A simple call to arms for the console companies to listen to. With mobile threatening to unravel things, now is the time for some innovation.

The console business is in a perpetual state of stagnancy: Stifled, maybe, by the extra two years tacked on to a generation “gamers” had already tired of; or by the paralyzing way in which the industry operates. Paying $60 is wildly inefficient and may end up killing off the console as a gaming mechanism, but that topic is something the industry refuses to tackle even with some bitter acknowledgement. It’s not simply the games either that end up unprofitable; the consoles, too, for a time, are sold at a loss until the manufacturer hopes to make profits on licensing fees. In short, it doesn’t work.

New machines were the best way to avert a crisis of conscious. After years of sameness, the likes of Nintendo and Sony roll out hardware sporting fancy gadgets and gizmos as a means of one-upping each other. Essentially, the bitter rivalry between the Big Three console makers drove innovation and consumer buying habits. But that may soon be changing.

The growing presence of mobile gaming throws that neat equation into disarray. For so long, the console companies depended on one another to bring the bulk of technological or economical advances, and slowly each would adapt to what proved to be popular. Nintendo and Sony followed Microsoft into online gaming; Microsoft and Sony emulated Nintendo’s success with motion control; and Nintendo and Microsoft matched Sony in requiring a higher definition of graphics. It’s cyclical; a corporate game of follow the leader.

For mobile, wherein games are cheap, easy-to-produce and accessible, the consoles cannot begin to compete. Console titles cost in the millions to develop, over the course of years, and are often complicated or inaccessible to those less familiar with the concept. As the games industry descends into an era led by smaller games, the risk will come to outweigh the potential gains of a profitable console game. Every publisher won’t aim to create the next Call of Duty; instead, Rovio’s Angry Birds becomes the model to follow: Small games with little development time that can spawn multiple franchises.

Rovio has had tremendous profits from its bird-against-pig war simulator. Tie-ins from Star Wars and the film Rio convey that the series is ripe with marketability, and tiny evolutions in game play give off the impression that Rovio has many plans for the future. The studio went the Mario route: to space, and a kart racing game. But the promotion hardly stops with Hollywood. Other famous mobile studios have noticed as well. As gaming matures into a cultural staple, these are prime opportunities the console makers can’t afford to miss out on.

Self-publishing may be one answer to the problem. Microsoft was originally hesitant to the idea, but after the positive reception to Sony’s use of it, the Xbox maker caved. It gives a valuable opportunity for a company to promote their own brand, as well as corporate brands that want to attract a gaming audience. Studios open to the option split profits evenly with Microsoft and Sony. No added cost for any company involved, and it guarantees a game goes profitable.

The way consoles operate now is self-defeatist. It’s not sustainable, and the market might be swallowed by the mobile revolution. If the console manufacturers want to break open, they’ll have to move past these practices and find smarter ways to generate income. Self-publishing is merely one way of achieving this; apps, original programming, and monthly subscriptions show an eagerness to expand. But innovation requires bigger thinking.

The PlayStation’s slogan is “See the Future”. The future is now.

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  • Matt S

    The problem with innovation, genuine innovation, not the false kind of ‘innovation’ that becomes a marketing gimmick (see: Nintendo Wii), is that by definition innovation is something that people haven’t seen before. The games community is ironically the most resistant towards innovation that I have ever seen before: someone tries to do something even slighly different from the norm that the ‘fans’ are used to, and they throw an almighty tantrum.

    Therefore innovation’s only reward in the games industry is controversy. Want proof? See the Xbox One prior to all the backtracking. There was a console that was genuinely innovative, but because the typical ‘gamer’ couldn’t wrap his mind around how it could all work, he spat the dummy. The media was similarly shortsighted and Microsoft was forced to backtrack and now it’s releasing just another console.

    So no, the only innovation that consoles need is the pretend kind, where manufactures say, via marketing, that they have created something innovative, and the gamers lap that up because it suits their own short sighted world views.

    • JeffHeilig

      Had motion control been done before? I can’t recall a console using a sensor bar and tracking your movements before the Wii. Unless you count little peripherals like Duck Hunt or using a racing wheel.

      What the Xbox One did might have been innovative in the sense that consoles had not seen anything like it before, but Microsoft did not handle that smartly. Some of the policies were flagrant and anti-consumer. Some could have worked, I think, if Adam Orth hadn’t smeared every Xbox Live user on twitter.

      What’s funny is, in terms of innovation, many of the major changes we’ve seen over the years have been forced on the consumer base. People were initially resistant to online play and achievements; now they are standard on any console. And people laughed at the Wii’s deformed controller.

      I’ll attest that the gaming market is a different one to accommodate. But if you can strike the right balance, the rewards can be plentiful.

      • cubs223425

        No, everyone DECIDED it was anti-consumer before it was ever explained. Yes, that goes right in-line with their not being smart about the announcement. All of the things people were mad at Microsoft for, people deal with from Steam without wildly complaining.

        The ONLY thing Microsoft messed up on that front is the check-in system. Instead of a full reversal from the online check-in, they should have made the disc check-in an alternative to the Internet-based one. Only a shared game (meaning one you don’t own) shoudl have required an Internet connection (since you are basically getting the game free and have no disc for verification). If they made the disc-based check-in an alternative thing, the whole system coudl have stayed in-place.

        But when you think about it, the unconfirmed premise was the ability to give your $60 game to 10 friends FOR FREE. That alleviates the issue of spending $60 on a game, because you can probably have 2 or 3 friends pitch in for a game, so maybe they give you $10 each and you pay the rest/most to be the primary owner of the game.

        Now, Steam is creating a super-broken version of that, and people seem pleased with it. It’s more about the insta-hate people have for Microsoft than real rational issues. The check-in was an inconvenience, so I could get (and agreed with) the displeasure there, but the loss of the sharing features to get that alleviated was worse, in my opinion.

      • Matt S

        Re motion control; you nailed it in one, motion control had been around for decades in arcades and such, and the odd example of home play. Being the first console to focus entirely on that experience is not true innovation. It’s a fabricated kind of different that people called ‘innovation’ without really thinking on the meaning of the word, or considering that they were really playing the exact same game they had been for years before, with motion replacing a simple button press.

        As for the Xbox One; everyone ASSUMED that it was anti consumer based on a combination of woeful reactionary reporting by games ‘journalists’ and Microsoft’s PR fails, but absolutely no one knew for sure, because no one owned the damn console. This goes back to the resistance to change – people assume that because something’s promising to be genuinely different then it must, therefore, be ‘bad’ (anti-consumer for example) without actually knowing that to be the case.

        By its very nature innovation needs to be ‘forced’ on the consumer because it’s giving them something they haven’t had before and didn’t necessarily know they wanted.

  • cubs223425

    Yeah, gamers seem to hate change…unless the almighty Valve does it. I’ve never seen a company capable of failing to deliver on stuff (like Half-Life 2, Episode 3) and have it become a source of entertainment among the community. I never hear backlash about the failure to deliver there.

    I really wish people had not overreacted to the online check-in thing right away, because I would have loved to see how it worked, and I was hoping we got a Steam-like experience on consoles as a result.

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