While flying to San Francisco today I read an article that got me thinking… It discussed the fact that it is inevitable that a unified gaming platform is coming. It referenced past examples of commodification (when an item that previously was not a commodity becomes one). The primary example was the cell phone and how it started as a status symbol and they were expensive and all they allowed you do was make calls. Now they are small, play music, record video and for the most part are no longer status symbols… essentially a commodity.
History shows that technology always becomes commodified and follows similar life cycle patterns. This is now happening with gaming consoles. Gaming consoles today do more than the market wants or needs. Now they serve as your media hub for movies, pictures, the web, etc… Once you reach the point in a products lifeccle where you are positioning more features than the market needs you begin to commoditize your offering.
The current splits between systems also greatly impact publishers as they have to decide whether they are going to release a title across the major first party systems or go with a proprietary system and receive additional compensation. This model is counter productive in some ways as additional resources are utilized not in the creation or enhancement of the gaming experience but to ensure the game ports to the specific format. Also there is more content being released that is not necessarily competing directly with other titles on other systems. This in turn dilutes the publishers efforts as they are not receiving the type of market penetration that is conducive to larger profit margins.
In esssence these factors will lead to the inevitable which is a one-console future. The article stated that this would not occur because we want one but because the market cannot sustain itself. What would happen if this were the case? You would see a drop in hardware cost and an increase in manufacturers as this would de-emphasizes the importance of the hardware (Think TV’s in recent years) and allows game publishers with 100% market penetration which would lead to cheaper games as publishers would not have to split resources between two versions of the same game. This would also create more of a channel approach to distribution.
What are your thoughts? Is a unified console a reality? Can the market continue to sustain the current fragmentation? If it were based on the current generation consoles I would call it the WiS360… or the PSWii60.
One Reply to “One Console”
I don’t think it’s possible…for a number of reasons. First off, if market conditions allowed for a unified console to succeed, it would have already happened. This industry has been around for 20+ years now and there are quite a few of us know who grew up on games. People generally talk about this at least once in 5 years and maybe someone will try to do it and fail. Secondly, gaming has always pushed the hardware envelope and gamers have grown up seeing exponential technical improvements every 3-4 years. It’s unrealistic to commoditize any product that undergoes such drastic improvements so quickly. Thought leaders often cite examples like Digital Cameras being embedded in cell phones and stand alone DVRs (like Tivo) now being embedded in cable/satellite boxes to say that gaming will follow a similar route. While to some extent that is true (the casual games scene), we will have to reach a point where games can’t improve graphically and are indistinguishable from real life before we see the platforms unify. And even when the platforms are pretty close graphically (360 and PS3), it’s very likely that they will differentiate themselves by unique offerings (like Xbox Live).