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.

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  1. What about MS practically giving away the hardware so they make money of reoccurring service charges some what like cell services do?

    $50 a year for a Gold account that also keeps me subscribed to Netflix and possibly other services that MS gets a cut of would not be a bad thing.

  2. @bill Consoles already do that. When the PS3/Xbox360 launched, they were sold cheaper than their overall manufacturing cost at the time, since Sony/MS make back the lost cash via other means (such as services etc).

  3. “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”


    Sure you can say that about Ouya, and probably the Nvidia offering. But why you’d pretend a PC is hobbled compared to a console is beyond me, which is what a ‘steambox’ will end up being, ultimately. Perhaps this is due to a lack of understanding of hardware, of which a steambox will have equivalent (or better, since some steam boxes are supposedly going to be modular – something consoles could have been doing ages ago.) Hardware

    “that this generation will learn from past mistakes and offer better services for consumers in lieu of cheap exclusive tricks”

    Good luck with that one 🙁

    “$50 a year for a Gold account that also keeps me subscribed to Netflix and possibly other services that MS gets a cut of would not be a bad thing.”

    Isn’t that’s about what you pay now? Why would MS offer you those services additionally when you’ve proven you’re already willing to pay them money just to access services readily available for free elsewhere. They’ll just keep charging you a subscription to use Netflix on their console (even though it can be used freely everywhere else) and you’ll keep paying them for that ‘privilege.’

    What MS has managed to do with live (suckering people to give them money for internet access, basically) is one of the scummiest/most successful exploitation of a the lazy and clueless that I have ever seen.
    The real question you should ask for yourself is what servies does gold really get you, and why are those same services available (nearly) everywhere else, but not stuck behind a paywall (in addition to any fees other services might ask of you, like hulu plus or netflix.)

  4. all i ask for in a console is backwards compatibility.

    i lost a bunch of great games for PS2 when I got my PS3. yeah, i could’ve kept my Ps2, but I really didn’t have the space for it, plus needed the extra money I got in the trade in. Cut to a few years later I repurchased most of those games via collection sets (god of war) or from psn (okami). How hard is it to make a console play the old games?

    Or at least figure out a way where I can put in the old disc and then get the ability to download it for free.

    and on the topic of downloads, I hope they will be linked to your account somehow so when I get PS4 I can easily redownload all the games I downloaded on PS3.

    I will probably get PS4 as soon as it is released. Xbox I won’t touch (too many issues with my 360, not enough worthy exclusive titles) and the WiiU, I will purchase that as soon as a zelda game is released for it.

  5. I recently switched to pc gaming (I will be leaving my xbox with my sister when I move out next month) but I still care about console gaming and I hope that the Steam box idea catches on in a big way. Steam offers the best gaming service there is and big picture is so much more user friendly, also it would be good for me as it would mean better development for the PC which always good. I wish that someone would add the ability to trade games downloadable with friends in your network though, they could restrict it down to a small number and it would be a big selling point whilst combating piracy to a certain extent as well.

  6. I want to touch on the whole PS4 no used games topic for a moment as their is another theory. Stories have come up about Sony filing a patent for this functionality but this doesn’t mean that they will actually use it. Companies file patents all the time for things that never see the light of day just so that other companies can’t use the technology they developed. At this point, the whole thing is a rumor and even IF Sony announces it as an actual function of the PS4, the backlash will be enormous and they will most likely remove it. If you give them the greatest benefit of the doubt it is plausible that they filed that patent for the explicit purpose of preventing anybody from creating that restriction… who knows for sure?

  7. Why is everyone so surprised with the blocking of used games? Does anyone expect to buy used games on Steam? Some of the largest revenues coming from games right now are IOS and Android Marketplace, both of which allow one user (profile) per purchase, no refunds and a lot of the time no ‘try before you buy’…the only justification is the low entry price. Also, Sony would likely not shoot themselves in the foot (intentional) and allow a ‘borrow’ feature that releases the game to another user for short busts of time, with an ultimate yearly limit per game, disabling online play and trophy acquisition.
    Also, does this remind anyone of the early video game crash? Because that’s when everyone thought they could make a console and everyone’s cousins thought they could release a game. Just saying…

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