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Game Over: Parting thoughts from the Game Developer team
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Game Over: Parting thoughts from the Game Developer team

July 4, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

Consoles are Losing the Console War

If that sentiment annoys you, then maybe you'll be okay. Maybe you're annoyed because you know you're in a studio that's on top of the console food chain, with all of the premier talent, the biggest franchise, the biggest marketing resources. So someone saying "consoles are doomed" to you is akin to someone telling you your bike is doomed—while you're riding it.

"Your bike is doomed, my friend."
"No it's not, look. I'm a good cyclist, I'm riding it right now, and it's perfectly fine, asshole."

You may be fine, as long as Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo don't screw things up too much for you. Except your success on game consoles ultimately relies on whether these companies can move hardware units and fight off competition from emerging platforms, and the latest hardware launches surely are not instilling confidence in us about the long-term viability of the dedicated video game console.

Ask yourself this: Can Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo be trusted to move hardware units? The old guard of traditional hardware makers is already answering the question. Nintendo's answering with an emphatic "no" right now with the Wii U, which is driving operating losses so hard that Nintendo missed their forecasts like a small-town weatherman. Even the 3DS, which course-corrected slowly after its launch with a price drop (and which many assume is doing just fine), is behind Nintendo's own expectations. This, in turn, is causing traditional publishers like EA and Activision to feel gun-shy. Nintendo's not making the best argument for the future of the console business.

There's another young console, albeit one that's handheld, that might also serve as a microcosm for the declining state of consoles—the PlayStation Vita. It has some things going for it, not the least of which is its nice hardware, and a network tied to PlayStation Plus's well-played digital business model. But this thing is tanking, and the small installed base is just not giving developers a good reason to make a game for it, because it is priced at a level that forces it to compete against both the Nintendo 3DS and smartphones.

As for future home consoles on the horizon, like the PlayStation 4: Sony seems to have done well so far with the initial details: It has plenty of fast RAM, an x86 processor, PC architecture, and seemingly strong relations with big and small developers, even right now before the console has launched. But as dev-friendly as it might be, we think that new consoles will have to compete against increasingly TV-friendly PCs, whose core audiences will be playing Steam games on one front, and on the other front will be Nintendo and Microsoft, fighting over this shrinking piece of console pie. So can we trust Sony to move plenty of PlayStation 4s? The company expects dollar sales of its game unit to increase in the next fi scal year thanks to PS4's launch. For now the answer is "maybe," in the near-term anyway, when early adopters spend their cash (and mainstreamers play their iPads instead). And barring a drastic change from Microsoft, we'll presume that they're in the same "maybe" boat.

In order for consoles to stand a chance, they'll need to compete with each other's platform on value, openness, power, and convenience. The next console must be powerful enough to offer game experiences that clearly separate console games from mobile games (and compete with PCs); accessible enough to devs that indies and small studios aren't turned away from including those consoles on their new, cool stuff; convenient enough to convince players to turn to their TVs instead of their PCs (or their smartphones, for that matter); all while competing in price against Steam sales and 99-cent app store price points. We don't think that this is an impossible task (see: PlayStation Plus and Sony's recent overtures toward indie devs, for example) but it looks like an uphill battle already, and given technology's lightning-quick pace these days, we don't think it'll get any easier over the next few years.

On the bright side, even though the business of consoles (as we know them) will certainly have a difficult future and will play a role in lots of headaches and heartaches for our readers, developers should take note right now that it's not all bad news. People will still want to pay for the "console experience," even if that experience won't be on a console platform. We already see this starting to happen in the mobile market, and that initiative is growing fast with more "mid-core" developers rising up (just wait till the market is ready for "full-core"!). If you're not already, take into consideration what you need to do to diversify your business and your skills so you can survive: You are your own life raft. Consoles may be doomed, but your career may still be bright.

Stepping Down from the Soapbox

So, that's where we stand -- consider this feature to be a few years' worth of Game Plan editorials. Make no mistake: We believe in this industry, in its future, and its immense creative power. We just won't be able to use these pages to help it along anymore.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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