Going Gold: One Love

Going Gold: One Love

If game developers are going to act as though all consoles are the same, why not just adopt a single gaming platform once and for all? Christian Ward weighs the pros and cons of one console to rule them all.

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"but every step gaming has taken out of its cottage industry roots has been good for it"

While I may agree in part with some of the rest of your article this is just... words don't describe how wrong...

The publishing, distribution, and most importantly funding model of games today has turned a vibrant and creative process into a soul sucking scramble for the lowest common denominators money. The decency we do eke out of the industry today is only due to the tireless efforts of passionate people who couldn't even consider doing anything but creating games and so suffer through despite what it has become.

But then "Haniwa works for a major games publisher" so what do you expect?

I truly hope people will properly ponder the value of the spiel I'm replying to before someone starts to consider it remotely cool and sound.

In practical gaming terms, the only thing that seems to separate the two is that you can't take a disc designed for one and play it on the other. (An interesting experiment is to try to explain this to someone who doesn't really understand games at all - for example your by-now sobered-up father - and then try to justify why this should be so. If you haven't lost all patience with the very concept by the fourth minute, then you are a more patient soul than I am.)

There are obvious advantages of having sharks fight against each other.
It's no surprise your father couldn't get it since to explain something, you must understand it first.
These giants tackle markets in different ways, have different philosophies on what and how each console has to provide, work or be sold.
Yes, you loose in uniformization what you gain in diversity. I'm not a fucking ant.

Or maybe you think that tomorrow, everybody will use the same cellphone?
Eat the same unique brand of cereals?
It would surely solve so many problems after all.

Games developed for both systems are by necessity aiming for the lowest common denominator of their specs, making the game small enough to fit on an Xbox DVD when more could be done if it was only on Blu-Ray, or fitting the design around the PS3's quirky memory usage issues. Same product, nearly twice the work to make it.

And there you have your reply as to the question if studios are brave or foolish to aim for one console only. They want to avoid the misery above and get a bigger part of the revenues from one console.

Besides, there's something funny in that, but having people buy two similar consoles creates more jobs than if those same people bought only one PS360.
Of course, it also increases the amount of matter needed to manufacture those goods.

The elephant in the room in this whole affair is Nintendo, now a market leader again and in a much stronger position to dictate terms. Historically Nintendo has been a proven leader in cooperating with other electronics firms (its torrid love affair with Sony is half the reason we are still in this mess). Under the sort of unified gaming standard that Dyack proposes, there is no reason why a Nintendo variant of "the console" could not come with Wii-like motion controls out of the box.

What about Nintendo being happy selling their games at a high price, while they'd have to look for lower profits when trying to sell their shitty looking low graphic games against the competition like Crysis VI and Gran Turismo: Fists of Fury 9.

The five-year boom-and-bust cycles of consoles

Actually making the unique console could very well break the barrier that delays the mastery of machines' hardwares. Therefore, it would make it easier to produce games exploiting all the resources of the machine at their peak or near so, thusly the cap would be reached faster, and unless hardcore gamers would get genuinely tired of this race for shinnier graphics, the problem would only be boosted, and thus the console even more short lived.

I can't imagine the manufacturers for the next generation chipsets in AI, physics and graphics stopping there if the One Console's super manufacturer would suddenly agree to put the evolution to a halt.

One shark would surely poke its head in the room and claim that it believes technology has to move on. Come nVidia. Come ATI. The others: lag behind if you want.

the hardware crashes and software bugs that result from the rush to get a product to launch before the competition

It actually makes sense from a certain point of view, even if leading to some errors and abuses. This phenomenon exists not because of the presence of the PS3 and 360 at the same time, but because of the competition in the publishing arena to release their game when they sell most, and preferably more than other publishers' games.
This kind of rushing existed even for games which didn't get any double port whatsoever.
Of course, now, if one studio absolutely wants to get the same game on two different consoles at the same time, with the same number of employees that it would use for one SKU-variant only, yes, then I agree that you're going to get into problems.
That's however properly avoided by having an time based exclusivity for several months, then getting the game on the other console months later.

Now, let's consider that the rush issue would get even worse, since with the likely shortened lifespan of the One Console, publishers would be ingrained into maxing out studios even more to fully exploit a machine before it goes down.

An other point. From the moment there will be a significant uproar, a (ex-)manufacturer will suggest doing things differently and do things its own way. Because I don't think you can have everybody to agree.

the harsh rule of first party

From the moment you create the One Console, you actually enable all manufacturers to gather their forces and apply what is actually illegal, that is, the common but unofficial agreement on aligned prices of goods and other things like that, against the natural results of the competition.

