Approach #2: Build More Powerful, Versatile Mobile Devices
The cloud streaming games approach is built on the assumption that it's easier to sell people relatively low-power, "dumb" terminal devices and keep the real processing power in the server farms -- essentially adopting the classic mainframe-terminal model of computing. But chipset developers like Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Intel are only continuing to make mobile processors that are smaller, cheaper, more energy-efficient, and more powerful.
At this year's CES in particular, it's easier than ever to imagine a game industry built solely on extraordinarily powerful mobile devices that also serve as home consoles. After all, if you start a game on your tablet during your commute home and finish it on your tablet at home while it's plugged into a dock connecting it to your TV and USB controllers, you're still kind of "enjoying the same game on any device" -- it's just that the device has changed somewhat.
Last year at CES, PC game peripheral manufacturer Razer entered the system business with a premium game laptop, the Razer Blade, and showed off a strange-looking game-focused tablet prototype called Project Fiona.
This year at CES, Project Fiona became a real product called the Razer Edge, which is a Windows 8 tablet built with an Intel Core processor and an Nvidia mobile GPU, and features a series of separate accessories intended to let consumers adapt it to their preferred playing situations.
By itself, it's a relatively high-powered tablet, but if you want to hold it like a rather large portable game console with an analog stick and buttons on each side, or hook it up to a battery-powered mobile keyboard and mouse for a laptop PC experience, or hook it up to a dock that connects to your HDTV via HDMI and has ports for several USB controllers for local multiplayer like a console, you can buy adapters to let you do that.
It's expensive, mind you -- $999 for the base tablet configuration, plus a range from $100 to $250 for each of the adapters -- but for core audiences looking to buy a new tablet, laptop, and/or console that they can use to access their existing Windows PC game library however they like, that price might not be too high.
Nvidia also bet on buffing mobile game devices. Not only did it announce its new mobile processor, the Tegra 4, it also announced a Tegra 4-powered mobile Android console called Project Shield that can locally play Android games via built-in 5" touchscreen or gamepad, output those Android games to an HDMI display for living room play, or even stream Windows games from a GeForce-equipped PC on the owner's local network.
Frankly, Project Shield seems like kind of a strange device that does a little bit of everything, but it's not hard to see how it could suit an enthusiast that wants to play Android games on the go and isn't satisfied with touchscreen controls, or wants more flexibility in how they play their PC library around the house (by hooking the Shield up to the HDTV instead of having to park a gaming PC in the living room, for example, or getting a quick Dishonored nightcap in before bed).
Compared to cloud streaming games, these two mobile devices undoubtedly have an easier time ensuring a quality game experience, but the up-front cost for the consumer is much higher; the Edge is about twice as much as a brand new home console costs on release for just the base configuration with no adapters, and Project Shield's PC-streaming functionality will require a PC with a Nvidia graphics chipset. What about budget-minded audiences?