With prices plummeting and what seems uncannily like a peak year for the current generation of consoles, thoughts in the gaming world are turning to what is just around the corner. We know the basics of the Wii-U’s tablet-enabled design, but speculation about what is under its hood seemingly knows no bounds. Then there are rumors about Microsoft’s next-generation machine being in the hands of major developers (and nothing from Sony, which is concentrating on the handheld Vita). But whatever we get, we won’t get what we really want:
One Version Of Every Machine
The last we heard of Microsoft’s next-generation plans, we were told to expect two different basic units. This is of course, much the same as the last generation, where we saw the Xbox 360 release with and without a hard-drive (and both the 360 and PS3 evolve to accommodate ever bigger hard disk drives, as prices fell).
But whilst it’s cool that Microsoft wants to make a version of the console at a reasonable price in those expensive first few months, having two different versions of the hardware still hurts everybody in the long run.
Even now, 360 developers have to develop for the worst version available. This reduces the size and complexity of game worlds because everything has to be run from the DVD alone (and DVDs are antiquated in themselves).
Yes, something like Skyrim is still possible: but it’s hardly the best version of the game and a significant amount of time and money had to be spent making it possible.
One Machine To Rule Them All
But my grand theory of unification doesn’t stop with just one version of every console. Ask yourself: what was the point in the PlayStation 3 from the Xbox 360 owner’s perspective? Or the Xbox 360 from the PlayStation 3 owner’s perspective?
A decade ago, competing systems drove an electronic arms race towards superior graphics and more complex worlds. You went to one console to get twenty to thirty exclusive titles that simply didn’t appear on the other machine. Now you’re lucky if you find five significant exclusives for each one.
When you think about it, it’s strange that games consoles have stayed compartmentalized for so long. With each generation of video and audio storage, only a single format has prevailed even when more than one has tried to come out on top.
If Microsoft and Sony (obviously not Nintendo, since the Wii U has already been announced) were to create a console together, everyone would benefit. Research and development would be shared, developers would have to make and perfect only a single version and prices would come down. What would we lose?
Brand tribalism and missing out on one or two decent exclusives. People say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…
A Better Digital Marketplace
Video game consoles took a long time to drag themselves into the internet age – internet-based multiplayer, updates, and distribution were a major part of the PC gaming experience well before even the PlayStation 2 was released.
The Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii (to a lesser extent) finally brought us a comprehensive package of online features. Yet the PC still feels slightly ahead of the curve: if you buy a game for the PC these days, you’re far more likely to buy it online.
Why is this? Firstly, because none of the console stores are all that user friendly. Secondly because of the price involved. Not only are prices online on the PC incredibly good (if a game is a year old and in a sale it’s quite often under $10), prices on PSN and Xbox Live are incredibly bad.
Citing ‘convenience to the user’, PlayStation 3 games release on the PlayStation Network months after their initial release at above their recommended retail price. In the UK, this is especially bad – £57.99 for games that you could pick up from a local games shop, or have a day later from Amazon for £10. Yet they must be snaring somebody, or else why would they continue to carry on?
It’s also worth questioning why prices through digital on the PC are so low, and why outlets like Steam, Origin, Impulse, Good Old Games, GamersGate, and countless others can offer so many titles in their sales. Well, that list is the first clue. PSN and Xbox Live compete only with your ability to wait.
PC digital games compete with other essentially identical services – you go where the price is best. I buy a lot of games, and frankly, the appeal of owning a boxed copy with a pointless manual diminishes every year. But until the consoles offer an open marketplace, there’s no point in moving towards an exclusively digital marketplace for games.