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5 'Next-Generation' challenges for game consoles

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I usually don’t find myself jumping out of bed and championing what little enthusiasm I have left for list posts in the form of…well, a list post. But, given the high view count and the amount of people who visit Cracked maybe making a list post isn’t such a bad idea! In an attempt to preserve what little dignity I have left, I decided to write about the challenges our next generation of consoles will come up against.

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Hey, it’s better than ‘Top 5 fattest Nintendo characters: the tale of a writer who works at Kinko’s’ (apologies to the wonderful staff at Kinko’s, this is merely a playful ‘jab’. I am sure you are all wonderful people).

Now to the topic at hand…

It isn’t hard to see that consoles are slowly but surely lagging behind PCs in terms of horsepower. Even the newer generations of tablets are beginning to show specifications comparable to today’s beefiest console. With the gaming industry in a transitional period, I find it interesting to look forward, and at least try to predict the future of consoles and how they fit into our industry’s future. So me, being the barely talented writer I am, decided to tackle some of the issues our next generation of consoles will face, strap in.

Mobile Markets

We’ve already seen quite a bit of bleed through in our hardcore portable gaming sector (bet a comma is supposed to fit in there somewhere…), where both the 3DS and PS Vita are struggling to find a place in a marketplace that was previously dominated by them due to them being the only real competitors in the market. Products like the iPhone and Android devices offer low price experiences in a store-front that grants customers a low barrier to entry. You won’t see the XMB crossbar on a mobile phone. Everything is streamlined, customized, and tailored to buying trends and consumer tastes.

What does this mean for consoles? Streamlining and a product price restructuring. Sony and Microsoft have been trying to spread out their pricing structures (Nintendo is sort of playing hookie at the moment) via arcade titles and downloadable content. This price gap between AAA titles, ‘normal’ titles, and arcade titles needs to shrink—and drastically. Consumers need to know that buying a console will not forego their child’s college tuition. If you are launching a platform that provides quality entertainment, you must price your entertainment competitively. Because we are now living in a world where just because a product is smaller, does not mean it lives in a different market.

Console manufacturers, as well as mobile manufacturers, are competing for your dollar. This similarity makes them competitors; and given the slow but stubborn nature of feature creep going into each market, the list of exclusive features per product is growing smaller by the minute (okay not minute, but you get my point.)

Television

Considering television is sort of a complimentary product to gaming consoles. I find people wouldn’t normally think of television as a competitor for the next generation of consoles, they’d be wrong. Televisions nowadays, especially the newer generations, are incorporating more and more smart features. Netflix, Amazon video, Hulu, etc. are now commonplace in the smart television market, and future trends are pointing to only more features being placed into your television.

In a console cycle that is rumored to be a decade long, it isn’t far-fetched to think of a company—let’s say Apple, coming out with a television that can fully access and run all products offered on iTunes. The argument for a console becomes a lot harder when your television offers thousands of quality titles priced at a dollar. The argument for a console becomes damn near impossible when you realize that the television you need to enjoy your new gaming console already does everything the console does.

Companies like Microsoft and Sony (especially Microsoft) are fighting for this all-in-one entertainment box. Microsoft just might succeed with the next Xbox console, but what happens when people latch onto the features but want a more convenient box? The conversion of the set top box, game console, DVR, and television is going to happen at some point, it will be interesting to see if our seasoned console companies survive the transition.

High Risk AAA Titles

Go to Google and search for ‘recently closed game studio’. The amount of results you get back is worrying at best, borderline depressing at worst. The trend of ‘safe bet’ AAA titles and bloated production budgets is hurting the industry in a bad way. Not to toot my own horn (stand by for tooting) but my very first article on the web actually went over this issue, very poorly. If you are curious click here to give it a read…please don’t judge me.

Ultimately this feeds into the price restructuring bit I went into earlier. There needs to be more diversity among pricing models. The price of a product must also be in line with how much the product costs to make, what the marketplace is like, and the demand for said product. The one size fits all model is a losing model, we need to diversify.