Money doesn't care about human rights or creativity. If you make it all powerful, you're alienating even more people.

You have not provided a single reason as to why the passion that drives many developpers would be renewed by the existence of one unique console. You have not shown why crunches and rushes would end. You have not shown why the alliance of manufacturers would slow down the evolution of technology, nor why it could prevent a new competitor from attempting to doubletake said alliance in the race for more powerful hardware.
If anything, you've only shown why the issues would inflate.

Try to see the life from a different perspective, the one about an independant studio which will face one single super first-party entity resulting from the cooperation of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo plus all their allies, and plus the ever growing monsters which Electronic Arts, Vivendi and Ubisoft are, to cite a few.

I agree that it all works when layed out, I just don't see how any company would agree to join with it's rivals.

And where does the pc fall into all of this? (And no, I don't want a is pc gaming dead argument)

In practical gaming terms, the only thing that seems to separate the two is that you can't take a disc designed for one and play it on the other. (An interesting experiment is to try to explain this to someone who doesn't really understand games at all - for example your by-now sobered-up father - and then try to justify why this should be so. If you haven't lost all patience with the very concept by the fourth minute, then you are a more patient soul than I am.)

Actually, there is one other thing separating the two: One breaks down every two months necessitating the purchase of a new one, while the other does not. ^_^;

Arbre:
These giants tackle markets in different ways, have different philosophies on what and how each console has to provide, work or be sold.
Yes, you loose in uniformization what you gain in diversity. I'm not a fucking ant.

Or maybe you think that tomorrow, everybody will use the same cellphone?
Eat the same unique brand of cereals?
It would surely solve so many problems after all.

The differences being:
1. Two people using different brands of cell phones can still talk to each other on them.
2. You can eat cereal out of any bowl in your cupboard. You don't have to buy a special bowl just to eat one kind of cereal.

Well, it wouldn't necessarily be one gaming console to rule them all (that would suck), but one standard gaming architecture. You'd still have consoles manufactured by Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, but they'd all be compatible.

It's interesting to ponder the benefits of such a scenario, but what would have to happen in order for a standard console architecture to occur? That's the one thing I can't get my brain around.

I believe, actually, that the unified gaming front referred to in the end of the article is, or at least was, the PC. Customizable to the end user's requirements, there exists nonetheless a common base that all (or at least most) PC games run on.

Didn't really do a lot for 'em, though. There may be something yet to the console standard.

A single unified format won't happen, not as long as capitalism exists.
You know, that whole issue with 'monopolies' and all. ;)

That, and could you imagine Sony & Microsoft trying to agree what they should all cram into one box? Sony wants to have an elite piece of hardware that can is both a Media Power House & and a gaming Console with the best hardware possible, and screw the price!; While Microsoft wants to sell a pure gaming console, with the best hardware, for the cheapest price possible, and tack on an internet service so they can reap those yearly stipens. :P

If such a thing were to ever happen, the sony guys, and the microsoft guys, would get into some kind of giant nerd sissy fight within the first month...

I don't even want to know what would happen if nintendo got into the mix...
They'd probably just spike everyones soda with Acid, and Super Mario Brothers 8: Halo Solid Snake Edition would probably be the new 'hot game' of the month....

Oh, and if some 3rd party developer REALLY wanted to save money on multi-platform titles between Sony & Microsoft, they could just do a double sided DVD/Blu-Ray disk, and have the DVD side for 360, and hte Blu-Ray side for the PS3.
Then they could put them into mass production, come out at about the same price, one box design, 1 disk, and no confused parents not sure which game to buy, like confused grandparents unable to figure out hte difference between Diet & Regular Mountain Dew...
*Man, Diet Mountain Dew is Nasty!*

A unified gaming platform would be great, in theory..but i think if that ever happens the unfortunate sideeffect would be that the console industry would fuck around with the customer worse than they do now.

I mean, without competition, the Industry could pretty much dictate prices, policies and other things at will, because we had to roll with it, or quit console gaming altogether

Nah, screw having one gaming system. We need to have this rivalry because the competition between them makes the prices go down over time.

I just had a huge tl;dr post, and the Escapist told me no ("Error 404, page not found"). I'll try and make this one brief.

Only way this would happen: One console maker wins, so hard that the other ones are in shambles. As a monopoly, the government breaks them up, divesting the manufacturer from the developer (not more 1st Party), and requires licensing of the console standard to other manufacturers.

