With various industry figures, including Dennis Dyack and EA, clamoring for a “One Console Future”, it has become very hard to ignore the idea that in 5-10 years, there may only be a single console. The common sense prediction is that once this uber-console(I will be using this term from here on out to refer to the One-Console) exists, developers would only have to work with a standard set of API’s to make their games. No more having to go through the costly process of porting the same game to multiple platforms. A tired practice that has developers learning(and wrestling with) the intricacies of entirely-different console architectures to get their games running as best they can. For gamers, it would mean having to spend for only one console and get ALL the games coming out.
Before I continue, let me preface this by saying that I for one, am all for the idea, I’ve been looking forward to it since the SNES-Genesis days. Gaming is such an expensive hobby and it only seems to be getting more so as the years go by, for gamers and developers. Also take note that I had to make a ton of assumptions for this opinion piece, one important one for simplicity’s sake, is that only one company will be making this console, unlike the 3DO era.
Now lets say hypothetically, that the Big 3 somehow came together to produce a single console, the only console you’d need, where all games would come out for and where you could go online with acheivements and everything. Ultimately, if this does happen, I believe there will be more pros than cons, with that said, here are some of the possible(and somewhat insane) ways that the “One Console Future” might actually make things worse.
5. Unpredictable Console Lifecycle
In the current console war, the decision on a particular consoles’ lifecycle is vital to the companies success. The Xbox 360 came out of the gates with a life expectancy of 4-5 years, the PS3 reportedly has it at 10 years. At the end of a consoles life, a more cutting-edge iteration is released to gain or regain the upper hand in the newest generation.
Since the “One Console Future” will almost surely be a sort of monopoly, the importance of planning the uber-consoles lifecycle will play a far less of a role. Nintendo President Iwata recently said that as a developer he couldn’t wait for the next exciting technology, but now the console cycles need to be longer for developers to learn to get a better handle of the new consoles.
In other words, depending on how much ‘they’ might want to print or save money, whoever will be manufacturing the uber- console might opt to have it have either an incredibly long or incredibly short shelf-life.
4. New Forms of Exclusivity
One of the main reasons that gamers would embrace needing only one console, is that it would mean death to traditional exclusives. Mario, Master Chief and Solid Snake, all on one console. Having to develop only one version of a game, the cost of game development would go down, possibly seeing the rise of more game development companies.
With everything turning into a wide open race on every front, It wouldn’t be that insane to think that a publishing giant like EA might do something as insane as an exclusivity deal with all the major sports leagues like they did with the NFL. Maybe Activision gobbling up the Marvel license, preventing further incarnations of the Marvel vs. Capcom series.
All I’m saying is that these larger publishers will find some way to maneuver content exclusivity, now that exclusive console deals are no longer an option.
3. Possibly Higher Prices
This is an easy one. I once heard someone on a very popular podcast say that he would be willing to pay $1,000 dollars if it meant only needing one console. Well guess what? You probably will. Consoles are generally loss-leaders. Microsoft and Sony are losing hundreds of dollars per console hoping to make more of a profit on software attach rates. Nintendo on the other hand put the Wii out, already making a profit on it. You can expect the uber-console to sell at a profit from the beginning, possibly having the same Trojan-horse strategy that Sony had with Blu-ray, as a way to standardize a new expensive HD format.
I can almost see the dollar signs on the faces of the marketing department, revenue streams everywhere. Expect proprietary technology for accessories like Hard Drives, Wireless and AV cables. Insanely priced downloadable content, in-game ads(anyone seen the in-game ‘Axe Body Spray Guitar’ in Guitar Hero 3) and required subscription services. These things are common-place today, expect things to ramp up even more in this hypothetical future.
Some of you might be thinking that with only one version to develop for, game prices will go down, but lets face it, prices of CD albums have stayed the same, eventhough the cost of pressing CDs have gone down tremendously since they were
2. Japanese won’t be fully on board
The Japanese like to do things they’re way, North America and Europe, however, are the larger gaming markets. Another of my assumptions is that most of the basic hardware design and philosophy will be for these larger markets. Many developers have expressed a disconnect with Sony and how the company practices differ from region to region. Their culture also has been known to be xenophobic towards foreign tech, this may also be due to simple patriotism for local brands.
Miyamoto had a great deal to do with the design of the Wii controller as well as the Gamecube controller. He needed them to suite his design philosophy. Unless Miyamoto and other Japanese industry figures are willing to accept more western gaming sensibilities, we might see these guys taking some of their more radical ideas elsewhere, like the DS or cell-phones(I’ve seen Japanese cell-phones with motion-sensing games).
1. Death of The Industry We Know
All of you probably already know this, but the lack of competition will be the ULTIMATE downside. There will be more reason for lazy developers to rest on their laurels, resulting in bad games. Game changing hardware innovations, like the Wii-mote, may also go away since they may be considered too much of a risk. We will lose guys like Reggie and Peter Moore spinning things their way. Fanboys will decrease in numbers. Alot of the dynamics that make this industry so exciting may go away in-place of a more stagnant, controlled, pricey and predictable status quo.