Weighing the pros and cons of a new console generation by talking points and the sheer weight of a disembodied rationale will only illuminate so much. Different parties have different motivations and prejudices, forming a prism through which they view the forthcoming generation. Let’s look at the different agents involved and phrase the next gen question in terms they find meaningful.
(NOTE: To start the armchair analysis off on the right foot, I’m going to divide the ubiquitous term ‘hardcore gamer’ into ‘production value gamer’ and ‘egalitarian gamer’)
Do ‘PRODUCTION VALUE GAMERS’ want a new shiny new machine built to show off the latest and greatest? The answer is unequivocally yes here, especially since these folk are already used to spending hundreds ever year on gaming hardware. Over the past few years this relatively small set of consumers has seen the graphic and physics capabilities of their cutting edge PC’s sprint past that of their PS3′s and 360′s. The difference between PC and console is night and day for certain games. The PC and its programmable keyboard offers 100 anecdotal advantages on multi-platform games like Skyrim, Fallout New Vegas, and even Battlefield 3 – a new generation of consoles offers another crack at mitigating their deficiencies in this area.
Are ‘EGALITARIAN GAMERS’ – those that own multiple consoles for experiencing a wide variety of games – ready to devote their money and increasingly scarce time to a new console? This one is definitely murky – there’s no compelling data either way. But my gut intuition and small pockets of opinion from the right crowd suggest no. Money is of course a huge factor, but I wouldn’t overplay it too much. We can do a very rough and dirty measurement of how willing this group is to shell out for new gaming experiences by tracking other hardware sales…which are less than stellar. I wouldn’t even blame it on the unending deluge of games that are slated for release on this generation. There’s a perception in this crowd that any deficiencies within the current lineup of releases are a factor of a stunted imagination on the part of the industry big wigs – the systems themselves aren’t the limiting variable in the equation. This observation doesn’t totally bias them away from the promise of a next gen, but it does rob the benefit of the doubt from the Big Three.
Will CASUAL GAMERS find new consoles relevant and worth their attention in the ever expanding proliferation of devices that can offer enjoyable gaming experiences? Back in 2004 we all laughed at the likes of Bejeweled, Mob Wars, and cheap Tetris rip-offs. Now the environment is very different: RPG’s like Infinity Blade offer genuinely addictive time sinks and Angry Birds represents the best ROI on a video game ever. Titles like Plants vs. Zombies are cheaper on the iPad and feature more than serviceable controls without a traditional controller. Expect more of these gamers to pass on a new console.
Will the nagging brats of WELL OFF CONSUMER PARENTS devote enough whine-time to net one of these shiny new toys? This comes down to how many gadgets they get for Christmas after their phone, which is in all cases a higher priority. Who can say how spoiled said kids are really? The fact to focus on: these parents will always buy a smart phone above a new gaming console they don’t understand.
Is anyone more unequivocally excited for next-gen nonsense than THIRD PARTY HARDWARE companies? No way. Mad Catz is having a field day dreaming up all the silly Wii U tablet sleeves and lame Kinect2 shells they’ll be hucking on stores at inflated prices, all destined to screw the WELL OFF CONSUMER PARENTS that make the new system plunge that first Christmas.
Are the BIG TIME DEVELOPERS out there ready yet to start the whole big process of transitioning to new dev kits and wrapping their heads around the fresh possibilities and hurdles? The key word here is yet – all major studios end up embracing the next gen du jour with full candor. New consoles = a) more publishers willing to take gambles on original franchises; b) bigger and badder everything, which PRODUCTION VALUE GAMERS especially love; c) a massive, free marketing campaign for their usually crappy launch titles, most of which never deserved them in the first place. The only question is whether they’re in gear to capitalize on this shift right away, and that depends on the developer in question. But overall they benefit from all the show and hype that accompanies a new wave.
