So, taking handhelds out of the equation for a moment, we have a lot of consoles on the marketplace:
XBox 360 PS3 Wii PC
And now, we have Wii U, and will soon have PS4 and XBox One. Of course, the PC is there as usual with its own game library. So we have the Wii U (and soon PS4 and XBO) not only competing with each other, but also their predecessors, which will seemingly have lives that overlap the next generation more than ever.
Does this hurt or help the industry? Does our current system encourage competition and innovation, or does it create redundancy?
And for the gamer....what does the diversity of consoles do for you? Do you like having these consoles to pick and choose from? Do you find yourself being burned by the fact that, unless you own everything (which, with subscription fees and expensive consoles), is becoming increasingly more expensive), you're going to miss out on some amazing game experiences?
I'll hold off on my thoughts for now, but what do you think? Does someone have to go? Do you wish games were more like movies where you simply bought a 'game' and could play it on devices by numerous manufacturers? Or are you very happy with the way things are right now? Is this even an issue?
On the one hand I think it would be great if we only had to buy one system and we could play all the games, like the video industry. I buy one Blu-ray player and I can watch any Blu-ray put out by any content producer. There are a number of competitors still making blu-ray players and they can compete on things like extra features such as Netflix streaming or quality of upscaling or remote form-factor or loading times, etc.
However, the biggest difference here is that movies/shows/videos are all pre-rendered, data streams. Video games are not the same beast - they are being rendered on the fly. That inherently makes it such that the same model doesn't work here. You see that with PC's now. You can have PC's made by different manufacturers using different video cards and having different amounts of RAM and that leads to game-designers having to build games that can be scaled and adapted to a broad range of hardware. So now, not every user gets the same-looking game.
On a blu-ray movie, the movie-maker can film/render all sorts of particle effects and set his lighting and all of those things will be present for every viewer regardless of which brand of blu-ray player they buy because it is not dependent on the machine's ability to render those things on the fly. Games can't and shouldn't work like that.
So having a dedicated gaming platform that has it's hardware abilities set in stone allows the developer to control what every gamer will see when they play the game. Can those particle effects and lighting models be run or not? It's a known outcome because all the players are using the same specs. That's what consoles excel at. And it allows the developer to push the hardware to it's limits and know what the visual output will be because of it.
Now certainly there is a lot of redundancy in building the same game multiple times across multiple platforms, but it's a trade-off with the benefits mentioned above.
Other benefits to a closed platform include system-wide cross-game features such as a unified achievement system, or Wii-U's MiiVerse. The 360 remembering whether I like my camera controls inverted or not across games.
In my mind there are already two models running in the gaming industry - the console model and the PC model. The PC model is already close to what you suggest. It's not a singular platform. It's a model akin to the Blu-ray manufacturer's model adapted for gaming. The problem is that it is running concurrently with the console model, so console-exclusive games aren't compatible.
Personally, I wouldn't want to abandon the console model. I like the uniformity of hardware across all users and developers knowing what specs I will have and what controller I will be holding and optimizing for what I have rather than worrying that I could have a better version of the game I own if I upgraded my hardware.
Certainly, the "me-too" console system sucks from a financial standpoint. Why spend $400 and $500 on consoles that differ maybe 2% just to experience maybe 10 good/great exclusives over a life-cycle? It's madness. Then you add on each console now requiring money to even play online and it just keeps adding up.
On the flipside, we've all recently witnessed the benefits of it. Microsoft had to scrap some pretty questionable policies in order to keep up, short term wise, with the PS4.
I don't even know what to think about how I would personally want the industry. While, at this stage at least, I'm not planning on buying a Microsoft product I wouldn't want them erased from the equation. And even though the Wii U has been kind of lame-duck since launch I wouldn't erase Nintendo from the industry. It's all peaks and valleys. Sure, Sony is riding a pretty decent wave right now but they were doing the same thing with the PS2 and we got the PS3 "got a second job / historically accurate giant crabs / $599 US DOLLARS!". Competition is good.
Just not for my wallet.
I'm planning on sticking with my PC/Wii U/3DS/PS4. I love Nintendo's software, maybe not their decisions, and Sony will give me the third party console gaming I look for. PC is for MMOs and RTS and the big shinny graphics.
I think the effort to make compelling first-party software in order to move your consoles leads to some of the best games ever created. I don't believe we'd get equally compelling efforts from those first-party studios if they went multi-platform, sofware-only. We need look no farther than Sega pre-Dreamcast vs post-Dreamcast to see evidence of this. Their first round of software efforts after going software-only were great (Gun Valkyrie, Jet Set Radio Future, Panzer Dragoon Orta, etc.)... and then... not so much.
