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Ask any kid from Wisconsin to Warsaw to Wellington what their ultimate Holiday gift would be, and you’ll likely see a 9th-generation game console like the PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X. Sony and Xbox couldn’t keep up with demand when those consoles were released before Christmas 2020, with a worldwide shortage caused by several supply chain factors leading to disappointment for plenty of kids (and big kids too). Sales have increased in recent years as supply catches up with demand, with Sony, for example, now approaching 40 million units of its flagship PS5 console.

And yet, there are some who believe that we are seeing the death of the console, at least in its traditional form. That might sound contradictory, given the high demand for the consoles, but it is more of an acknowledgment of where the gaming industry is going. Perhaps the overall point is that the console era will finally come to an end because we no longer need them.

Instant-play online games are now an expectation

There are many types of online gaming sites that offer a variety of experiences, ranging from social gaming websites to play for Gold Coins to high-powered PC gaming platforms that deliver a console-quality experience. The point, as such, is that almost every possible experience in the gaming world can be delivered by instant play or cloud gaming.

Google, most notably, decided that this was the future when it launched its Stadia cloud gaming platform in 2018. Again, it might seem like we are contradicting our argument by pointing out that Stadia was closed down earlier this year, but Google doubled down on cloud gaming last month by announcing it is bringing live gaming to YouTube. The idea is that you’ll be able to play live, big-budget games on the YouTube platform. The video social media platform certainly isn’t alone. Netflix, for example, is exploring games as its next big thing.

All of these huge companies see gaming as a software-based activity and one that does not necessarily require specialist hardware beyond a television, smartphone or PC. But for real evidence of why we are headed in this direction, one must look to the producers of the game consoles. Microsoft’s Xbox division is headed by Phil Spencer, an executive who has stated time and time again that the future of Xbox is ubiquitousness. In the simplest terms, Spencer believes that you won’t need an Xbox to play Xbox games. They have backed up the rhetoric by releasing the Xbox Everywhere/Anywhere packages.

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Intellectual property is the gold standard in gaming

There is a realization among the console giants that content, not hardware, is king. The $69 billion purchase of Activision Blizzard by Microsoft underlined that point. While it is being thwarted by anti-trust litigation in the courts, the deal represents the biggest in tech history and the largest all-cash acquisition in history. But Microsoft is not intending to buy infrastructure or hardware – it is buying intellectual property. That’s where the money is in the future of gaming.

You might argue, of course, that a better gaming experience is delivered on a powerful Xbox or PlayStation than on a cheap laptop. And that’s difficult to disagree with. But the gap is closing as new gaming experiences come to the fore. Moreover, it’s going to continue to narrow. There probably will be a PlayStation 6 released in a couple of years, and it may sell in the millions. Perhaps it will piggyback off new technologies like VR. But the way the industry is going, don’t be surprised to see the game console finally become an afterthought.