TIME Video Games

4 Reasons Why Video Game Consoles Will Never Die

E3 Gaming And Technology Conference Begins In L.A.
Kevork Djansezian—Getty Images An Xbox One controller is used at the Microsoft Xbox booth during the Electronics Expo 2013 at the Los Angeles Convention Center on June 11, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

It's not Game Over yet

By now, we know the “consoles are dead” narrative was overblown. The PS4 has sold tens of millions, the Xbox One isn’t far behind, and the Wii U has climbed from “disastrous” to only “mildly disappointing.”

Lately, however, consoles have become the ugly duckling of the video game world, less popular than the smartphone and less attractive than the all-powerful PC. They’re too expensive, too niche, and too geeky—or so the criticisms go.

But the console still has some long-term advantages that people tend to forget.

1. Reliable software quality, unlike the smartphone

Spend five minutes browsing the App Store or Google Play Store, and you’ll be overwhelmed by an avalanche of games, many of them garbage. For every smash hit (e.g. Angry Birds, Candy Crush), there are countless bug-ridden, unplayable imitators. Yes, the best-selling lists can at least highlight a few up-and-comers (ex: Trivia Crack, Crossy Road), but hundreds of other great games will end up buried beneath all the rubbish.

For developers, there’s far more incentive to game the system with in-app purchases and fake user reviews than to build something creative. After all, most of the good stuff gets lost in the crowd anyway—a consequence of mobile’s race-to-the-bottom, volume-beats-quality marketplace.

Compare that to the world of console gaming, where each platform has a stable, annual parade of triple-A titles, each of which are almost guaranteed to be hits, year after year. The PlayStation boasts exclusives like Uncharted, LitteBigPlanet, and the latest Metal Gear games. The Xbox brings Halo, Titanfall, and Forza. And then there’s Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty, FIFA, Madden, and Elder Scrolls, series that owners of either console can trust to deliver, sequel after sequel. Nintendo offers a different lineup, but between Mario Kart, Smash Bros, Zelda, Pokemon and Donkey Kong, you’ve got a similar roster of predictably excellent games.

2. Accessibility, unlike the PC

Let’s face it: among serious gamers, the PC has rapidly become the best choice for gaming. A modern gaming PC will feature the best graphics of any system, and the whole gamut of software, from multi-million-dollar blockbusters to avant-garde indie experiments.

But getting the best out of PC gaming also means owning a pricey, powerful gaming PC, which is a tough sell for the general public. You’re looking at $1,000-2,000 just to get started—potentially over triple the price of a gaming console. Savvy PC owners will point out that the purchase pays off in the long run, especially considering PCs are more easily upgradable.

But how many everyday consumers will be willing to take that price hit up front? If the smartphone market has taught us anything, it’s that people prefer to spread their costs over several years, rather than pay everything right away.

In this way, the console market mirrors the smartphone model. Customers start by paying around $400 for the console (or phone) itself, then $40-60 for each additional game (or month of service). It’s a proven pricing scheme that consumers have accepted for decades.

Then you factor in user experience. From the day you buy a new console, every game will work as advertised. Compare that to the corresponding experience on a PC, where the specific graphics card and performance specifications of your machine will determine every aspect of the user experience. Video card outdated? Your brand new PC game will lurch along at low frame rates. Geeks might get a kick out of keeping their gaming rigs up to speed, but the rest of the market just wants to know that the latest Call of Duty will work straight out of the box.

3. Social appeal

It’s the most controversial point on the list, but an important one: consoles connect people—in person—better than any other gaming system. Yes, smartphones and PCs bring a greater volume of players together, and both deserve credit for the impressive gaming networks they’ve assembled. But when was the last time you physically visited a friends’ house to play Words With Friends? Or lugged your PC to a buddy’s place for drinks, cigars and a session of World of Warcraft? Only the console consistently brings people into the same room. If smartphones and PCs are social networks, the console is the digital equivalent of Monopoly or Risk—a 2015 version of board game night.