@Arbe: 1. Agree with Sylocat that cereal and cellphones are poor analogies. Consoles are more a "content delivery system/medium" to me, than a product in and of themselves.
2. Your premise that the console lifecycle would be shortened seems to ignore that there are already 3 developers out there constantly trying to max out their hardware (think 1st Party). I disagree with the author that the lifecycle would be lengthened, but I don't buy what you're selling either.

@Kaisharga: I think you're missing the point.

@SinisterDeath: 1. The 360 as a "pure gaming machine" seems off-base.
2. DVD/BD manufacturing costs would likely almost make up for any savings in retail packaging and distribution (assuming they produce the same # of discs).

@Codgo: You assume that the current environment actually produces normal competitive pricing (which is arguable, given the level of subsidization early on, followed by unnatural upward pressure on the price to make up for it), and that a "one console standard" implies "one console manufacturer", which anti-trust law would prevent.

*Again, apologies, this was much better written the first time, I just refused to let it die*

Kaisharga:
I believe, actually, that the unified gaming front referred to in the end of the article is, or at least was, the PC.

No... the PC isn't a standard platform at all. You've got Intel and AMD processors, coming in how many different formats now? (Even if you stick with Intel, you've got Pentium, Celeron, Core Solo, Core Duo, Core 2 Duo...) Then add in variant mobos, a gazillion graphics cards, sound cards of different structures... PC hardware isn't standardised anywhere near to the level that a console is, and that's discounting the various flavours of operating systems.

Consoles can squeeze more performance out of the same hardware because it's standardised hardware, so developers can count on specific functions working in a specific way and so can optimise their code to take advantage of that. The variability of PCs means that developers have to generalise instead, which makes for less efficient code. (And, of course, there's other processes eating away at a PC's processing power too... I suspect that's a tough one for developers to handle.)

Me, I don't think we'll ever see a one-console market. It's too easy for one of the first party developers to decide to create a walled-garden for their titles if they think they can squeeze more profits out of doing so.

-- Steve

The main incentive for people who are going to want this is the potential to make more money. One console = max distribution base = max possible number of games sold.

The way this could possibly be of actual advantage to a consumer is that game prices would go down because publishers and developers would be assured greater profits. Contrary to the paranoid belief that a monopolistic empire would form and let publishers charge whatever they like, they'll establish a healthier price range to compete with other mediums. Video games don't just live on some foreign planet, they're going to start competing with other advertisers and media (TV, movies, books) and to get an advantage they need to reduce costs.

Lower costs = more people buy the game = everybody wins.

Sylocat:

Arbre:
These giants tackle markets in different ways, have different philosophies on what and how each console has to provide, work or be sold.
Yes, you loose in uniformization what you gain in diversity. I'm not a fucking ant.

Or maybe you think that tomorrow, everybody will use the same cellphone?
Eat the same unique brand of cereals?
It would surely solve so many problems after all.

The differences being:
1. Two people using different brands of cell phones can still talk to each other on them.
2. You can eat cereal out of any bowl in your cupboard. You don't have to buy a special bowl just to eat one kind of cereal.

1. Mm, the analogy is rather more relevant to the PC market actually, thinking of it, and as long as everybody follows at least one standard for communication, you're OK, but from a manufacturer point of view, you're still working with a variety of different phones which hardly do things that much differently now, and that's the argument in the article: when all devices do the same same stuff, why split manpower, techniques and the whole industrial design base to roll out so many different SKUs while you could make life easier and have all manufacturers gather in one alliance for one cellphone brand.

2. It's not about the consumer, but those behind the industrial batteries which deliver those products. Again, you could gather all the sources, transport lines and factories into one big great line, and everybody on Earth would eat Kellogs' (that we're not too far from it anyway).

There's also the point that for some reason, I don't know how far cultural bias plays against the idea of seeing Sony and Microsoft hug, but something tells me it's still relevant.

Echolocating:
Well, it wouldn't necessarily be one gaming console to rule them all (that would suck), but one standard gaming architecture. You'd still have consoles manufactured by Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, but they'd all be compatible.

It's interesting to ponder the benefits of such a scenario, but what would have to happen in order for a standard console architecture to occur? That's the one thing I can't get my brain around.

