Friday, May 24, 2013

It's the Imperial Age of consoles, and the gamer is a worthless commodity

at 11:35 AM
Sorry, I had to get in just one more post about Xbox One this week. This is maybe kinda slightly a rehash of my EA post a few weeks ago. Apologies all around.

Needless to say, the gamer-community reaction to the One has been overwhelmingly negative. It has in turn been called "the worst conference since Nintendo's Vitality Sensor", a "travesty", "a clear win for Sony", and "gay. just plain gay". And I made up all of those quotes! Seriously, just pop by GamesRadar, Joystiq, or Kotaku for a few minutes: not just the comment threads, but even the published articles carry outright condemnation. What it all comes down to is outrage over a simple fact:

You, the gamer, do not matter anymore.

This presentation was not intended to please you. You are no longer the audience for console manufacturers, or even most (mega) software developers. They are not targeting the 10% demographic who finish their games, or the 5% who utilize backwards compatibility. Why would they? Any veteran of Business 101 (and let's remember that I failed Business 101) could tell you that a company aims to please the majority demographic. A 5% increase in sales is nothing to scoff at, but if it comes at the cost of a successful launch with the other 95%, it's not worth it. It sucks, but the game market is no longer home to gamers. You are a tiny minority.

Beyond all the used game and backward compatibility talk, the underlying criticism of Microsoft's platform is that they seem to be completely skipping over games. They are showing zero new games to headline their console (wonder why all the publicity stills are just images of the box sitting on a pedestal?) and seem to care more about TV and Skype functionality. Because they do care more about those things, because Jeff Public Daniels spends a whole lot more time watching footballs and Two and a Half CSIs than he does playing Halo 8. And hardcorers are saying "but I don't, and neither do my friends!" But the very fact that you play Halo 8 has already put you in Microsoft's pocket, and you're only a tiny piece of the market anyway. They don't even care whether they lose you. Try to open up your perspective a bit and watch the presentation from the eyes of someone who has never owned a console before. All that TV shit suddenly looks a lot more appealing.

The Wii was perhaps not the first, but certainly the most prominent harbinger of the transitioning mentality. In the fourth, fifth, and sixth generations, we all talked about "console wars". Which company could grab the biggest slice of the gamer pie? Wii came around and showed that this was a paltry squabble; the real competition was not to grab the most gamers, but to convert the most non-gamers. The existing "hardcore" population became a given, and the war transformed into a campaign of conquest.

It's kinda like how Britain and France spent most of their existence up til the 17th century biting at each other's dicks, and then all of a sudden realized "hey - there's the rest of the world out there. Let's try to take over the biggest chunk of that", and hence, colonialism, imperialism, etc. They (for the most part - Napoleon being an obvious exception) no longer tried to conquer the rest of Europe, instead setting their sights on Africa, Asia, and America. That is the turn that video games have taken. Console giants Sony and Microsoft are England and France, and we, the gamers, are the English and French, depending on which box we have in our TV cabinets. And as our overlords turn their attention to colonizing the rest of the population, we've become jealous that no one is fighting over us anymore. Of course, to continue the analogy a little further, a few years down the line, the rest of the world got tired of European rule and kicked those bastards to the curb. Which equates to the looming death-of-consoles at the hands of even casualer gaming on social networks, tablets, and phones - devices not tied to proprietary software.
The British Empire. Note that at NO point did Britain ever conquer France (or vice-versa) - just as MS and Sony have no interest in conquering each other's hardcore fanbase
Let me leave you with the worldwide console sales of the last 30 years, by hardware generation. Notice that I split PS2 sales at 2006, as it was a legitimate 7th generation competitor. I'd include handhelds, but it's very difficult to track numbers on gaming usage of smartphones and tablets, so it'd make a misleading comparison with DS, GBA, etc.
3rd gen: NES (62) + SMS (10) = 73 mil
4th gen: SNES (49) + Genesis (42) + Turbo (10) = 101 mil
5th gen: N64 (32) + PSX (102) + Saturn (9) = 143 mil
6th gen: PS2 (106) + GCN (21) + Xbox (24) + Dreamcast (10) = 161 mil
7th gen: PS2 (49) + PS3 (77) + Wii (100) + 360 (77) = 303 mil

Look at that massive jump from 6th to 7th. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo aren't battling over that 300 million. They know that if they play their cards right, they can turn it into 600 million, and the way to do that isn't infighting over the 15 million loyalists who care about backwards compatibility.

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