Saturday, May 25, 2013

The War to End All Wars

After the PS4 announcement event, I was sorely tempted to post about it here, but I think it turned out better to wait because now that the Xbox One has been officially relieved it's time to talk about these two dueling giants of the game industry.  Despite all the talk about who's got the best bells and whistles, there's really only a single all important factor that decides if a console is a success or failure.  It's all about the games.

The way the industry is going it looks like there will be a lot of cross gen and cross platform titles.  It's pretty much necessary in order to offset the high cost of triple AAA game development.  So, that means all consoles are more or less on equal footing, right?'s where things get complicated.  Graphics are obviously a big deal since given the choice of playing a low fidelity title on the Wii U or a fancy HD PS4 game, most people are going to choose the PS4 version.  Hence, platforms like the Ouya might do alright, but it's hard to imagine achieving dominance via iPhone games.  Meanwhile, Xbox One and PS4 are on similar footing when it comes to specs.  They really only have one other equal, a high end PC.  Moving on, there are a few tricks Sony or Microsoft could pull to give themselves a leg up on the competition.  Undercutting through a reduced pricing structure at retail is a possibility.  Another method is to have periodic online sales like what Steam does.  If the next Assassin's Creed is half price on PSN, but full price on Xbox-Live why would anyone voluntarily pay the higher price?

Then there is the concept of exclusives; stuff like Halo, Alan Wake and Gears of War for Microsoft...Killzone, Resistance and Uncharted for Sony.  Honestly, I think both platform manufacturers have been doing it wrong though because all those above mentioned titles are sci-fi shooters of the first or third person variety.  The titles that really set platforms apart are those smaller unique experiences that can't be found anywhere else.  Toy Soldiers, Journey, Echochrome, Bastion or even titles like Demon's Souls and the first Mass Effect are far more noteworthy exclusives, but not because they sell big time.  Rather the reason they are important has to do with escaping the ever growing puddle of generic goop that is big budget gaming.

So, with so much up in the air this upcoming generation of hardware could go sour for anyone (or everyone).  I think there is one way to ensure survival though.  Don't piss off people who make or buy video games.  Nintendo and EA's profits are waning while Gearbox is getting hit with a class action lawsuit.  The reason?  Randy Pitchford over-pimped Aliens: Colonial Marines to the point of false advertising and destruction of a subsidiary development team.  Nintendo is screwing over fans on Youtube, and third party developers through alienation.  As for EA...need I drudge up the extensive list of offences they have committed in the last twelve months alone?  Right now Activision has a 20% market share thanks to a combination of Call of Duty and Bobby Kotick recently keeping a low profile.

Granted, Sony and Microsoft are bigger than the above but they too can be brought low by similar hubris.  Valve, becoming the successful company it is, wasn't a fluke.  Now billionaire, Gabe Newell worked hard to build up consumer and developer goodwill.  Sure he made mistakes along the way, but the harsh reality is you don't need to be perfect, just don't screw up as bad as the other guys.  Good luck console makers...your going to need it.

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