That would be a middle stance, but manufacturers would still try to make their own version better than the competitors', and as such, all of them would try to split the consumer base and grab market shares. They'd develop arguments accordingly.
First they'd add stuff that's different, so Microsoft's console could do coffee, clean the bathroom and tell the future, while Sony's could take you to the train station and cure AIDS, and consumers would probably end buying more more than one console. You'd probably end with a system where certain bundles would lack some options but also provide exclusive ones, much like cellphones.
Then they could realize it's not enough to really acquire significant chunks of the market, so they'd probably try to fragmentize the architecture as much as they could before reaching the core. They'd probably reach a level where it would be like AMD versus Intel, or ATI vs nVidia, all capable of running on PCs, but doing things differently for given applications.
The manufacturers, albeit working on a singular core architecture, would be very tempted to add even more deeper modifications, programs and plugins up to a point where the uniformization would be lost. Even if ATI and nVidia both make video cards which work on PC, some applications are made to run smoother on one or the other.

From that moment, it would be like sorry, you cannot play this game because even if what you have is a PC, with the same core architecture as the one present in that other console, yours is not powerful enough and lacks that added chipset.
This could be as far that they may break into the core architecture and definitely go off track, to take a bigger jab at the consumer world, and you're done. That whole nice alliance would be off because one manufacturer would have finally had it, tired of holding back and lagging because other manufacturers couldn't exploit the common architecture to the level they think it should.

For the model to work perfectly, it has to be exactly the same from all manufacturers. If they start to add this and that, you've only shifted the competition onto a new track, which means that pretty much like it happens on the PC, certain games won run properly on a given variant of the common architecture.
You really need to all follow the same path. From that moment, yes, we're clearly talking about one big group selling one unique machine.

Besides, what really boosts budgets isn't much the difference in architecture, this one already existed eons ago, and studios and publishers could deal with it very fine. What inflates budgets is the ever growing need of artists and graphic designers, which is what in turn forces publishers to release their products on different consoles. If you really want to circumvent the über budget issue, you have to look at ways to get content faster, without having to recruit batteries of art designers.

L.B. Jeffries:
The main incentive for people who are going to want this is the potential to make more money. One console = max distribution base = max possible number of games sold.

The way this could possibly be of actual advantage to a consumer is that game prices would go down because publishers and developers would be assured greater profits. Contrary to the paranoid belief that a monopolistic empire would form and let publishers charge whatever they like, they'll establish a healthier price range to compete with other mediums. Video games don't just live on some foreign planet, they're going to start competing with other advertisers and media (TV, movies, books) and to get an advantage they need to reduce costs.

Lower costs = more people buy the game = everybody wins.

I beg to disagree and be cynical here.
You think Nintendo had any good reason to sell Pac Pix at the price it was sold at, aside that from making more money from a very limited game you'd get for nothing on the PC?
Why would they drop that golden income exactly?
Even if there was one common architecture, this would appear during the next generation of consoles, at a time where budgets would be even higher. There would be no point for game prices to drop at all.
You may save a few bucks by not having studios do the same game again for over five-nine months, but that would be totally overshadowed by the dramatic increase of budget costs due to the bigger and more elaborate assets that compose the content of games.
The use of tools which can generate procedural contant under control of designers is a possible solution to reduce the costs.

Besides let's note that while we're using the PC as an example of standard right now, Apple seems to renew its interest for supporting gaming on the Mac, which we all know is quite different from the PC, and I don't see Microsoft ever letting Windows die. Unless of course that we all live in some fantasy land and Apple and Microsoft agree on one single OS with very fixed architecture models.
Chances that this happens within the next five years? I don't even think slim is thin enough.

Without competition, I suspect that the one true console would cost twice as much and be half as powerful as the consoles developed in a competitive environment. In theory, games could be cheaper but I'm skeptical that the savings would be passed on to the consumer.

The biggest advantage to having one true console is that you wouldn't know what you are missing. The completionists could feel like they have everything without knowing about the next great thing someone could have otherwise developed.

Echolocating:
Well, it wouldn't necessarily be one gaming console to rule them all (that would suck), but one standard gaming architecture. You'd still have consoles manufactured by Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft, but they'd all be compatible.

It's interesting to ponder the benefits of such a scenario, but what would have to happen in order for a standard console architecture to occur? That's the one thing I can't get my brain around.

Arbre:
That would be a middle stance, but manufacturers would still try to make their own version better than the competitors', and as such, all of them would try to split the consumer base and grab market shares. They'd develop arguments accordingly.
First they'd add stuff that's different, so Microsoft's console could do coffee, clean the bathroom and tell the future, while Sony's could take you to the train station and cure AIDS, and consumers would probably end buying more more than one console. You'd probably end with a system where certain bundles would lack some options but also provide exclusive ones, much like cellphones.

But you can still talk to someone who has a different cell phone, right? I think you have to look at playing a videogame in a manner that's not significantly different than watching a DVD or listening to a music CD before we're on the same page. Why hasn't the DVD market collapsed on itself if everyone is adhering to a standard for movie playback?

