon as you sit down. Your PC does the actual rendering on one of its many cores, while someone else is web-browsing, and it knows you want to play because you’ve picked up a gamepad. At the same time, it also makes sure that you can play other games sat at your desk with a mouse and keyboard: those Total War games you like, or the mouse and keyboard versions of the episodic shooters you’ve been playing through, or those dojin games you keep blogging about.

When I suggest this future people generally dismiss it as a 1950s-style technofuture dream: one box fits all? Never! But it’s not quite like that. One box scales to all. If we’re getting to a stage where that console under the TV can be used to check your email or browse the web, why not simply set things up the other way around? Why would you spend $1000 on a PC and $500 on a console if you could spend $1000 on something than ran all aspects of your home entertainment? I think the only reason it hasn’t happened yet is that media-centre type PCs are a bugger to set up, and don’t have the pluggable convenience of consoles. As more and more people find themselves playing via the internet, making the most of their PC, and using what Koster calls “the true next generation console,” ie Abobe Flash, that will change.

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Jim Rossignol

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