Consoles, as we know them, are dead. But core games aren't.

OPINION: As sales slump and the next-gen looms, the way we play games is set to change forever, argues PSM3's Dan Dawkins

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Even the 30 hour Mass Effect 3 throws in a deep, persistent XP, multiplayer mode to keep you locked in its universe, spending your money on DLC ammo and weapon packs, rather than taking risks on new £40 IP.

Look around, and 'new' models are being tested everywhere. In Feb 2012, Sony decided to give away the multiplayer component of PS3 Killzone for free via PSN. Well, until you reach Sergeant 1 rank, and need to pay $15 for the full version, with XP bonuses, clan modes and more.
Free world: Dust 514

CCP's free-to-play PS3 shooter Dust 514 launches this year, which directly interacts with PC players - with the option to buy non-essential, but advantageous, weapon and skill packs. It's a classic PC freemium model, like League of Legends or Valve's Team Fortress 2, which makes more money through micro payments now it's free, than when they sold the full game up front.

Microsoft is selling a $99 Xbox 360, that requires you to sign up to Xbox Live Gold for $15 over two years, just like a mobile phone contract. It'll shift Xbox 360s, sure, but is more likely a test for Xbox 720, where reducing the initial cost of the console will be essential, given that game sales are no longer a 'long tail' guarantee.

Our sources suggest Xbox 720 won't just work in tandem with Sky TV, but allow your TV aerial to be plugged directly into the console. Given the mobile phone-style cost model, what's to stop it literally *being* your Sky box? Sky currently HD base units are made by Amstrad, but it'd be an easy way to gain traction in the games market. Unwittingly, *everyone* who joins Sky for Live Premier League, Mad Men or The Food Channel, would possess a box capable of running Halo 5.

With Apple rumoured to launch a TV set by Xmas 2012, likely with iTunes, iPad and iPhone compatibility; plus its world of apps, services and content, the traditional console manufacturers will be under increasing pressure. If Apple added console-quality, cloud-streamed games to that mix, PS4 or Xbox 720 would struggle to compete.

Consoles, as we know them, are dead. But great console-style games aren't. The change is in how we play, consume and purchase them. Expect a future of phone-style hardware subscriptions, fuss-free set top boxes, huge free-to-play games (with micro payment DLC components), AAA subscription services (Call of Duty etc), and cloud-based back catalogues.

With Gaikai, you might eventually be able to play the *entire* PlayStation library, in the same way you search for songs on Spotify. It'd certainly negate the need to put backward compatible chips in PS4. That is, if PS4 even exists as a physical product. PlayStation might become a premium gaming *channel*, delivered through other means.

It's quite possible that nothing significant changes about the way we buy and play games for a year or two - and PS4 might even look like the console(s) we know today - but the old models are on borrowed time.

In early 2012, we spoke to BioShock creator Ken Levine, who was very reluctant to make next-gen predictions. He did, however, say something we initially dismissed as enigmatic madness, that might be the wisest thing he said. "People mistake the past for the present and they also mistake the present for the future", claims Levine, "People are very slow to realise that the thing they're doing, or the world they're living in is changing, or if the model they're working under is no longer viable."

We love console gaming, but its 'death' is key to the industry's long-term health. Our desire for great gaming isn't going anyway, even if the way we consume might be unrecognisable. Video games have died - and come back stronger - at least once already. In 1983, the video game market was worth $3.2bn, but fell a staggering 97% to $100m by 1985.

During this period, Atari were rumoured to have buried millions of unsold ET cartridges in the New Mexico desert. 29 years later, as another financial and existential crisis looms, we don't think videogames are finished just yet.

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