The manufacturers can still offer different features in their consoles at different price points. A manufacturer is going to have to think very creatively in order to attract customers to their console, more than just a faster graphics. In fact, offering faster performance on the same architecture would probably be a waste of resources as I couldn't imagine a manufacturer offering enough of an incentive to a developer to counter the sizably smaller customer-base. Release your game to 50 million customers or the 1 million that bought the faster console... that's not a hard decision to make.

However, my complaints with the way the industry currently works is that I miss out on a lot of great games simply because I'm not willing to buy every console and constantly upgrade my PC. I guess I'm in the minority of gamers... but I also think that the majority of gamers fall within the minority of what potential customers are willing to spend. DVD sales would collapse considerably if some DVD movies only worked with some of the players.

In the end, I see the technological pissing contest between Sony and Microsoft keeping gaming unattractive to the rest of the world. Everybody has a DVD player, but not everybody has a PlayStation 3. Why? It's for all the reasons that anyone would defend having multiple incompatible videogame consoles.

-----

Nordstrom:
Without competition, I suspect that the one true console would cost twice as much and be half as powerful as the consoles developed in a competitive environment. In theory, games could be cheaper but I'm skeptical that the savings would be passed on to the consumer.

The biggest advantage to having one true console is that you wouldn't know what you are missing. The completionists could feel like they have everything without knowing about the next great thing someone could otherwise develop.

How would you not have cheaper consoles if Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are all providing you with compatible consoles? They'd be competing with each other for your dollar so badly because you'd only buy one of the 3 and a lost sale would be permanently lost in most cases.

Note: That's where I think the article made its mistake. Not one console, but one standard architecture and format. The manufacturers could try and lure you with extra features that don't impede compatibility... like a Blu-ray player or better media/file management and online features. But, as I conceded before, I have no idea how one standard architecture would ever come to be, as much as I think gaming would grow and benefit from it.

I'm gonna guess Monopolie. There has to be competition. Wheres the fun in only one console.

Echolocating, gaming consoles are significantly more complicated than movie playback.

If (and it's a big if) Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo freely come to an agreement on console standards, then, yeah, I would see that as a good thing. However, I don't see that happening. Forcing them to work together would likely result in a pathetic product.

Nordstrom:
Echolocating, gaming consoles are significantly more complicated than movie playback.

If (and it's a big if) Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo freely come to an agreement on console standards, then, yeah, I would see that as a good thing. However, I don't see that happening. Forcing them to work together would likely result in a pathetic product.

I don't think video game consoles are technological hurdles anymore. The input device (controller) may change from console to console, but they all inherently display video, play sound, store data, load games from a disc, and connect online. The complexity only exists from having multiple incompatible architectures... that essentially do the exact same thing -- which is the crux of this article.

I agree with your take that we may never see such a standard though.

Echolocating:
I don't think video game consoles are technological hurdles anymore. The input device (controller) may change from console to console, but they all inherently display video, play sound, store data, load games from a disc, and connect online. The complexity only exists from having multiple incompatible architectures... that essentially do the exact same thing -- which is the crux of this article.

I would like to imagine that there's a lot more room for more innovation before standardization becomes worthwhile.

Nordstrom:
I would like to imagine that there's a lot more room for more innovation before standardization becomes worthwhile.

Like what?

Remember, the console is independent from the peripherals. Other than HD video output, not much else (if anything else) has been introduced to the actual consoles themselves, as far as playing a video game is concerned, in this current generation. I honestly can't imagine anything new required on the console itself in the next decade or so.

I think Microsoft will be the first to release a new console (probably in about 5 years) and then we'll see what new innovations consoles still have to offer, I guess. You can probably tell that I'm not holding my breath though. ;-)

As an example, it's hard to imagine the Wii being the kind of experience that it is if it were on a general purpose console. It's hard to imagine half as many developers experimenting with wiimote controls if it were just tagged onto a general purpose console. I'm not totally sold on the Wii, but I want there to be room in the market for those kinds of experiments.

I don't expect big innovations out of the next XBox, but who knows? I don't want companies tied down to a common standard when Moore's law still has a long ways to go. Right now, it looks as though there is room in the market for at least two kinds of consoles. There's no point in paring that down.

Nordstrom:
As an example, it's hard to imagine the Wii being the kind of experience that it is if it were on a general purpose console. It's hard to imagine half as many developers experimenting with wiimote controls if it were just tagged onto a general purpose console. I'm not totally sold on the Wii, but I want there to be room in the market for those kinds of experiments.

