The dream of a standardized gaming platform

There was a small story last week about a guy from EA (Gerhard Florin) saying that dedicated consoles are bad for developers and consumers, and that an open, standard platform would be preferable to the current state of things. Ars Technica has a nice write up.

The idea is a bit out there given the current climate of competition between MS, Sony, and Nintendo, but it’s not without its merits.

I’m not going to reiterate what’s in the Ars Technica article, but a few things I thought about after reading it:

  • 1. A cheap machine that almost anyone can afford to pick up and that can play any game on the market is not a bad thing.

    Consider DVD players:
    • They’re cheap
    • A single platform and disc format = simplicity. (put in a dvd disc and it plays a movie)
    • Almost every movie can be found on a DVD disc.

    Now consider the typical console or gaming PC:
    • They’re expensive
    • A multitude of platforms and disc formats != simplicity. Think of it from the dumb consumer’s perspective: I want a game, I don’t want to consider my hardware platform choice or graphics card specs. (When you buy or rent a DVD, how often do you consider what type of DVD player your going to play it on?)
    • Unless the developer/publisher supports your platform, your screwed. As Nintendo continues to exclusively support its platforms and Sony and MS buy up studios to bring out exclusives for their platforms, the library of great games for a platform shrinks (due to less third-party developers and publishers), and in a weird sort of way I think this diminishes the value of the platforms themselves and weakens sales and exposure of the games which are exclusive to the platform (maybe Resistance: Fall of Man would have been much more popular if gamers weren’t forced to buy a $600 machine to play it, and maybe even Halo 3 would be even more insanely popular than it already is if it was released on multiple platforms). On the flip side, publishers which try to support all the platforms have a much harder time due to increasing development costs and technical hurdles; they are ultimately forced to take very little risk on new ideas or focus on platform exclusive titles.

  • 2. While a standardized platform could certainly be a hardware solution as EA sees it, a software solution is not a bad idea. If all consoles and PCs have a common platform on which to develop, porting a game would be significantly simplified. It doesn’t achieve the DVD-player-esque usability I outlined above, but it’s certainly better than what exists now.

  • 3. The lifetime for a console seems to be getting longer (the biggest selling console last christmas was the PS2), if the lifetime for the current “next gen” consoles are even longer, the PC may swing into the limelight. What’s a high-end PC today will become a cheap, ordinary PC soon enough and hardware-wise it would be more capable than any of the consoles. In this event, releasing PC games may become more attractive as there will be a very large install-base for the target platform.

Anyways, a lot of this may just be a lot of wishful thinking. Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo won’t waste any time in trying to crush anything that challenges their market share.

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