Console != Highlander

Next-Gen recently published an editorial entitled The Road to a Universal Platform which (to be blunt) rejected one naive assertion about the fate of the console with an equally naive (if well-intentioned) proposal to the industry. Let’s dive right in:

David Jaffe recently came under some criticism for a few statements to consumer website 1UP about his future visions of the game industry. The big headline, repeated across the Internet for a day or two, was “Ten years from now there will be one console”.

Like there’s one computer processor? (AMD vs Intel) Or one brand of cola? (Coke vs Pepsi) Or one consumer operating system? (Mac vs Windows) Etc…

There won’t be “one console” anytime soon because market forces won’t tolerate the existence of a single player in this space — not as long as “consoles” are defined as they are today. The market opportunity is simply too great for potential competitors to ignore. And of course, there are the social and legal dimensions to this.

The most essential problem is that unlike film or music, video games have yet to come into their own. Before anything resembling standardization is appropriate, there are still tremendous problems in interface, design theory and craftsmanship to address…. the difference between the Wii and the Xbox 360 should give a taste of how far we have to go before we’re ready to settle.

Well put, though I’d go one step farther and say that design innovation will (and should) never cease, and as such, the opportunity to “settle” on a single console platform will never occur. Today we’re playing with physical motion and Live services. Tomorrow we’ll be experimenting with holographic projections, or mind-controlled games, or who know what else. Whatever the case, you can be sure the possibilities will be far too numerous and wonderful for any individual company to single-handedly digest. Competition is a vital component of innovation. In a free market economy, you simply can’t have one without the other.

What the industry really needs is a video game standards commission — a body headed by a rotating board of representatives nominated from all areas of the industry… Different manufacturers would agree to different development paths, depending on their market and audience goals. All manufacturers would receive input and guaranteed and appropriate support from member developers.

Not so well put. Not only is this naive, but it borders on illegal collusion (the only difference being the level of secrecy… not sure that would make enough difference to the courts.)

Let’s imagine Nintendo’s senior executives having a private conversation approximately three years ago. The topic: how to rescue their non-portable console business. The plan: abdicate the technology war (which Nintendo has no hope of winning) and focus on a novel interface innovation and pricing strategy. “Great work, team! Now all we have to do is run this past Sony and Microsoft at our monthly standards meeting. I hope giving them advance notice of our plans won’t have any unintended, negative consequences.”

*Cough* Sixaxis *cough*. I wonder how much the PS3’s controller design would have changed with multi-year advance notice of Nintendo’s plans?

Is it such a big step for the three hardware manufacturers to form a coalition for the betterment of all? The bigger step would be ceding authority to an outside body on matters directly affecting business. Still, if representatives from all three manufacturers are given a seat…

Wow. I feel like I’m watching an episode of “That 70’s Show.” Except all the attractive women have been replaced with a bunch of stoned male game developers in a sweaty group hug.

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