An aphelion is the farthest point from the sun of an object's orbit, when the night is darkest. Here's the relevance to games: Retail gaming is down, consoles are often thought of as old fashioned, even dead. It's all smartphones and freemium Facebook and Steam games now. It's threats from Apple, gamification, speculation over the role of the browser and the PC. It's dead-on-arrival handheld platforms.
And yet something is amiss: Despite the pronouncements of imminent doom, there are a surprising number of consoles out there. Despite the portents for middle-grade publishers, it's only really on console that we see 20m units of a title sold. Despite the seeding of games on many platforms, it's still console that sets the pace and draws the sparkle of E3.
Are they dead, or are we more in the territory of darkest hours and dawns?
Ultimately the form factor of playing massively spectacular videogames on a 50-inch TV is one that a lot of players just like. The simplicity of a machine that does that without making the whole business over-complicated likewise. In some ways I think this means the next successful platform story will be the one that speaks to the premium 'hardcore' players and their wallets. It will be the one that says they are not forgotten.
Aphelion is also the turning point back toward the light and perihelion. Orbits are cycles, which we might call generational. The console industry redefines its story once more and resurges, altered in brand and function and yet it comes back. It's happened before, several times. Sure, it's possible that next generation players will buy their games digitally rather than as discs. It's possible that they'll be enamoured by the WiiU controller or reject it for something more normal.
It's entirely likely that the breadth of the available catalog will decrease in line with fewer publishers and concentration on bigger hits. It's possible that Sony will become the brand to watch off the back of titles like Journey, Nintendo will stay kings, or Microsoft will stop being so confused about whether they want to be in the game or movie business. The exact shape of the future is not set, but we will know more after E3.
Nonetheless, I think the console industry is passing through a particularly dark aphelion right now. It's about to turn toward the light once more.