So I was at the BAFTA Games Question Time and hopefully by mentioning them on my blog I’ll qualify for some kind of discount on the membership form they sent me following the event.
Anyhow, it was a very interesting evening and I hope they do it again, there were plenty of “clever sods” in the audience who asked “clever sod” questions, such as Andy and I, about the state of play of the Games Industry and the future of the business, games and hardware.
Now I’d love to get into the discussion on “what is a AAA game?” seeing as how I have worked on more AAA games than the entire panel combined (ZING) but what I really want to talk about is the future of hardware. What does the future hold for gaming? It’s also vaguely topical as the PlayStation Vita came out this week and I am reliably informed via Twitter from journalists who haven’t had to pay for one that they are worth every penny – though in the interests of parity i’ve heard the very same sentiment from journalists who have paid for one. News outlet MCV has already proclaimed that both Sony and Microsoft will present the next iteration (you can take your “next-gen” moniker and shove off) of their respective home consoles at this years Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3 for short. Other news outlets are busy speculating on what gubbinz will be filling these new shiney boxes to sit under your telly with much chitter chatter, rumour, linkedin profiles and hyperbole in abundance.
But none of these reports seem to have any level of common sense. The suggest entirely new hardware, with new state of the art graphics never before considered possible by man and something probably involving “the cloud” because everythign will be using that fancy stuff – if you’re unamiliar with “The Cloud” yours truly wrote a piece on it last year. Let’s assume that a major videogame release costs 40 million dollars to make, because there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that is the case, and wonder “what would happen if the same game needed to be made BIGGER AND BETTER?”. You’d need to have better AI, better graphics, better sound, better animation, better physics, and most crucially better budgets because someone will have to pay for all the people who will be needed to make these improvements.
So the game is going to cost more to make, but that’s only the beginning, who are you going to sell it to? Well you’re gonna sell this game to all the people who have bought the fancy new game consoles, but, and here’s the thing, how many people will that be? Currently there are 65 million Xbox 360s out there. 65 MILLION. That’s considerably more than however many of the next machine they release will have sold in a year. You’re going to start making a videogame which costs more to make with a significantly reduced install base? (Thats’ the fancy word for how many consoels have been sold, therefore how many games your could approximately sell, but then i’ve gone through three Xbox 360s so read into that what you will). In these tough economic times I don’t see masses of gamers jumping ship to the new shiney box straight away, because they’ve never done so en masse in the past. The games industry has gotten too big, to assume you can just release a new piece of kit and have everyone switch over to it just because it is shinier it is to ignore the lessons of Blu-Ray, HD and 3D.
No, I believe the future will have it’s inspiration from Apple and from the PC gaming world. I currently have an iPhone 4S, a year ago I had an iPhone 4. They looked the same, but the newer one is shinier and better and has loads of pointless new features i’ll never use properly, like Siri. The iPhone is a platform, new ones come out, but the games all still work, albeit better and shinier on the new ones, enabling early adopters to get their shiney new toy while the rest slowly play catch up when they’re inclined to. When a new iPhone comes out it doesn’t reinvent everything about itself to be different. It’s got new features but ultimately it looks and behaves the same way. When people say Apple are taking over the handheld space and rumour to move into home entertainment also, to not learn from how they keep their users happy by giving them a great experience that evolves with them and doesn’t revolutionise everything each time. Don’t force people to upgrade, make them want to.
Which is why I believe, like iOS is the platform for iPhones, Xbox Live and PSN (SEN now) will become the platforms for their consoles. The Xbox 360 2 will be like an Xbox 360, but better in every single way, but won’t be a NEW REVOLUTION, it will still connect to Xbox Live and more importantly, it will do so in the same way as the current Xbox 360 does. When you put your game into an Xbox 360 2, it will look and sound superior to the Xbox 360, and you can multiplayer together on the same servers. Why not? Why would you cut off part of your user base like that? When the next Call of Duty comes out on whatever the new system is, you don’t want to split up all those gamers into different tiers of machine, you want them all together, it’s bad enough you have to split them into console format as it is. Much like PC gaming, you’ll have your good PC, and your awesome PC, and they can all play together in one happy family, but on consoles. So when you upgrade to your new console, it’s all ready and waiting for you, welcoming, familiar, shinier. I’ve played PC games without a PhsyX chip perfectly well, while those with them PhysX chip made sure to tell everyone that waste of a PCI slot was doing something finally.
Is this possible via some kind of “Triple Play DVD/Blu Ray” set up? Will you download an “awesome graphics” patch and just buy the same disc? Who knows.
I don’t have any special information, I don’t have any idea what the next home consoles the big players will be producing, I’m no scientist; But what I do know is that when we’re in turbulent economic times, when video game retail is in an interesting spot, when pre-owned and 2 weeks later sales are on everybodys lips; it’s in no ones interest to further fragment the market at the top end of the pay spectrum, just because that’s how things have been done in the past. To our left is Kickstarter and Minecraft. To our right is iPhones and free to play browser games.
The videogame industry is on the verge of a paradigm shift, or at least for it’s sake, it should be.
This post is from the new blog I’m contributing to, Five Hombres