Well, even though the Wiimote is just a peripheral, I understand where you're coming from. So in a standardized world, the remote comes out and you have to shell out 40 bucks for the thing and only 3 games are made to work with it at launch, but it works with Microsoft's, Sony's and Nintendo's console offerings. If developers see the potential behind it, it might take off to form games that actually benefit from it, or it might not... but the point is the developers are not tied to it. With the Wii... there are a lot of games that should not have incorporated the motion sensitivity (ones where the classic controller should be the way to play), but they felt obligated to because that's what the Wii is -- not so much the console, but the motion-sensitive remote.

I think it will be important to take note of Microsoft's new motion-sensitive controller when it comes out. It's practically a case study of the what-if scenario you touched upon. Then again, Guitar Hero may have already proven that a peripheral doesn't have to specifically define a console.

I don't deny that their are pros and cons to both a standard architecture and what we have today, but I honestly think the pros outweigh the cons for a standardized console framework. For example, you say that you'd like to see more innovation and experiments by software developers. Well, if you had one console architecture with an install-base of 50+ million, I think you'd see a lot more unique experiences and niche game products because the financial risk is considerably less. Games that would barely break even on a single console today, would most likely see profits from a larger player-base using a standardized console.

Anyway, tag! ;-)

In advance, sorry for the lenght of this post.

Echolocating:

But you can still talk to someone who has a different cell phone, right? I think you have to look at playing a videogame in a manner that's not significantly different than watching a DVD or listening to a music CD before we're on the same page. Why hasn't the DVD market collapsed on itself if everyone is adhering to a standard for movie playback?

The manufacturers can still offer different features in their consoles at different price points. A manufacturer is going to have to think very creatively in order to attract customers to their console, more than just a faster graphics. In fact, offering faster performance on the same architecture would probably be a waste of resources as I couldn't imagine a manufacturer offering enough of an incentive to a developer to counter the sizably smaller customer-base. Release your game to 50 million customers or the 1 million that bought the faster console... that's not a hard decision to make.

However, my complaints with the way the industry currently works is that I miss out on a lot of great games simply because I'm not willing to buy every console and constantly upgrade my PC. I guess I'm in the minority of gamers... but I also think that the majority of gamers fall within the minority of what potential customers are willing to spend. DVD sales would collapse considerably if some DVD movies only worked with some of the players.

In the end, I see the technological pissing contest between Sony and Microsoft keeping gaming unattractive to the rest of the world. Everybody has a DVD player, but not everybody has a PlayStation 3. Why? It's for all the reasons that anyone would defend having multiple incompatible videogame consoles.

The standard is a gambit that those who had an advantage would not try in my opinion. It would force them to lay off their superiority in certain domains.
I do believe that the race for better graphics will still be there, maybe to a lesser extent, but supported by a bigger hunger for AI and physics.
To catch the attention of customers, manufacturers will need to add meaningful functions to their machine. I'm afraid we'd run into something even more problematic than the PC, for with so many variations exist that even the common denominator, thus far an OS held by Microsoft, hardly helps to reduce costs as studios have to comply with a variety of configurations.
If anything, a very singular architecture controlled from beginning to end by one group would reduce the need to prepare your game to run on any possible configuration. Many different configurations mean the same problems we have today with computers, bugs and issues of compatibility.

These other manufacturers couldn't even use exclusives as a defense to still maintain a given percentage of customers and fans. Or they'll have to add their own chipsters for this or that, claim that they're better (imagine ATI vs nVidia) and thus have studios gear their products for one of those two chipset brands, where you'll pretty much loose the point of uniformization.
The only way to avoid all the issues of the PC, which seem to repel so many people day after day, is to control everything about the chain of construction and distribution and make the architecture of the console more efficient than what any PC can do at the moment.
I'd rather keep extremely specific consoles made by manufacturers who are control of most of the stuff in said consoles, so instead of having some factory full of hot air like some kind of PC, we get two different machines which do their stuff properly and efficiently.

Let's imagine Microsoft releases the most powerful package, clearly superior to the stuff Sony and Nintendo could propose. The latest and biggest games would then be driven by this more powerful version of the global architecture, and the other manufacturers would logically see their profits decrease as players would opt for the powerhouse. The counter option would be to flood the market with a different strategy, like Nintendo did, by selling huge numbers of less expensive games with special functions and peripherals (which I don't see happening at every generation). But what happens to Nintendo after they have sold several million more consoles more than their competitors because they cut prices agressively?
Nothing.
Because absolutely nothing safe even more cheaper games would have more customers buy their console. They couldn't run the more power hungry games, they couldn't have developpers create games for them only since the architecture would be standardized and theirs would be inferior (and we already see that right now, most traditional devs don't bother with the Wii much).
And of course, they couldn't sell their games at the prices they were used to sell them at.