Do the SMALL STUDIO’S that still ship AAA titles but with less frequency and marketing umph share their big brothers’ enthusiasm? At first yes, because of the initial willingness for publishers to take gambles on new companies and IP’s. Their quicker development cycle helps here too. But eventually this eagerness wanes and decays into abject horror for many, as they look at the stark reality of acquisition, shuttered doors, or one then the other. As a case in point, let’s peak at the studios EA has acquired and closed since the premiere of the last gen:
|STUDIO – DATE ACQUIRED||
|Manley and Associates – 1996||
|Westwood Studios – 1998||
|Virgin Pacific – 1998||
|Origin Systems – 1992||
|Maxis – 1997||
|DICE Canada – 2006||
|EA Japan – NA||
|EA UK – NA||
|NuFX – 2004||
This is surely more arm chair analysis, but I would simply direct your attention to the dates closed, noting that they conveniently coincide with poor sales performances on their at the time current next gen properties. I’d argue that small studios approach the gambles represented in new console generations with equal parts judicious ambition and garden variety dread.
Do INDIE DEVELOPERS see any value in the hoopla and flimflam for a new generation, before it’s been rolled out and they’re witness to the facts? No.
Do PUBLISHERS relish confronting the new challenges and expectations that follow on the heels of a new console release? I think so, especially for pathological competitors like Kotick that would sip the blood of his rivals over red wine. And especially this looming generation, where the soil has never been more fertile for new pricing schemes and revenue streams. For one, downloadable titles cut down on their overhead and provide direct avenues for antagonism with indie developers. If Blizzard’s little experiment with a real money marketplace turns out well you can expect every publisher of any ongoing game to capitalize on the idea, further bolstered by facilitations from The Big Three themselves. The future is bright for this pack.
Will THE BIG THREE ultimately see their monumental investment pan out, leading to stable, black spreadsheets and increased market dominance? Who knows right now? At this stage guesses so often look foolish with 2020′s aid. They all have their own disparate challenges and opportunities, so a neat analysis (even by these standards) isn’t in the cards at this point. Suffice it to say that they’re all throwing their chips down with the intention to succeed – don’t believe silly rumors that either Sony or Microsoft will back down.
How is STEAM going to approach their own destiny within the future of gaming, given their display of foresight, certain inherent advantages, and across the board success? The contrast between the numerous avenues open for their expansion and the hardwired, conventional strategies of The Big Three is striking. That said, expect Valve to take some kind of gamble with hardware within the next five years. Recent news that Valve and Apple are circling each other on some kind of significant exclusivity deal – possibly as insane as a Steam-software/Apple-hardware console/home media center – is proof that Gabe Newell won’t remain complacent. Valve is a sharp unit, I expect them to pull out all the stops to ensure their continued relevancy. But I also don’t expect them to create time tables that have anything to do with the next generation of consoles, even if they did leap into the hardware business on their lonesome. Next-gen is business as usual for Newell and Co.
Have IDIOTIC POLITICIANS that seek to regulate games bothered to familiarize themselves with any of the facts surfacing about next gen consoles that would affect their futile struggle? Probably not.
How on Earth is GAMESTOP going to save its own ass? There’s a summer’s bounty of rumors circulating that each console will continue to throw roadblocks into the used game market, either by facilitating publisher schemes or instituting DRM-like measures themselves. However: rumors of a wholesale ban on used games are unquestionably farfetched, and it’s important to remember that Gamestop itself accounts for a huge sum of new game sales. This chart makes it clear that plenty of people are still walking into their countless storefronts for new games:
But as we all know, Gamestop’s real profit margins come from used game sales:
So even if Gamestop and publishers are each trying to strangle each other, they have quite a bit invested in their mutual dependency. New systems do equate to new opportunities for publishers and The Big Three to take the upper hand though – expect them to capitalize. At the end of the day we’ll probably see a shriveling up of redundant Gamestop storefronts, especially those former EB Games.
How will BIG BOX RETAILERS adjust their business models to deal with the changes being ushered in by the new systems? For the past couple years Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart have been tepidly toying with the idea of buying and selling used games, just like our beloved Gamestop. Will this used game hating make them change their mind? Probably not, considering they haven’t devoted too many resources to the venture. The nagging complaints of publishers barely register compared to their real threat: Amazon and other online retailers.