BMW’s latest brilliant microtransaction idea: Let them play videogames

As a driver I can tell you that hell isn’t other people: It’s other drivers. Seriously, you wouldn’t believe how many people there are on the roads that in any sane world should be banned from ever getting behind the wheel. Only a few weeks ago I lost a wing mirror to a car swerving into my lane on a 50mph road, presumably because its occupant was looking at their phone. So what cars really need is a few more distractions.

Take a bow BMW, which at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show is bigging up its plans for in-car entertainment and “the digital customer experience.” The company’s new 5 Series is the first to incorporate what it calls the AirConsole, a platform that lets the car’s occupants play games on the “infotainment” screens using phones connected via bluetooth as controllers.

AirConsole boasts split-screen play and various third-party titles have been announced, though we’re not talking Baldur’s Gate 3 here: This is more like mobile gaming on a bigger screen. The title showcased at CES was Beach Buggy Racing 2, a two-player retro-styled racing game that would’ve looked at home on the SNES.

“BMW is synonymous with both the ultimate driving machine and the ultimate digital experience,” said BMW’s Frank Weber in a press release. “At the CES we are showing more content, more customization and more gaming. This is all underpinned by our in-house developed BMW Operating System. And we will take a look to the future with augmented reality and reliable artificial intelligence at the interaction between human and machine.”

It’s all accessed through BMW’s ConnectedDrive Store and, much as with BMW’s dubious dabblings with its car interiors, comes down to one thing: Give us more money. While all new BMW models will incorporate this stuff, only owners who subscribe to BMW’s Digital Premium offering will have access to it. The Digital Premium offering includes the car’s in-built navigation system—which is a pretty amazing feature to paywall—the gaming stuff and various other entertainment offerings. The automaker’s generosity knowing no bounds, they’ll give you a 90-day trial period before you have to sign up. 

This is all part of BMW’s Operating System 9, which also boasts streaming video, AR glasses for drivers that work alongside the nav system (if you’ve subbed!) to provide info on-the-go, automated parking, and an AI voice assistant.

Hmmm. Not that I’m in a position to buy a brand-new BMW but, if I was, all of this stuff is more of a turn-off than a set of attractive features. It’s bad enough having the kids arguing on the school run without them kicking off about something that’s happened in a game or arguing over who gets to choose the next show, while the AR glasses… the last thing I’d ever want when controlling a vehicle is extra distractions in my field of vision.

But perhaps I’m the luddite! The safe driving luddite who has never been involved in a crash. Autonomous cars are obviously where the industry has been going for a long time, and I suppose an inevitable flipside of that is coming up with new and exciting ways to entertain the occupants and even the driver. Many people aspire to own a BMW. I’m not sure any of that is down to whether you can play videogames in one.

PC Gamer’s CES 2024 coverage is being published in association with Asus Republic of Gamers.

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