When the industry was in its infancy and for a while after that, I think it was important to have multiple systems and competitors. Most of them were bringing new and different ideas to the table and seeing what would sell in the market, and competition drove innovation on all sides. It also helped prevent things like the nonsense Atari tried to pull. However, more recently, I've felt that multiple systems have been becoming increasing redundant, which started in the sixth generation. From a practical standpoint, the PS2, Xbox, GCN, and even Dreamcast were all pretty much identical. There were minor differences between each one, sure, but the games looked and played mostly the same across them all. And I think that's a large reason why the PS2 sold so much more than all the others, because the others were viewed as being similar, but with smaller game libraries.
Things were a little different with the seventh generation, as we once again had some differences between systems. But I still never saw much point in the PS3 and Xbox 360 both existing as they all seemed to offer the same things. Even as we move on to the eighth generation, the PS4 and Xbox One once again feel the same, and even the Wii U doesn't seem very different from them. As we approach the peak of technology, one unified system is making more and more sense, which would be beneficial for publishers and consumers alike. Publishers wouldn't have to make more than one version of each game, which would help reduce costs as budgets skyrocket, and consumers wouldn't have to waste money on buying more than one piece of hardware.
I don't think it'll ever happen though. Each of the three current players want to control the market, Sony and MS especially, and wouldn't want to give up licencing fees either.
@Mop it up I think you're vastly underselling the innovations each of the recent consoles brought to bear to "test out in the marketplace" in the last generation. Certainly I see far more differences between a 360 and PS3 than a SNES and Genesis.
Achievements (later adopted as trophies on PS3) Paid Xbox Live multiplayer vs free PSN multiplayer PS+ services, discounts and instant game library Locking Netflix behind the XBL Gold membership vs free on PS3 Blu ray vs DVD format Avatars vs PS Home Move vs Kinect Mandatory vs optional hard drive Different digital rights options Microsoft points vs real dollars ...and on and on...
And certainly Nintendo keeps offering up a platform that innovates and marches to a completely different beat these days - way more than in generations past.
@nacthenud Funnily enough, only one of those has anything to do with the games (Move and Kinect). I was talking about how the games are the same or similar. You're basically bringing up a new point, that consoles have been moving to extraneous fluff and non-gaming features as of recent, a move which is baffling to me.
@Mop it up Achievements/trophies absolutely affect the way I interact with games. They have caused me to try things I would never have done otherwise. Services surrounding games like access to online multiplayer are not "extraneous fluff" in my mind. Stuff like PS+ instant game library has given me access to try games I would have otherwise missed out on. Services like cloud backups of saves and automatic game patching are god-send advancements.
I get what you're saying - a multiplatform game is basically the same on both systems, but the ecosystems surrounding the games are ever-improving and very important in my mind. The fact that the consoles have to compete in this arena drives innovation and improvements in both.
@nacthenud I don't feel like we need to have separate gaming systems to have all those features and options, though. If the games themselves are going to be essentially the same on the systems, then a unified media system makes more sense. It'd be like how there are cheap DVD players that do nothing but play DVDs, and then there are higher-end ones that offer lots of fancy features. Sony would still make a system with the features of their PlayStation line, and Microsoft would make a system with the Xbox features, but the same game disc could work on both. Nintendo could make their own system too, and they'd have things like Miiverse and such, though they might make things like accessories; I could see things like the Wiimote and GamePad being accessories.
Like with anything there are of course kinks that would need to be worked out, and it'd take a while to move towards something like this. But ultimately I think it'd be the best thing for the future of the industry, as far as consumers and publishers are concerned. The only ones who might not benefit are Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo.
What annoys me about the "four pillar" system is that Microsoft owns two of them so essentially they're throwing around double the weight as the other guys.
I don't see the PlayStation and Xbox as identical, I think we need at least two comparable and competing systems to keep each other on their toes and to push technology forward. If anything I'm beginning to wonder if it's beneficial for Sony and Nintendo to keep making competing consoles, I think it might be beneficial for both of them if they were to form a partnership. Sony could handle the engineering of the actual guts and online infrastructure and Nintendo could work on games, software and interface innovation (motion controls, the balance board, streaming tablet), their skills and expertise would dovetail almost perfectly, and if you combined Nintendo's Japanese first party developers with Sony's stable of excellent Western developers that would be one hell of a line up with worldwide appeal. Even Microsoft with their monopoly billions would have a tough time spending that problem away.
It's just like Game of Thrones: why are humans fighting each other over their petty kingdoms when the White Walkers are the real threat? Microsoft is the White Walkers, the mindless, undead horde that want's to lay waste to civilization and the human race itself. Anyone not a zombie should immediately stop fighting other not-zombies and combine forces, it's a simple matter of survival!