2014 looks set to be a massive year for gaming, from the new PS4 and Xbox One consoles to the multitude of Steam Machines announced last month at CES.
However, with all the hype surrounding big, shiny boxes, you might be missing some of the most exciting developments in the gaming market in years.
I’m talking about gaming peripherals. Headsets, controllers, keyboards – even chairs. All the add-ons, gizmos and do-bobs that enhance and improve the experience of playing a game – and retail margins.
Accessories had a golden age during the PS2 era, where every vendor and their dog seemed to be releasing some sort of add-on. With the PS3 and Xbox 360 generation, accessories instead became a ‘can-have’ rather than a ‘must-have’ for enthusiasts, with items like gaming keyboards and mice increasingly reserved for serious macro-hunters and APM (actions-per-minute) seekers.
However, a new wave of innovations is revitalising the market, and could well make accessories the reason to buy a particular platform – rather than the other way around.
The most obvious example of this is the Oculus Rift. Subject of near-uncontested praise and oft proclaimed to be the next big step in gaming, the consumer version of the virtual reality headset will arrive later this year, and has already ferried in several other innovations in its wake, such as the PrioVR full-body motion-tracking suit.
The Rift and the PrioVR are an extreme for many gamers right now, but even existing devices are seeing an evolution as gamers seek more and more immersion. One example of a traditional peripheral innovating to keep up is the Mad Catz Freq4D headset, which vibrates the wearer’s ears to provide immersive physical feedback.
Even the good old game controller, largely untouched from the dual analog stick design established in the 1990s, is seeing a rebirth. Valve’s Steam Controller uses twin touchpads which, like the firm’s Steam Machines, unite the worlds of PCs and consoles. Even mobile devices, often dismissed as lacking control fidelity, are being granted with portable controllers to create experiences that rival the consoles.
Retailers would be wise to take a look in the monolithic shadow of the next-gen consoles and considering investing in the accessories following close behind. They could soon be leading the charge for gaming themselves.