Blog: One-console future? That could work!
The video game industry is going through a very subtle, undetected change. More and more developers are going ‘indie’. They are looking at the various mobile outlets to produce games for. Games that are capsule sized, cost nothing more than a few dollars and are ready to be consumed whenever, wherever.
Times are tough. The economy is down and out. Bills are ever increasing. And the wallet is crunched to little nothing. At $60 a pop, or in the case of UAE, at AED 269 a pop, ‘hardcore’ games for the ‘bigger’ platforms are a hard sell. Sure, we have seen some impressive sales figures for games like Portal 2 and L.A. Noire this year, and the economy never mattered for titles with Halo in it, but such success are far and off. Some of the games may not even recover the development cost, which has become punishingly expensive.
Development cost, in fact, is one of the pet peeves of developers around the industry. It is the reason, they say, why games cost so much money. With at least 3-4 platforms on hand, each with their own hardware configurations, with its own pluses and limitations, and the unrelenting need for absolutely polished, technically stunning demand from gamers, cost of making games, that will be accepted and praised, or at least looks the part, has gone through the roof. Didn’t we hear at the time of Grand Theft Auto IV’s release that the game cost $100 million or more to make? A hundred million dollars. Don’t get me started on Black Ops.
To offset the cost, some developers have wishfully suggested a ‘one-console future’. It was first proposed by Silicon Knights head Dennis Dyack, and very recently resonated by Bethesda’s Todd Howard.
But that’s a ridiculous concept, to be honest. Only one platform for every game? No exclusives, no competition? That only promotes monopoly, and the gamers will face the brunt of it.
What could work however, is a ‘one-hardware multiple-consoles future’. Microsoft can have their Xbox, Sony can have their Playstation and Nintendo can have their oddly named system. But the common thing that ties all of them together would be the use of the same internals. The same processor, the same graphics card, the same amount of memory, the same API and development kit to tool with.
Barely have games looked better on the PS3 than on the Xbox 360, and vice versa. Even if there were differences, they are almost always negligible. So why force developers to learn to produce for entirely different systems and spend thousands of dollars Q&A’ing the stuff out of them, when they are all but just striving to make similar looking games? What gain does it bring?
A one-hardware system can bring a lot of benefits, such as:
- Cheaper consoles – During every generation cycle, manufacturers like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo (okay, not them), sell their hardware at a significant loss and hope to make it back with sales in software. With combined R&D, they no longer have to worry about that. They might actually be able to sell their hardware at a profit.
- Cheaper games – One hardware platform means focused development. That in turn means cost saving as there is no need to pour money into researching and learning various hardware configurations. This also saves on Q&A. With reduced development cost, surely the games will get cheaper, right?
- No need to fret over which system has better graphics – because all of them have the same hardware and are optimized in the same way.
- Motion Control – With already developed platforms like Kinect and PS Move, Microsoft and Sony can work with developers to give their version of the game an edge, now greatly enhanced with a single hardware platform.
The whole system of exclusives, DLCs, micro-transaction, online services, etc., can stay as it is now, bringing revenue to manufacturers like it is now. However, a one-hardware consoles will greatly reduce cost, in manufacturing, in developing, in fine tuning, in product testing and finally, in marketing.
The main aim of this would be to bring consumer cost of video games down. To make them more affordable, and in turn reduce piracy and second hand purchases, which has been bugging many a developers. This also means reduced attempts at annoying us with incompetent DRMs that does nothing but penalize legal buyers.
Another point, combined hardware R&D cost could also mean shorter generation cycles. This could help consoles keep up with the prowess of the PC and provide added technical muscle for better performance, better visuals and overall, a better experience.