Walton's World

Walton's World
The Cost of Gaming

Jason Smith | 3 Jan 2006 11:05
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That cycle needs to change.

Trip Had the Answer
Trip Hawkins had it right with the concept behind the 3DO, it was just too early and too costly. His concept was to create a game platform and license it to other consumer electronic companies as additional hardware to include into their product. Had it worked, all modern-day home theaters might have an integrated gaming system. They don't, but someday they will.

Imagine if, five years from now, the hardware production cost of the Nintendo Revolution is in the $20 range, and instead of completely switching to a new console, Nintendo licenses production rights to Phillips, Magnavox, Samsung and other non-gaming companies. These companies then integrate the hardware into their other offerings - televisions, receivers, DVD players, what have you.

The device would be able to play Revolution and GameCube media, as well as access N64, SNES and NES games via download. Millions of mainstream consumers would get the platform as a bullet point feature on a new piece of entertainment hardware, and could then access a vast library of games for five different systems. Having the ability to play the games, even if it wasn't a selling point, would get the consumers to look at the games, if only because they're now usable.

By that time, the development environments for all of those platforms would be mature, bringing development time and costs down, allowing cheaper software. Developers would still be able to develop games based on the GameCube and the Revolution platforms, because they would know millions of consumers had the hardware in their entertainment centers, and all they'd have to do is develop a good game to reach them. This hardware wouldn't go away, either - it could be sitting in the living room for another five or 10 years.

Retailers wouldn't ignore such a huge potential market. Like movies, they would need to have a wide variety of games, spanning a wide variety of genres. They'd need older games, just like they need older movies now, to round out the selection. And knowing this, they would make sure there was always some quantity of acclaimed older games available for purchase. Just as you can always find a copy of Princess Bride and Lord of the Rings, you should always be able to find Street Fighter II or Ico.

Will it Happen?
If the game industry wants to reach the mainstream, it will, eventually. A huge variety of games at a low cost is what the average consumer will buy into, and it's just not going to happen under the current regime. To truly be called mainstream, gaming must become ubiquitous, and current platforms just don't have enough time before the next console comes to take over.

More likely, the game industry will continue to do what it does now, and slowly the world will catch up - game prices haven't increased much since the NES was introduced, while inflation has. At some point, the overall cost for games will end up going down, if for no reason other than gamers won't pay more. But if the industry is serious about expanding, about reaching the mainstream, they aren't going to get there by doing the same things they've been doing for the past 20 years.

Jason Smith is the former chief techno-whatsit and occasional contributor for The Escapist.

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