The Potential Ups and Downs of the Great Console War of 2013

Last week I briefly mentioned the fact that 2013 is shaping up to be the year of the console. We’ve already seen the Ouya in action, some Steam box prototypes (although it may not be out in 2013), and of course we’re all waiting to hear about the Xbox “720” and the PS4.  It’s been a while since there was this much activity in the console market as the last few cycles were dominated almost entirely by the big three (Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft). While there are all sorts of opinions ranging from “Holy cow look at these new consoles” to “how dare these other companies try and get in on the game,” this isn’t the first time we’ve seen newcomers attempted to make their mark in the world of consoles.

While I like to think that my opinions are valid I do have to admit that I have a somewhat rich history in backing the wrong horse. My nine year old self didn’t want a Nintendo, he wanted a Turbo Grafx 16 (no, that’s not spelled incorrectly) so that I could play Bonk’s Adventure and Splatterhouse. Years later, when the next generation hit the shelves he didn’t want a Super Nintendo or a Sega, he wanted an Atari Jaguar, because who doesn’t want to play their games with a torso-sized controller? Unfortunately none of these consoles ever really took off, leaving me with a closet full of fail for years to come. Remembering my youth and my failed console bets has reminded me that in the midst of a console war consumers are sometimes the biggest causalities.

Responsible for misspelling the word graphics until I was a teenager. 

How could more consoles be bad? Isn’t competition good for business? Well yes, while I do think that eventually more console diversity will be better for consumers, in the short term I have a feeling that we’re all about to get the short end of the stick, at least until things settle down. As each competing company tries to squeeze as much cash out of their consoles as possible, we’re the ones who are going to have to endure the consequences of those decisions.

Take, for example, the rumors that Sony will be restricting used games on the PS4. My initial knee-jerk reaction, and everyone else’s, was “well, goodbye GameStop.” While that’s true, it is really bad news for GameStop, it’s also a pretty crappy deal for consumers.  Not only would consumers no longer be able to trade in a handful of older games to get a new one, they wouldn’t even be able to trade games with their friends. Think about that. In an effort to increase revenue, Sony is contemplating eradicating the time honored cultural tradition of trading games with one’s friends. Obviously the PS4 isn’t here yet and things could always go the other way, but it represents what console developers are willing to do in order to maintain their share of the pie.

More like guaranteed not to play, if Sony has their way. 

I’m sure there will be all other sorts of business practices used in the coming months by companies all hoping to retain their revenue even perhaps at the cost of potentially losing customers, but none of these are the nightmare scenario. The nightmare scenario is each of these companies throwing down the walls on their consoles, doubling down on exclusive titles. I sure as hell don’t want to return to a time when you had to choose a console based on the contents of its game library. Anyone who owned a Super Nintendo or a Sega remembers the “good old days” of getting excited for a game only to see the logo of the console you didn’t own somewhere in the corner.

I don’t have a problem with a handful of exclusive titles here and there, but I think it’s much better for consumers to choose a console based on the reliability of the hardware and its services, and not just the content provided. How many people had to deal with an Xbox RROD because they wanted to play Halo or Gears of War, but couldn’t because it wasn’t offered on any other console? How quickly would those types of technical problems be fixed if a company thought that a consumer would just give up and purchase a console from a competitor? Pretty quickly I would imagine.

Obviously that’s the point of an exclusive title; buy our brand, despite our flaws, because we have this specific game. I’m of the opinion that this is a bad thing for everyone.

Like a bat signal for fail. 

I did say that there were a few “Ups” as well. The biggest potential up, at least the one I’m hoping for the most, would be Microsoft getting rid of their damned subscription fee for Xbox live. As it stands now there is no reason whatsoever for them to do so, but maybe, just maybe, the fact that their competitors all have free services, and the fact that Steam is working its way into the console market, may be enough for them to finally give the service away for free.

In fact for all of my console nay saying and doomsday portents, the biggest potential upside for all of us would be better console services. The Steam box, the Ouya, and even NVIDIA’s new hardware most likely won’t be able to compete directly with the big three right out of the gate. They can, however, compete in services, something that may make the incumbents wake up and take notice. If they’re so worried about people returning used titles to GameStop, how about better online distribution? If they’re worried about the number of users they have online, how about making the online service free? If console developers want loyal customers perhaps it’s time they provide services that don’t feel ten years old.

The more excited I am, the more likely it will fail given my history. 

Then again what the hell do I know? Somewhere in my father’s attic is a copy of Bonk’s Adventure, proving that I’m just as much of a sucker for an exclusive title as anyone else, or at least I was. To be honest I don’t really care about all of these consoles, I just want a good one that works, isn’t too expensive, and doesn’t screw me out of playing the games I want to play. I don’t care if it’s made by Microsoft, Sony, Kickstarter, or my grandmother.

Maybe console developers, out of fear, will throw down a gauntlet of exclusivity in order to stymie the competition, but I really hope the opposite is true; that this generation will learn from past mistakes and offer better services for consumers in lieu of cheap exclusive tricks.


9 Comments

  1. bill January 10, 2013
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  7. Mark Miller January 11, 2013
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