All of this greatly ignores one more important aspect of it. Making exlcusives relative to what's in the console will be irrelevant. It will only be possible to maintain exclusives by selling specific and patented peripherals on your console only, and blocking them (the equivalent of not using USB) so people would be forced to buy Nintendo's console to play games which would only be played with a given set of controllers. Those companies which mainly were manufacturers of consoles would direct most of their power into the manufacture of peripherals, specific addons and publishing. So much that while all of this was organized on the vast idyllic purpose of allowing players to play the same game on different consoles, either in solo or multi, the newly instaured barriers would literally work against the premise.

From the moment you're going to have variants, there will be a winner and loosers. Thusly, more agressive tactics from competitors to draw customers away from the winner's console variant, and I can't see how this can be managed other than with very exclusive components.

If, on the other hand, there are no relevant exclusivities in the way variants are made, and that any game can be played on any console, then why even bother with variants at all?
Go for the unique console, where actual manufacturers work in full cooperation. A big fat wall. Which is an absolutely terrible outcome.

Now, what if some kind of balance was reached between two main competitors, still making their own variant, but keeping the physical differences low (no singular chipset of locking peripheral), and where none could grab the other half of the market?
All that status quo happening while they could have made a difference back when they were in full control of the hardware and could exactly do what they wanted with their machine.

Then, again, by the idea that variants would be pointless, all manufacturers would mutate into bigger game publishers.
One would think that they'd likely do their best to sign most development deals, and following this thought there, the publishers would fight against each other to provide the biggest shares for studios. Which means manufacturers, now publishers, would loose even more strenght.
Or other possibility, they wouldn't bother lowering their revenue percentage, notably because they'd already have batteries of first party studios churning out games and could easily live on that. Screw the independant players even more.

Besides, for both scenarii above, I don't see a single reason why the leaders would lower game prices at all. Publishers don't really reduce their games' prices to beat other publishers.
When they do so, it's purely selfish, to boost the sales of a given title, regardless of what other publishers sell. Platinum stuff, for example, is there to maximize revenue on certain titles which might not have enjoyed better sale numbers. This would happen if there was even one single publisher in the world.
So since there wouldn't be any battle of price tags, the consumer would not gain anything in terms of purchase power.

A difference being the possibility to play a multiplayer game with more people, a factor which I think some people overestimate, since most multiplayer games won't be allowing you more than a couple of dozens of slots per server, and with our current generation, there's already enough players to find on a single console not to care about growing the overall pool of players by some ten millions more.

See, I don't think the middle ground is even that interesting for consumers. There surely are some advantages, but in the long term I see more a mess than anything else.
At best, you might see all manufacturers espouse some kind of network protocol, and I have even strong doubts on that perspective.
If anything, it might result into the democratization of "easy PCs", too limited, rigid and yet too variable to be reasonable.
On the other hand, the extremes, one being the actual situation, and the other a scenario typical of fucked up cyberpunk reality, also have their shares of issues, but I'd rather maintain the actual situation than shift for the opposite side.

By the way, Blu-ray won on a question of spects. Faster, shinier and bigger than HD-DVD. Good marketing, eventually cultivating some ideas into people's minds, and that's it. It's really that basic. Even if Blu-ray wasn't fully exploited, in the mind of people, it still was a question of which one was superior to the other.
This had nothing to do with a situation where we'd be looking at both formats and saying they do the same, because that's not what people were led to believe. It's not because both formats were thought as doing the same stuff that only one remained in the end. Notably because the remaining one was not a fusion of both systems.
Most of the bets were simply put on the format which was technically superior, which is the exact opposite of the argument held in Haniwa's article.
Besides, the Blu-ray format has no relevant variants. If anything, the bogus analogy would better serve the argument for a single console.

I don't doubt that it will be near-impossible to have a standardized console architecture among different manufacturers. There will have to be a clear winner in the console race that simply crushes the competition until it is the only choice for developers to create their games on.

But, hey. I'll be happy enough with this generation of consoles as it's supposed to be the longest running one in quite some time. We'll see what happens with a clearly dominant platform in the near future. I don't think Nintendo is slowing down anytime soon.

