Won’t You Join Me for the Death of the Console Industry?
Gather ’round, friends! I’m having a party, and you’re invited! Let’s celebrate what’s to come, the time of judgment is at hand! This is not a time to mourn or lament, but a time of triumph! A time of jubilation! The death of the console industry approaches, and I want us all to be together to toast its misfortune and loot the smoldering remains!
Well, maybe that’s a bit too apocalyptic.
Not necessarily a complete and devastating collapse, but…wouldn’t a, say, “stumble” for the console gaming industry be fascinating to watch? A sea change, as it were? How can you not root for this generation to flop juuuuuust a little bit, given how bloated and stupid so many things are in the gaming world?
Video game consoles aren’t “too big to fail.” If they flop, it’s due to a number of factors, many of which may well be outside the manufacturers’ control.
Maybe the console hit a few dozen public snags during development, insulted a large portion of a its dedicated fanbase and then lurched toward a release date with few-to-no truly interesting or innovative games to be played on it?
Maybe the initial price point was too high?
Maybe the economic factors weren’t right?
Maybe some gamers are a bit hesitant to pull the trigger on a new console purchase so early in a new console’s lifespan due to past failures and palpable tension from the makers of said console?
Maybe an iPhone is enough, now?
Regardless of the factors at play, two things can make or break a console – the price of admission and the perceived value proposition of the library of games available. If there’s nothing there you need to play, then there’s simply no reason for you to pay. Let the library fill up a bit, let the early kinks be worked out, let the inevitable price cut be announced…whatever.
“Video game consoles aren’t too big to fail. The reality is that what we have now is unsustainable.”
No reason to jump in Day One, unless you’re that kind of freak. There are people like that, and that’s fine. They just have to have. They must absorb the shiny and new, regardless of the wisdom behind such a hasty purchase. No problem, whatever your trip is.
Then, there are The Real People™. The casual players. The moms and dads of kids who see commercials and hear the boasting on the school bus. The fence-sitters. Not the hardcore gamers, not the guaranteed Day One purchasers, not the acolyte fanboys. Not the Twitter set, not the journalists, not the people “in the know.”
People. People who might not really consider themselves “gamers,” but who – nonetheless – will decide the fate and future of our industry, as they have generation after generation.
And we’ve talked about this on the podcast and certainly it’s a point that’s been repeated time and again online…but gamer-gamers need to get over the asinine notion that we’re the ones who are really running this show. It ain’t us. There aren’t enough of us to sell 90 million consoles. And, maybe I’m crazy, but I even sense some hesitation among that “loyal” base this time around. Wii U has shown that skepticism and fence-sitting are perfectly valid fears/obstacles if you’re out there taking battle damage and looking for a little mercy from the old guard in the first year of the successor to a massively successful product. You can’t just assume the cavalry is going to ride in and save the day. The cavalry may be waiting for the right bundle – or worse, it may have moved on.
So, it’s up to the soccer mom who feels like she just bought the last one and to whom the most noteworthy new feature of the hip, new console is the half-thousand-dollar price tag.
The couple who rode the wave, then checked out around Wii Sports Resort.
People who still aren’t even aware that Wii U isn’t a controller add-on for the Wii, or that PS4 or Xbone even exist.
How do you win those people?
Well, either the game has changed so significantly and irreversibly by outside factors, competing technologies/entertainment options, economic concerns that you simply can’t win those people over without massive change in pricing and innovative, crowd-pleasing content…
…or you settle in for the long haul and slog it out, slowly trickling out AAA titles and hoping you can win over enough stragglers after the launch rush is over to sustain you through the rough early days.
Either way, it’s going to be tough going this generation. I don’t think there’s anyone realistically looking at the next few years as a Golden Age of Gaming, during which everything will be rosy and there’s no MASSIVE RECKONING lurking on the horizon.
This is likely to be an ugly, bloody, humbling generation for the three big manufacturers, as Nintendo has already learned so very publicly. Microsoft has had a taste of it already, too.
Some things have already been set in motion, and the great schism in gaming created by The Rise of Mobile™ and the runaway success of the Wii (hate if you must, it was a cultural phenomenon that changed the course of the last console generation for everyone involved) hasn’t really been dealt with yet.
The reality is that what we have now is unsustainable. Already the big 3 are scrambling to woo indie devs to help keep them afloat between major releases, for example.
“Don’t fret about failure this generation. In some ways, you should hope for it. You don’t owe any of them a damn thing, and please remember that. Make the console makers and game developers work for YOU – not the other way around! I’ll be here…smiling as the hurricane rolls in.”
Nintendo can’t pretend that Apple and Steam don’t exist forever. They can’t pretend that NES Golf is worth 5 goddam dollars forever. They can’t pretend that core gamers are going to be won back over, or that third parties will start to suddenly care about them again. They can’t pretend that the Internet is new, or that convenience and universal content ownership aren’t something that people want or demand. They can’t pretend their release schedule has been in any way appealing or acceptable. They have to find a way to win back the folks who left town after the Wii craze died down…and good luck to them, because the console price and launch library are just now beginning to be even mildly intriguing to anyone beyond the Nintendo faithful.
Sony and Microsoft have almost identical launch lineups. They’re competing for the same gamers. The core crowd. The titles are becoming indistinguishable, tired, and too costly to produce. Those “normies” I mentioned earlier, who will make or break these new consoles? They aren’t paying anything for Candy Crush Saga, and they don’t care. Think $60+ is going to be an easy pill to swallow? Nope. Pricing for the big name titles is going to continue to be an issue, and, unlike Nintendo, those third party blockbusters are largely what power the others. Halo is lovely and all, but people stopped talking about Halo 4 about 7 minutes after it was released. More games have to exist to fill the void, and companies have to bring on huge teams to craft increasingly flashy games…only to launch, make their money and lay off all those poor folks who worked so hard to make it happen.
Another big one…how can gaming become more inclusive when some of the most vocal, rabid gamers are completely repulsive bigots who chase away anyone who might dare to dip their toes into the sacred, bloody waters of a standoffish world where “only war games matter” and “unique” is a dirty word?
The purity test model doesn’t bode well for a sustainable future, friends.
I could go on, but I won’t. I’m not an expert, but merely a gamer who is looking at the coming storm and welcoming the necessary industry evolution it will usher in. Maybe consoles absorb the best things about services like iTunes or Steam? Maybe they adapt, reinvent, and thrive? Or…maybe not? Maybe there’s an unfortunate casualty or two?
Don’t fret about failure this generation. In some ways, you should hope for it. When Nintendo is punished by poor sales and negative press…they are forced to react and make changes. Your game console isn’t your boyfriend. That game company isn’t your girlfriend. You don’t owe any of them a damn thing, and please remember that.
Don’t reward bad behavior. Make the console makers and game developers work for YOU – not the other way around! It’s time that the balance of power shifted…and as we saw with the rocky road Xbox One has hit on its way to launch, we truly can have an impact on what they’re doing. But don’t pretend it’s because they love us and want us to be happy. They still want our information and our money and complete control of our entertainment. They were forced to change out of fear. Fear of death.
Failure is a good thing, because it provides lessons that companies sometimes need to learn. It forces change that otherwise might not have occurred.
So, I’ll be here. In my folding chair, drink in hand, sunglasses on, smiling as the hurricane rolls in.
Won’t you join me?
It’s going to be a beautiful, horrible, disruptive spectacle.
I’m really, really excited.
Consider this your official invitation! Please feel free to RSVP in the comments below.