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Console Neutrality

Posted on Monday, October 22 @ 20:03:51 Eastern by Duke_Ferris
With EA recently on record saying they were fed up with the console wars and would prefer to develop for just one system, they echo something I've thought for years. So I've updated something I wrote about back at E3 in 2005, because I still believe it's right.

Sony and Microsoft should get together in a joint venture and create the Playstation X or the X-station or the PlayBox or whatever the hell they want to call it. They should pay no attention to Nintendo because the Wii is more of a toy than a serious game platform. Sorry Nintendo, you’re an awesome game developer, and I applaud the success of the Wii, but comparing it to the 360 or the PS3 is meaningless. Because nobody is buying Wii's instead of hardcore consoles, they're buying them in addition to, or else they're the type of person who would have never bought a hardcore console anyway.

Okay, close your email client. Wait until you get to the end of this before sending me hate mail because I have points to make, evidence that I might put before the jury. If it’s good enough for O.J., it’s good enough for me.

The choice is not so hardware.

At this very minute, I could walk down to my local Best Buy, score an all-region DVD player for $50, and take it home knowing full well that it will play every single damn movie in my library. Never do I start a film only to stare blankly at a screen explaining “I’m sorry, but Star Wars is a Phillips DVD exclusive. Please insert a Panasonic compatible disc. And by the way, up yours!” There are seventy-five companies making DVD players, which keeps the price point affordable and keeps it dropping over time. I have a plethora of $50 DVD choices with additional formats (MP4, Divx, VCD, SVCD) being added all the time, and every one of ‘em works like a charm on my player.

The arguments in favor of a two or three-console world are loud and clear – a single platform would stifle innovation; the lack of competition would block advancements; platform exclusivity drives sales. Too bad that’s a load of bull.

I say that one hardware format would actually increase competition because anyone could build machines. Forget Sony and Microsoft – how about buying a PlayBox player from Toshiba or JVC or Sharp? DVD players have actually come a long way since the first one, but that original machine can still play every movie. Gamers should enjoy the freedom of choice without the shackles of exclusivity.

Why would Sony and Microsoft ever consider doing such a thing? Because they’d make more money, that’s why. Every company that manufactured a game console (not to mention every game publisher) would be paying royalties to MicroSony. Plus, since now there’s one ubiquitous box, there would be one in every single household in America (oh, and some of those other countries, too). You want to reach a "billion people", Robbie Bach? I have your answer.

Imagine a world in which developers could create each game only once, bringing down costs, and thus, prices. Imagine if your single game machine played every game out there, and you didn’t have to miss Metal Gear Solid 4 just because two suits shook hands in a cold conference room and one handed over a sack of cash. Actually, I’m sure you’ve imagined this endlessly.

There would still be leaps in technology. To make the publishers feel comfy, we can even continue to call them "generations," but we’d only worry about new ones when truly important advances came about. In other words, the gamers would decide when it was time for the next generation.

The VHS performed admirably for over two decades before we all switched to DVDs, and the only reason we did this was because the clearly superior DVD format became affordable. We all more or less made the transition simultaneously (not counting your weird aunt who still watches home movies on Super 8).

Snappy logo, but would Jesus buy it?

And that’s how technology is supposed to work. That’s how it happened in the world of music, as we migrated from records to cassette tape to CD to MP3, and nobody ever complained that they felt stifled by the lack of innovation.

James Brown is still the Godfather of Soul and Ashlee Simpson still sucks, no matter what the format. We embraced each generation of music technology like our newborn children rather than feeling compelled to grudgingly accept three new machines and three new expenses, or suffer from the lack of certain songs. Somehow, the video game industry has refused to figure this out, and those who suffer greatest are those who keep it alive.

No more exclusive titles, lower costs, total compatibility, a single unit hooked to your entertainment center, and longer times between spending your hard earned cash for a sleeker looking box of chips - this is the Holy Grail of gaming that we should all be seeking out. I implore each and every one of you to lay down your arms and unite under a banner of console peace.

At least until Apple decides to make consoles in an array of bright colors. Then we're doomed.


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