Some will say that such classic “couch multiplayer” is dying, and it’s true that far more people play Halo over the web than over a coffee table. But living room gaming still scratches a very human itch, one that will likely stick around—even in its reduced state—for decades to come.

4. Disappearing stigma

The final barrier for console gaming has been the stigma—that is, the sense that only teenage boys play console games. Sure, games like Cut the Rope (mobile) or The Sims 4 (PC) are casual and mainstream enough for anyone, but who—besides those male high schoolers—are actually settling in for three-hour rounds of FIFA on Xbox?

The answer: people of both genders and all ages. According to a 2014 study by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the average age for video game players in the US is 31 years, a number that’s been climbing for a decade. Today, 48% of game players are female. And we’re not just talking about smartphone game players. In the ESA’s study, 68% of respondents reported that they play games on a console, next to only 53% on a smartphone.

So the old teenage boy stigma is simply inaccurate. As each year passes, more and more people feel comfortable admitting to late-night sessions of Zelda and Assassin’s Creed. And that comfort will likely breed even more console gamers.

The Bottom Line

The console is here to stay, even if the future details remain a little murky. Will virtual reality finally break through? Will Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo still be the biggest players in 10 years time? Who knows. But the basic console recipe—consistent quality, a simple experience, social appeal, and societal approval—ensure that the medium will last. Just like with Mario, the game is never really over.

TIME isis

New Report Maps ISIS Support on Twitter

Most of its social-media success comes from a small number of hyperactive users

A new analysis of Twitter accounts that support ISIS provides one of the most comprehensive looks yet at the militant group’s online success in spreading its message.

The paper, The ISIS Twitter Census, was released Thursday by the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy, having been commissioned by Google Ideas. It’s a deep dive into how sympathizers of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria use the platform to disseminate graphic multimedia of its crimes and push out propaganda while simultaneously drawing in support.

The report’s two authors conservatively estimate that 46,000 to 70,000 Twitter accounts were used by ISIS supporters from September to December 2014, though not all of them were active at the same time. “Typical” supporters were located within Iraq and Syria, where ISIS militants control large swaths of land, and accounts averaged about 1,000 followers each. About one-fifth of supporters made English the primary language when their accounts were registered, and three-fourths opted for Arabic.

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MORE: Inside ISIS: A TIME Special Report

Specific areas that were studied included display names, top hashtags and links, avatars and smartphones used to send tweets (Android handily tops Apple). “Much of ISIS’s social media success can be attributed to a relatively small group of hyperactive users, numbering between 500 and 2,000 accounts, which tweet in concentrated bursts of high volume,” the report notes.

Its release comes on the heels of ISIS apparently threatening Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey after at least 1,000 accounts of supporters were taken offline in recent months.

“Account suspensions do have concrete effects in limiting the reach and scope of ISIS activities on social media,” the authors state, adding, “They do not, at the current level of implementation, eliminate those activities, and cannot be expected to do this.”

Read the full report at Brookings.

TIME Gadgets

You Won’t Get Your Hands on Apple’s Giant iPad Any Time Soon

Apple iPad Tablet Suppliers
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images Apple CEO Tim Cook holds the new iPad Air 2 during a special event on Oct. 16, 2014 in Cupertino, Calif.

Apple has reportedly told suppliers to delay until the second half of 2015

Bad news for those awaiting Apple’s rumored 12.9-inch iPad — you’ll have to wait even longer.

Apple has told suppliers to delay the iPad’s mass production from the first quarter of 2015 to the second half of the year, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter. Apple hasn’t officially announced the bigger iPad, which would be its largest ever, but several leaks from the supply chain have suggested since last fall that the “iPad Air Plus” or “iPad Pro” is in the works.

The delay will reportedly allow Apple more time to finalize the iPad’s design, which may include USB ports and better synchronization software as Apple tries to break into the fast-growing enterprise market.

Apple’s tablet sales have struggled lately, with 2014 marking the first year in which worldwide iPad shipments declined, according to a report by IDC. But it’s not just Apple: the global tablet market has seen a “massive deceleration” in growth as big-screen smartphones cannibalize tablet sales, IDC said. In other words, the number of tablets shipped worldwide is still going up—but less and less each year.

