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Yesterday's Future

CES showed a vague, uninspired future vision, compared to the future games companies are already charting

Once upon a time, CES - the Consumer Electronics Show, for the uninitiated - was a pretty big deal for the games business. It kicked off the calendar year with a trip to Las Vegas, where the bright lights of the famous strip were temporarily eclipsed by the sheer radiance of the countless screens that lit up the convention centre. CES is primarily about hardware, so it was no E3, but it often lit the path ahead for games - and when Microsoft entered the industry, it chose CES as friendly home turf on which to make major pronouncements about the Xbox.

By contrast, this year's CES was a wasteland for games. Even Microsoft didn't feel like it was worth pulling anything significant out of the hat in this regard - anyone taking the time to tune into their keynote would have been disappointed to see little of anything Xbox related, with only a meagre handful of product demonstrations and no new announcements. Sony, likewise, wanted to talk about video distribution strategies; PlayStation barely got a look-in.

New GPUs and more RAM will happen inevitably, down the line - but this is an industry powered not by new chips but by new ideas

There are two ways you could read this, and both approaches have been picked up widely by tech journalists and analysts. The first is that the games business sees itself disengaging from the consumer electronics business, partially because it's a business that's increasingly focused on art and creativity rather than technology, but mostly because it's a big business in its own right and doesn't need to piggy-back on tech industry shows.

That's one way of looking at things, certainly, and it's probably a factor. What's a more significant factor, though, is that CES is a show which has, in recent years, struggled to attract major announcements and top-flight exhibitors, simply because the tech companies that really matter are big enough to be able to run their own events at which they have the world's undivided attention. And the tech companies that actually matter tend to be the same short list of companies from whom we'd want to hear gaming announcements.

I'm not going to beat around the bush searching for a nice, diplomatic phrase to use in place of "companies that actually matter". Coverage of this year's CES was actually somewhat embarrassing, because so little of it focused on companies who had a significant presence at the show. Apple didn't show up, and probably generated more column inches than any firm that did. Microsoft, which has already announced its exit from next year's show, phoned in a miserable keynote, but managed to create more buzz by not announcing things than most exhibitors did with actual announcements. Sony excited precisely nobody with an unconvincing commitment to a new push on digital content delivery - anything interesting it has to say about businesses where it's actually doing well, like PlayStation, will be reserved for home turf.

With all of those companies keeping their toys firmly locked up in the cupboard, CES became the "shiny televisions and me-too Android phones" show. Little of any interest was shown on the phone front, but Korean firms Samsung and LG showed off cutting-edge OLED television technology in living room sizes for the first time - they'll be vastly too expensive to have much impact on the mass market this year, of course, but might have hit reasonable price points by the time economic conditions improve and consumers start thinking about blowing fresh holes in their credit cards.

Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.
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