Sponsored By

Just my two cents on the issue

My opinion on the current state of the next generation of game consoles.

Adam Kloc, Blogger

June 20, 2013

9 Min Read

To reiterate, this is my opinion based on the information I have received. I claim no extra knowledge, all I say should be seen as inference.

Since E3, there has been a great deal of controversy surrounding the next two major console releases. As usual, gamers lump themselves into a pseudo-political party system to debate on where they believe the industry will go. Often debates become heated, and important caviats get disregarded as a result. Neither Sony, nor Microsoft has really gotten the idea of where the industry is going quite yet, nor should they. Only time will tell what happens, and the best that can be done is to prepare. It is in preparation where each company has taken either great strides, or miscalculation. I will discuss my views on each system separately.

Xbox One:

Since it is receiving the most attention, and not positively, I will begin with Microsoft's newest offering. The Xbox One, as announced, was intended to be an all-in-one entertainment console. Microsoft touted their superior media app offerings, and really dug hard into the improved abilities of Kinect. I am personally glad to see the laughable voice commands of the original Kinect have received the deserved attention, and that home DVR's are going to receive much needed competition. All in all, the media offerings are great.

Gaming is where things got dicey. Microsoft had announced that the console would utilize the common practices of PC games: DRM codes, timed authentication, constant server communication during the required online play, and the ability to perform a complete install of a game (rendering the disc unnecessary.) These ideas have worked well in the PC market, but consoles are a bit different. The use of internet in game consoles has technically been around since 1999, when the Sega Dreamcast was released, but the infrastructure only really caught up when the 360 came out. Wifi-based gaming has only really just caught up to broadband in limited capacity. The mentality of game consoles being a largely "plug and play" entity, with regard to the internet, is still the typical mindset. To add complication to the "always on" bit, many places in the US are incapable of reliable internet access. This is largely weather, especially in places like Florida.

Much of the proposed structure was designed to limit the used game side of business, in an attempt to allow developers to receive due profits for IP offerings. Such ideas look great on paper, and may even sound great during office presentations, but many things do not translate well to consumers. Consumers have long since been allowed to believe that a physical copy of a game is a product. Since no one, a well satirized phenomenon shown on South Park, takes end user license agreements seriously, people don't realize that what they have purchased is an authorization. The fault lies in the sellers domain, as there have previously been no successful attempts to reign in the "evil" used games market. The problem with Microsoft actually trying, obviously under pressure, to do something about it is they have waged a battle that needn't be waged. Physical media is on its way out, if they wanted to hasten its downfall then Microsoft should've eliminated physical copies altogether. To soften the attempted blow, Microsoft explained a strategy that nearly mirrors the manner in which iTunes works. The consumer would have all DRM codes attached to their Live account, and authorized users would be able to access select software based on the proposed extended license model. This idea would actually have worked out well if done properly. The part where Microsoft's model falters is where the authentication would still be required for initial use. They would've done well to take a cue from the film industry, where digital downloads have become the best concrete step in attacking piracy. 

Since the announcement, there has been a massive backlash from the gaming community. Much was due to misinformation, which Microsoft's very tight-lipped approach to PR helped fuel, while a lot was also due to erroneous interpretation. The erros affect both sides. I have seen many people describing the Kinect as essentially being the HAL9000 brought into reality, and other claiming the digital rights model would lead to cheaper software. Both are highly unlikely, unless the NSA decided it wanted to use the Kinect and strong-armed Microsoft into allowing invasive monitoring. At any rate, the backlash has caused Microsoft to announce a complete turn in policy. Essentially, they've reacted to the outcry by throwing out the baby with the bath water. None of the positive steps listed will be taken, because of some not given reason.