Here’s a closer look at IDC’s tablet market forecast:

iCharts

[WSJ]

TIME Apple

If You Want an Apple Watch This Is the Only Website For You

Apple Apple Watch

No, it's not Apple's own website

Apple’s smartwatch is nearing launch. More information about the device is likely to be revealed on Monday, March 9, during a press event. Details have trickled out slowly since the Watch’s unveiling last year. CEO Tim Cook has reportedly said he thinks it could possibly replace your keys, for example. Unsubstantiated reports have suggested everything from its expected battery life to how much the most high-end versions might cost (a lot).

But until more concrete information is available, Mixyourwatch.com may be the next best thing. The site allows users to mix and match styles of the Watch and straps, something not currently possible on Apple’s own website. The Watch is likely the most customizable product the company has ever launched. Hence the utility—and addictiveness—of the site’s configurator. You can try it out here.

TIME Video Games

Rock Band 4 Exists and It’ll Be on PS4 and Xbox One This Year

The massive music game franchise is ready for a comeback tour

Prep your sweatbands, eyeliner and hair extensions: an official sequel to Rock Band will happen this year for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, says longtime series developer Harmonix.

Better still, the studio’s revamped, group-angled rock-a-thon—dubbed Rock Band 4 and due by this fall—will be backward-compatible with pretty much everything from prior installments, including all the songs (over 2,000), plastic faux-guitars, rubber drum kits and keytars you’ve doubtless sequestered away somewhere, you know, for precisely this moment.

The last band-focused Rock Band game happened five years ago in 2010 and sold well enough, but after years of market saturation (remember the deluge of Guitar Hero titles?), the thinking was that maybe folks needed a make-believe musical break. Harmonix released a one-off in the interim, a downloadable rhythm game for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 called Rock Band Blitz that eschewed special controllers for catchall gamepad-tapping. But the worry post-2010 was that maybe the phenom had passed.

And who knows, perhaps it has. Harmonix’s challenge, with scads of copies of earlier games and all their accessories still widely available, is convincing players Rock Band 4 is more than just the last band game they played with souped-up visuals and refurbished content. Out front, it sounds like the studio understands that concern.

Speaking to Harmonix’s past work, product manager Daniel Sussman puts it this way: “In retrospect, I think we innovated in a lot of areas that were not necessarily the right ones. We’re really trying very hard this time around to be very creative in ways that will impact everybody in the band.”

Two hitches. First, we have no idea what Sussman’s talking about, because Harmonix is only soft-announcing the new game today and avoiding specifics (probably to fend of copycats for as long as possible). All you’ll hear in the “behind the scenes” video above are a few fuzzy buzzphrases, like “evolution of the way that you play” and “now we’re very indie.”

And second, everything I typed about backward compatibility above? Scratch 2009’s masterful The Beatles: Rock Band, arguably the apotheosis of Rock Band-dom. According to Wired, that musical gold mine’s off the books for licensing reasons, at least for now.

TIME Gadgets

The Pebble Time Smartwatch Is a Massive Leap Forward

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Pebble Pebble Time

Hands-on with Pebble's new color smartwatch

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This post is in partnership with Trusted Reviews. The article below was originally published at TrustedReviews.com.

Sitting in the TrustedReviews office, I stared in amazement at the Kickstarter page for the Pebble Time as it rapidly soared past its funding goal in a matter of minutes. Now I’ve got to play with the Time, I understand why there was all that excitement – it’s a massive leap forward from the original Pebble smartwatch.

Watch our Pebble Time and Pebble Time Steel hands-on video

SEE ALSO: Pebble Time Steel hands-on

The big change is the more streamlined design, which actually reminds me a little of Swatch watches. It’s smaller and more elegant than the first Pebble and the more neutral look means it’s truly unisex. It’s also waterproof to 5ATM, so you take it in the shower and even go swimming with it.

