A Gamer’s Perspective: What We Really Need From Next-Gen
Even if you were sane enough to get a full night’s sleep instead of watching Sony’s super secret, what-could-they-possibly-be-announcing press conference last week (it aired at 1am local time), you’ll probably know by now that the PlayStation 4 has been revealed. If you didn’t know, spoiler alert: Sony just announced the PS4.
This is a pretty big announcement for many hopeful columnists and gamers alike, most of whom will have been more than willing to give you an extensive analysis of just what Sony and Microsoft need to do with their next-generation consoles. Most of the aforementioned parties now have enough concerns and questions to keep the Reddit gaming community engaged in self-contained debate and speculation for at least a month, on issues ranging from the pricing of the console itself, to how effective its streaming features will be, to where on on earth the console itself was. By far the most popular question on everyone’s lips, however, is how Microsoft is going to respond to this.
Now, you see, that’s where the problems start.
What many gamers don’t seem to realise is that the Console War is, in reality, the gaming industry’s equivalent of cancer – and by buying into it they only make it worse. When terminology like ‘war’ starts getting applied to any market, alarm bells should start ringing. For those who can’t remember much from their High School Economics classes (let’s be honest, who can?), competition between producers and suppliers is the key ingredient in any healthy economy. As long as retailers are competing for your patronage, prices are kept as low as is sustainable, and quality and customer service are givens – after all, if Clothing Store X is too expensive or has dickish staff, you could always take your business to Clothing Store Y across the street. Clothing Store X doesn’t want that, and so they do their best not to give you a reason to switch.
If you’re feeling slightly detached from just how devastatingly retarded a non-competitive market can be, take a look at your ADSL bill for a second. Feel like you’re being robbed? If you’re on Telkom, it’s probably because you are. Want to know why that is? Because the majority of you are on Telkom – even if they aren’t your ISP, your ISP most likely buys their bandwidth from them, because no one else is in the ADSL market competing with Telkom’s service provision. That’s why they can charge exorbitant prices and stifle the development of the South African internet infrastructure while still commanding your business. That’s why you need competition in a market.
At this point you’re probably doubting my sanity – after all, the console market is competitive, isn’t it? In the sense that we aren’t being robbed utterly blind and that is isn’t a monopoly, maybe (although the point about robbery will surely be contested by some). But a competitive market doesn’t just consist of both sides trying to not utterly fail – it is dynamic. There’s forward progression, one-upmanship and both sides trying to give you as the consumer more reason to buy from them than their competitor. In that sense, the console market far more accurately represents a warzone than a field of competition.
After all, what really distinguishes the consoles apart from their identically zealous followings of indoctrinated fanboys who’ll spend their dying breath telling you that their choice is better because Xbox is just cooler, ok?
Seriously. I bought a console over the holidays, and my deciding factor was the controller. I think the 360 controller looks nicer. When we’re at that level of similarity, with neither side making any real attempt to distinguish their console from the other, I think it’s fair to say that a small injection of competition wouldn’t hurt things.
What console users need from the next generation is not nearly as tangible as something like increased processing power or live streaming, no matter how nice those things are. What they (or, I suppose, we) need is for the Microsoft and Sony to stop worrying about falling behind because they don’t have a particular feature (and so constantly stagnating the market by incessantly copying each other) or losing their edge by implementing an unpopular feature (and so never introducing any features drastic enough to make consumers want to switch to them).
Features and functionality aren’t the only way they can do it, either – some business-level badassery could definitely do some good, too. Cast your minds back a few years, to when MWeb made the ridiculously bold move of offering uncapped internet for under R200 – while the rest of their competition was still working on an overpriced pay-per-gig basis.
I’m sure those who were around for that will agree that saying South African internet was revolutionised by MWeb’s decision. Sure, their profit margins weren’t quite the same, but they got so damn much business that it honestly didn’t matter a whip – and there’s no reason Microsoft or Sony can’t do a similar thing.
Either through lowering royalties (and thus decreasing the sale price of games) or through lowering the profit margin on the console itself, they can take a short-term financial hit and get a whole tonne of new, loyal business from gamers whose craft has just become a whole lot more affordable.
Naturally I’m taking a rather simplistic view of economics and the corporate machinations of console producers, but the underlying point is what I’m trying to get at here: no matter what new feature you want to see in the next generation of consoles, it won’t compare a whip to the kind of change in industry we’ll see if Microsoft and Sony start to actively try and attract your business, as opposed to just keep it.