Here's where my real criticism begins. Why not offer both? I could easily see a model whereby Microsoft allows full installs with authentication, and provides access to use of physical media for used sales. What I mean is this: a customer purchases an X1 title. Customer decides he/she wants to install the game so that it'll load faster, and then decides to sell the game as used. If a serial number is attached to each game (which CAN be done) then the publisher and Microsoft can receive data concerning this now returned game. Rather than penalizing the consumer, limit access to the person who buys said used title to physical copy only. Then offer the next customer a discounted digital license if they wish to enjoy the full install option as well. The only chainge is, a serial has been added to keep track of the game. By allowing for the hybrid model, digital sharing could still happen. For me, the real great potential comes in the idea of community achievments. While not something discussed, the idea of creating a system whereby achievments are pooled into the license, rather than the user could open up very interesting possibilities.

Another issue I have, and it's not a criticism of the idea, but the timing of implementation, is with the other reason Microsoft wanted to use the "always online" method. To justify the price point, and put themselves theoretically ahead, Microsoft intended to allow processing through cloud computing. The services are entirely possible, and to some etent already exist. The problem is, the infrastructure does not. Much like with the Dreamcast, this would've been a waste of potential. They even mentioned increasing server space, but gave very limited detail regarding the strength boost needed to fit the likely demand. I am honestly saddened that they've backed down on this though, because if they really pushed for it then cloud computing could've come a little sooner. Not in time to really take off, but it would definitely effect the shape of future generations.

Alright, that's enough Microsoft for now. On to Sony.

I could easily understand where people would assume I'm a Sony fanboy. The company has gathered much faith from me over the years, and not just with game related devices. As a result, I have much less to complain about here.

My only real issue is with Plus. While I like Plus, I think requiring it for gaming online with PS4 will be the wrong move. Not requiring it at all has been the distinguishing factor between it and Live for the entirety of its existence thus far. While all Playstation gamers have seen it coming, it still comes as a major let-down to those of us still at the point of living paycheck-to-paycheck. 

I do feel it necessary to criticize the multimedia set up though. I feel that Sony should be spending more time integrating the kind of media that people are praising the competition for, rather than trying to press items that don't have as wide-spread interest. Small things like HBO-GO and other premium TV networks would make for better offerings in the current market.

Now, many of the people who are now condemning Microsoft for "halting the progress they sought to make," have been criticizing Sony for not chnging their physical media set up. I would position to argue that the stance Sony has taken is far less altruistic than fans are saying. I feel that Sony has just acknowledged that allowing physical games to die as they are is the best approach. My belief, based on following how Sony has always done business, is that they acted in reaction to publisher pressure. While Microsoft caved in on stricter regulation, Sony acted defiantly. The company has likely sided with their own historically successful approach: independent studios save the day. What I mean is, they are now offering options to allow independent studios to publish their own software. No heinous agreements of exclusivity, no release date pressure. It is as if they watched Indy Game the Movie and took notes. After all, independent studio licensing is what saved the original Playstation, what caused the PS2 to beat the competition, and what nearly caused the PS3 to lose to the 360. Sony essentially has decided to prove that the big publishers do not have as much power as they believe, not for our sake mind you. One thing is certain about Sony's evident business model: no one tells Sony what to do.

Such a stand would not come without consequence, though. Many publishers would have withdrawn support from Sony again. I emphasize would, because the Xbox One will no longer be the system that makes publishers happy. Microsoft has put their offering back on level ground with Sony in the eyes of most consumers, and publishers. The real determinant will be in the hands of independent developers once again. 

My final piece of observational commentary is thus: no move that any developer of hardware or software takes will lead to cheaper game prices. Publishers are businesses, the same as any other service providing business. Consumers drive the price, and producers will charge what the market will bear. If it costs less to produce games, publishers will pocket the extra, likely justified as a "risk benefit" or some synonymous term. The only way software will ever become cheaper is if consumers stop buying the expensive software in a large enough percent to force publishers to act. Such a move would be tricky, because publishers would fight back by taking less risk - at first.

Being that this is an opinion piece, I acknowledge that I may have misinterpreted information. I would appreciate professionally delivered counter points where necessary, which breeds healthy discussion. 

Read more about:


About the Author(s)

Daily news, dev blogs, and stories from Game Developer straight to your inbox

You May Also Like