It’s light as well. I strapped one around my wrist and it’s neither as cumbersome nor chunky as most Android Wear watches I’ve tried. It’s not really a watch you’d imagine someone sitting in a business meeting with, though. The plastic body gives it a more playful look, but Pebble now has the Pebble Time Steel to cover the more serious watch-wearing demographic.

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The 22mm silicone straps are surprisingly comfortable and use a new quick-release strap, so you can use other similarly sized straps to mix the looks up. At the moment, there’s not a massive amount of color options for the straps and watch bezels at launch. There’s red, white and black, but I did get to see one with a purple strap, so this may expand.

For a battery top-up, you still need a charger that magnetically connects to the left of the watch. No change there.

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Pebble has made the rather radical move, though, to swap its trademark monochrome display for a color one. Crucially it’s stuck with the same E Ink technology, so you still get good visibility and less drain on the same 5-7 days of battery life offered by the original and the Pebble Steel. I moved through the interface using the buttons on the side of the screen and had no problem viewing the screen. The true test will be taking it outside in the sunshine though.

The last big physical change lies around the back. When Pebble launched its latest Kickstarter campaign, it made some vague reference to connecting sensors to the back of the watch to add extra functionality. Now it’s confirmed that it will support smart straps, which can connect to what looks like charging pins to add heart-rate sensors or even support for NFC payments. Pebble’s opening the platform to developers, so it will be interesting to see whether there’s an appetite to make these smart straps and what interesting uses third-party companies will come up with.

Pebble-Time-back
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Before the Pebble Time was announced, Pebble’s CEO Eric Migicovsky spoke about the dramatic overhaul of the software. According to Pebble, user feedback suggested people were complaining of a constant stream of notifications, so now it’s come up with something that reduces that overload and only gives users information they need at that exact moment.

It sounds a lot like Android Wear and it works in a similar way. You still have all the smartphone companion features as normal, but now you’ll also be able to see what’s coming up in your day, whether that’s meetings or events. Unlike when you dismiss notifications in Android Wear, you can go back 24 hours on the Pebble, in case you missed an email from the previous day.

Pebble is also adding voice support, but it’ll only be used for recording voice memos and offering quick responses to texts or leaving a message when you’ve rejected a call.

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Early Verdict

If you compare the Pebble Time to the original Pebble, it’s like night and day. It’s better looking, it now has a colour screen and the new smart strap feature has the potential to make this the most versatile smartwatch around.

I’m beginning to see why Pebble has been able to fight off Android Wear and other rival platforms, because it’s listening to what its users want. And I think those loyal users are going to be very happy with what the second-generation Pebble has to offer.

For the original article, please go to TrustedReviews.com.

TIME apps

Sales of Frank Underwood’s Favorite iPad Game Are Skyrocketing

Kevin Spacey as U.S. Congressman Frank Underwood in a scene from the first season of the Netflix original series, "House of Cards."
Melinda Sue Gordon—AP Kevin Spacey as U.S. Congressman Frank Underwood in a scene from the first season of the Netflix original series, "House of Cards."

Monument Valley plays a big role in House of Cards' new season

Frank Underwood is going indie.

Kevin Spacey’s fictional president in House of Cards is well known for his love of shoot-‘em-ups like Call of Duty, but in season 3, he’s spotted playing two independently produced mobile games: an iPad puzzle quest called Monument Valley and the interactive story mod called The Stanley Parable.

Monument Valley plays a surprisingly important role in the plot of the third season. Luckily for Ustwo, the U.K.-based company behind the game, sales have skyrocketed for the app.

Underwood plays Monument Valley in a close-up shot for almost two minutes; later, he mentions it by name to his staffers. It turns out that Underwood found out about the game through a review written by the writer Thomas Yates, whom the president recruits to write some propaganda about his controversial jobs plan. Here’s the (fictional) review:

“Whoever you are, whoever you think you are, believe also you’re a silent princess. Your name is Ida, your journey is one through a forgotten landscape of twisting staircases and morphing castles, atop floating stones defiantly crossing an angry sea, within dimly lit caverns cobwebbed with ruins, M.C. Escher could only grasp at in a dream state.”