Many game industry professionals are pointing to the free-to-play model as the next pricing standard. Personally, for me, that sounds like an awful standard. There are benefits to buying a product up front and knowing that the product you bought contains a full experience. It is a pleasing feeling to know you won’t have to worry about whether or not you bought the enjoyable version of the game. I don’t like the scenario where consumers feels screwed out of a purchase because they could not afford the premium edition of a game because they work at say…Kinko’s.

In case anyone is wondering, that joke makes me the world record holder for “Man who has made the most jokes about Kinko’s”.

Indie Titles

You cannot mention the problematic nature of AAA titles without talking about the consumer blowback, independent video games. Ever since the release of Braid, indie games have been skyrocketing in sales. Super Meat Boy sold over 1,000,000 copies, Limbo over 500,000 copies, and Fez at 100,000 copies and climbing. These examples, which contain very small production budgets and a very small team, are making a slow yet noticeably sharp dent in the gaming industry. Platforms like Steam, Kickstarter, Xbox Live, PSN, and GoG.com are offering premium placement that physical store shelves can’t.

This is competitive to the normal procedure conducted by game consoles. The more robust the indie community, I predict the more financial bleed through AAA games will feel. Why buy a sixty dollar game when you can buy twenty $5 experiences that are as good, if not better than the more expensive AAA title? When you start taking the price difference into account, why buy the console at all? If the exclusive AAA content provided by a console refuses to innovate, what is stopping the consumer from just logging into Steam, buying a copy of Super Meat Boy, and having a blast without plopping hundreds of dollars on a game that is deemed ‘Market Friendly’ by game publishers.

If I had to pick out the most dissatisfying aspect of this year’s E3 Press Conferences—it’d be the lack of color and originality. Hopefully this is only due to our current transitional state, and hopefully game developers have something more to offer than ‘brown military shooter’. The consumer fatigue has been slowly growing for these types of rote experiences for a while now, but the feeling at this year’s E3 was different. Consumer tastes are at a tipping point. If game publishers don’t pick up on this fact soon, we are going to see a lot more Homefront examples in the coming years, but substantially worse financially.

Stagnating Tech and PCs

I grouped these two topics together because the two sort of go hand in hand. I apologize if I start sounding like Ray Kurzweil, but there are some futurist beliefs that deserve being mentioned.

If you have been following technical specifications for the last few years you will be familiar with the term ‘accelerating returns’. It means, as I am sure most readers have guessed, that the returns you get from something will start occurring at an ever increasing rate. With computer specifications we use ‘exponential returns’, which means that the returns we get from new technology are so substantial as to represent exponential growth in speed, power, etc.

The current generation of console has been going for nearly seven years. This is extremely impressive considering previous generations typically transitioned around five. However, watching a game being played on a computer right alongside today’s consoles will make the technical gap painfully clear. If history keeps on the next generation of consoles will be in an even more vulnerable place to this competition. With more powerful tech comes less expensive inferior tech. I have a computer that can run any program I throw at it and it costs me a little over a grand. Rewind the clock twenty years and I could spend a million dollars and only get a computer that possesses a fraction of the power.

There needs to be a reason beyond what has already been established for people to buy consoles. Computers, cell phones, and televisions are no longer substitutes in the gaming market—they are competitors. Consoles have served as our only mainstream option for AAA entertainment for awhile now, what happens when other products enter the fold? There are a lot of factors going into these studio closures, so what can we do to stop them?

I don’t have the answer. I’m just a kid barely into his twenties that can barely write out a sub quality list post. That being said, I do see some difficult challenges awaiting our industry. Changes so vast and nonlinear, that an industry that is defined by adapting to changes, could be in for a serious beating if not ready for it.

Food for thought, if you have any opinions on the matter I would love to hear them; whether it be comments, Twitter, or email. If you disagree with any of what I have to say, hey, no big deal; nobody made me Chronos and this is about as speculative as articles can get.

Now go outside.

(Feel free to hit the "Subscribe" button up top to get instant updates on everything I write! Or follow me on Twitter at @KyleWritesStuff )

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