Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Videogame Generation Without Consoles, A Curious but Unlikely Scenario.

Videogame generations have always been characterized by the existence of game consoles. The PC has always been there as a gaming platform, but what really brought the games closer to the common household were and still are stand alone gaming machines. Nowadays, some analysts have predicted that consoles will cease to exist very soon, some of them stating that the current home console generation will most likely be the last. Arguments supporting their point of view include the advent of mobile gaming and increasing production costs in a fragile economy. Most gamers just take those analysis as doom and gloom nonsense, but let's make a small analysis of our own and see what would it take for a console-less generation to happen and see how feasible or unfeasible it really is.

Xbox Playstation Wii
There are lots of gaming companies, but the focus is on the big 3 of the console market.
A Matter of Competition.
First of all, for a console-less generation to sucessfully happen companies will need to beef up competition to very intense levels because they would no longer have any hardware to support them. One way to do this is to increase the rate of platform exclusive games up to a point in which we receive no less than 5-8 exclusives per year. If this is not done, then we will have different first party cloud based game services featuring the same games. Another option they have is to get creative and give their cloud platform an edge by giving the players some out of the ordinary incentives to play their games. One example of this would be to feature special points with each unlocked achievement or trophy and let the player use those points to buy more games. Another good idea would be to have monthly competitions with real prizes, encouraging games to play on their platform, polish their skills and compete, be it directly (fighting games, first person shooters) or indirectly (game records, score, speed runs, etc). 

These are just two ideas that could make an interesting first party cloud gaming market and while it sounds like tons of fun for us as consumers, it is a nightmare for gaming companies if we see it from a financial point of view. In reality, exclusive game development is getting slower while multi-platforms are thriving and getting faster. On the other hand giving real and direct incentives to the players is something that is almost non-existent as companies are looking to spend less and earn more in a market that is not custom tailored for us players anymore. 

Businessman Nightmare
A pro-player environment is something they have been running from for a long time.
Features We Love, But Nightmares They Fear. 
Let's imagine for a while that consoles have already vanished and that every first party company has its own cloud gaming service. Would they implement pro-player features that would make their networks a lot friendlier or will they go the dictator's path and keep player convenience out of the loop? If everything is cloud based we as players will need things like an offline mode, game sharing, game trading and lending between users, remote play, etc. Some of these features are to be implemented in consoles (with offline play currently existing on Steam) but if we were talking about a completely cloud based environment then companies would get nervous about what freedoms they give us. Will they go ahead and implement compulsory DRM even though everybody hates it? Will they fear people tricking the system so much that they will force countless limitations on us? Even if they go the opposite way and give us a gaming paradise, will the publishers be o.k with this?

If these feared features are something that has been very controversial on consoles, imagine how would it be if everything were to be cloud based. The probabilities of a giant backlash/fiasco are enormous, especially if you take into account what happened to Microsoft at the beginning of the current generation. Remember this?  

Shut up and take my money meme

Console-less Markets And Their Customer Friendly Ways
This one is all about game prices. Console-less markets like Steam, Origin, Humble Bundle thrive of the idea of low prices or even give whatever you want type of systems. On some occasions we see new games getting price cuts that would seem barbaric for the console market investors. Steam is a great example of this as on Valve's little gold mine, sometimes we can find gaming deals on big name games that are quite recent, especially on seasonal sales. This is because on a console-less market, the price of games is a little more tied to demand than on the traditional game selling environment. 

Many publishers would cringe on the idea of everybody getting their game for cheap so it is either this or (once again) give the players a strong incentive to buy your game at full price (something that doesn't involve X set of armor, a "special" vehicle or an extra weapon). They need to make people really want the game quick or else they will wait for a price drop and that would hurt their profits more than the Red Wedding (spoiler alert!) episode did to Game of Thrones viewers. 

Cloud gaming

Wrapping it up:

A console-less generation of games can happen and that is a truth that can't be denied, but just because something can be done it doesn't mean that it is a good idea for everybody. From the point of view of us the consumers, it can be quite nice and convenient, but from a business stand point it is a quite difficult task to do. Gamers are getting smarter in deciding how will they spend their money, so one little mistake can spell disaster and first party companies/publishers know this very well. So, to wrap things up let's say that a console-less gaming generation is NOT feasible unless we (the players) are the ones who dominate the market. If the men in business suits are good with that, then we could be having this as soon as the next generation comes, but if not, then we are not ready for this and will have to wait at least another 20 years to get it. 

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