Read the rest of the story at the Daily Dot.

TIME innovations

Seizure-Detecting Smartwatch Could Save Lives

The Empatica Embrace can send seizure alerts

The Empatica Embrace has the features of many other smartwatches: it can monitor heart rate and sleep patterns just fine, for instance. But it can also do something most watches don’t: send out an epilepsy alert.

Paired with a smartphone app, the Embrace can alert another person when the watch wearer is having an epileptic episode or any other kind of disruption in the sympathetic nervous system.

“Seizures can seriously hurt or even kill people,” says Rosalind Picard, a professor at the MIT Media Lab who helped develop the watch’s technology, “and we need an alert to intervene.”

The watch, designed by a Milan- and Cambridge-based team, uses stress levels combined with physical movement to detect epileptic attacks. The watch’s wearers may opt-in to have their anonymized data used for medical research.

The watch raised $596,000 on IndieGogo, more than five times its original goal.

TIME apps

The Most Addictive Site On The Internet Is Coming To Your iPhone

Imgur has a new iPhone app

The web’s most addicting photo site can now follow you everywhere you go.

Imgur is launching a new app on Thursday that redesigns image and GIF browsing for your iPhone, The Verge reports. It’s not Imgur’s first mobile app, but this is the one the website is banking on getting off the ground.

Unlike the Imgur website, which shows a grid of tiny images that you can click on, the new app shows the images as a series of cards. The app sorts images by what’s most viral on the website, as well as offering a selection of more random images.

Imgur is working on a feature that will allow users to upload photos from their phones, as well as an Android app. Imgur is often used to host images for posting on Reddit and other social media platforms.

TIME technology

More Proof That Steve Jobs Was Always a Business Genius

Jobs & Wozniak At The West Coast Computer Faire
Tom Munnecke—Getty Images Steve Jobs (left) and Steve Wozniak at the first West Coast Computer Faire, where the Apple II computer was debuted, in San Francisco, April 16th or 17th, 1977

The Homebrew Computer Club first convened on Mar. 5, 1975

By now, it’s become part of the Steve Jobs mythology that, while he wasn’t as skilled at the tech side as some of his co-workers might have been, he was the one with the business acumen to turn personal computers into the mega-industry it is today.

But, unlike some after-the-fact creation myths, this particular bit of received wisdom has been around since the beginning — the very beginning. The Homebrew Computer Club, which first convened on this day, Mar. 5, in 1975, was where Apple’s Steve Wozniak and others would trade tech ideas and parts. In a 1983 TIME profile of Steve Jobs, Wozniak revealed that his friend Steve Jobs would occasionally come to meetings, but not for the same reasons everyone else did:

Wozniak and some other friends gravitated toward an outfit called the Homebrew Computer Club in 1975, and Jobs would occasionally drop by. Wozniak was the computer zealot, the kind of guy who can see a sonnet in a circuit. What Jobs saw was profit. At convocations of the Homebrew, Jobs showed scant interest in the fine points of design, but he was enthusiastic about selling the machines Wozniak was making.

“I was nowhere near as good an engineer as Woz,” Jobs freely admits. “He was always the better designer.” No one in the neighborhood, however, could match Jobs’ entrepreneurial flair and his instincts for the big score. It was Jobs who badgered local electronics suppliers for credit; Jobs who arranged for payment (“They’d say, ‘Well, how’s 30 days net?’ We said, ‘Sign us up.’ We didn’t know what 30 days net was”); Jobs who attracted a first-class industrial p.r. firm and a team of experienced managers; Jobs who organized the early manufacturing; Jobs who finally persuaded Wozniak to leave Hewlett-Packard; and Jobs who gave the fledgling company a name (“One day I just told everyone that unless they came up with a better name by 5 p.m., we would go with Apple”).

Read the full story, here in the TIME Vault: The Updated Book of Jobs

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