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Greed, Short-sightedness and Mediocrity. EP2: NextGen Consoles.

Following my series for GameBeholder, I discuss about the current and future trends that we've been hearing about Consoles (and companies) and their approach towards players.

It has been a while since my last article, I’ve been busy with all sorts of programming, but as I mentioned on my previous analysis, my fear about the creative direction of Japan was not the only concern of the current situation.

First of all I do not claim to know what is best for the market, or that I know better than anyone else what the outcome of the future of games will be, I have often been surprised, proven wrong and forced to reevaluate, so I know there are many places where I might misstep. However, I am growing more and more wary about the current trend that I am hearing about Consoles (and companies) and their approach towards players.

Piracy is a problem; I think we all know there is an issue there. In Chile (where I live now) there are reports about 93% of all software being pirated. And I understand that is worrisome.
People shock me, they can purchase a US $500 iPhone, but they will not spend a dollar in games, they will get “installous”, and pirate 2 dollar games. It is a shameful lack of education and appreciation for other people’s work. It is true that prices are inflated, it is true that many companies done even bother to officially license their products here, but it is no justification.

However, surprisingly, games like League of Legends and World of Warcraft do very well, and people do spend money on them, many freemium models succeed because they treat the player with thoughtful respect, they allow them to play and allow them to feel that they are themselves improving their experience through payment. This vision of the player as a “fan” and a friend, to me is the future. Events such as Doublefine’s or Wasteland’s Kickstarter seem to agree that players today will fight and pay for what they love.

 

The appStore is arguably one of the most ruthless markets today, but look at how much people like to pay for their free games. Free is a very misleading term.


Also from the player side, it is always better to feel that I am considered and appreciated, it is nicer to consider all of us as a conscious piece of the ecosystem rather than a cog in the machine, even if it’s only a semantic distinction.

Anyway, I’ve been reading a lot about next gen implementing no copy – no used games – no homebrew – no backwards compatibility- NO NOTHING systems. And while I definitely understand some of these measures, in extremes, they also seem a bit greedy, retrogressive and short-sighted.

I don't directly worry too much about the physical aspect of the consoles, if they have hard-drives or flash bays, I believe we will be creative around them, like the resourceful primates we are, but it is the mindset that I find unsettling.
Is it the idea to wage war on your clients?
 
To me backwards compatibility means a longer and deeper connection to your consumers, it translates that your console is not a stand alone, it understands that there is history, and it is a gesture to give the players that ease. Not having the ability to play them, but having the games available for purchase online again is lowly and downright greedy.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Shadow of the colossus, and it looks fantastic in HD, but are we going to have to purchase a new version of our favorites with each new console that comes out?


In the same way, no other medium in the history of the world has prevented me from sharing something that I have acquired, with my friends (and I am not talking about torrenting a copy online). If I value something I would like to share it, or maybe I would just like to keep it, if I think it’s worthy. But by disabling the option, you are immediately devaluating your product for anyone but me. Tying you down seems like an unnecessarily violent resolution of a badly thought conflict. Not to mention that it steps over a lot of the existing ecosystem without care for consequences.

Hundreds of years ago in history, we learned that inflexible enforcing is not the best way to make people agree with you, It just leads to unrest, frustration and eventually rebellion. For years Ubisoft has been implementing paranoid near game breaking DRM systems that border on psychotic, and still fail at stopping piracy.
Only recently they seem to have realized that ...hey, maybe instead of punishing pirates (enforcing the law with a terrible swift flaming sword), they should try to give a great service and a qualitative advantage to their paying customers (Wow, brilliant, lets hope you stick by it). Don’t we all agree that this is a far better approach? As the Skinner discusses, reinforcement is much more effective than punishment and it has a pleasant outcome for all parties.

So don’t these multimillion companies understand the effects that this authoritarianism can have in their consumer basis? Or maybe our consumer demand is so inelastic that they can keep on pushing the market without breaking it.

We all want to make more money, and sell more copies, and buy more gold plated sanitariums. But at what cost? I suppose they understand that in the end they are funded by their consumers. There are plenty of examples of other more creative solutions than all out war, even if they require to actually become involved with your audience.

Personally if a company came out with an “open” alternative (not oblivious to the problems but not trying to solve them with a ball and chain around my ankle), I would be the first to back it up, and I honestly think that the consumer basis would too. And who knows, they could make more money by demanding less money, and making sure their products are worthy... I know, this is a crazy world...  Who’s willing to take a plunge?

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