Right now...
Wii --> 28.46 Million
360 --> 19.54 Million
PS3 --> 13.84 Million

Also, Blu-ray had a huge help from the PS3 owners. If Microsoft had adopted the HD format for it's machine at the beginning... it would have been a completely different story. Timing and luck, I say. ;-)

An interesting experiment is to try to explain this to someone who doesn't really understand games at all - for example your by-now sobered-up father - and then try to justify why this should be so.

Cars and car parts. That one always works. "Why does this car use gasoline and the other uses diesel? Cos they're different inside and have some tradeoffs." He doesn't need to understand the details in order to understand the concept.

A unified console standard will happen not by agreement, but through domination by one and failure by the rest. Sega was driven out of the market, so it's possible.

Should a standard emerge, it would naturally drift towards the dynamics the PC currently has: differences in cost, reliability, added details and quantitative power: for example, a manufacturer would offer his PS3 with added PVR capabilities. But a dominator and a standard are two different things: for a standard, the winning platform owner would need to be willing to open and license his technology, but lock-in has some tasty benefits, as shown by for example Apple's iPod. CEOs remember that IBM eventually lost to Microsoft.

Arbre:

...
tl;read it anyway
...

You describe quite the doomsday scenario, but as we do not share some core assumptions, it is hard to follow along.

I think most of the people in this conversation can agree to the following:
Any console "standard" which provided enough wiggle room to allow different manufacturers to create "standardized" machines where the intersection of the [set of games that function ona given machine] and the [set of games made for the "platform"] is anything OTHER than the [set of games made for the "platform"], results in the entire argument being moot. We gain nothing in that scenario. Do not want. One of the major benefits of a console vs. a PC is the consumer assumption that they can buy a game, take it home, and have it work. We would like to KEEP that, and also consolidate the user base.

If you want to debate whether it is feasible to have a game-playing standard where all games function equally on all machines, and where manufacturer competition exists not at the game-playing level, but at the "other things the consoles can do" level, then let's have that debate.

To some of your other points: I've stated previously that an ideal situation for all publishers (independent and otherwise) would be the elimination of the "first party". I have a particular distaste for vertical integration in an industry to the point that it essentially becomes end-to-end.

As far as online multiplayer benefitting from a common network standard, or console standard, or general-interoperability-amongst-the-machines-in-people's-houses... Sure, on the big games, there will always be enough people in a given console's user base to fill a server, especially given the low player counts of the average multiplayer game today. The people benefitting from this would be the smaller games and publishers. Consolidating the user base makes the minorities larger, and makes them easier to both cater to, and profit from. And it makes it possible for them to fill your servers.

I don't think it's the doomsday post I dropped above. :)
Just one of the possibilities pointed to an obscure future.

If you want to debate whether it is feasible to have a game-playing standard where all games function equally on all machines, and where manufacturer competition exists not at the game-playing level, but at the "other things the consoles can do" level, then let's have that debate.

Okay. I'm not sure I got the point of the former part with the brackets, but well... never mind.
Let's start with the premise that there is no competition at the game-playing level.
Well, this is problematic, as postulated earlier on. If there are several manufacturers, there will be competition, because you cannot avoid the fact that some assemble bits better than others.

But let's continue, and still work from a scenario where there are three manufacturers, all providing a console of their own with interoperability and the same horsepower, roughly.
...
No, I just cannot work beyond that impossible premise.
I'm sorry to think in binary terms, but either they all unite to make one single console, because there'd be no point making plenty which are not different, or there's a real competition that degrades the point of having a standard, but at least there's a basic standard about the machine code and network protocols.
But as I said, it's literally unavoidable to see one machine working better than another when you've literally forced all companies to the same level. Some companies would loose what made them better, and couldn't compete with those which had more gain into a standardization and the capacity to release the most powerful variant.

My Nintendo example is to show how the company has no point entering the race with the same baseline. What makes Nintendo succesful, and let's them milk the whole planet, is their independance and difference.

Imagine Sony and Microsoft. Both have agreed to work from a strong standard architecture, with differences at the upper level. But in the end Sony makes the most powerful variant, and coding for both machines in quite the same.
Then the super-engine studios are more interested with Sony's variant, which as a result drags consumers and other studios in, since the engines shine and work smoothly on Sony's.
Maybe the average Joe won't care, but the more hardcore segment matters a lot.
Say Nintendo is in the race as well. They pull another Wiimote or something. What prevents Sony and Microsoft from doing the same?

Well, patents? Oh the dreaded sniffy shits those things are. Yet only them would make a difference between peripherals. Which points to my paragraph below, about what certain companies would turn into.

I can't see three manufacturers, making consoles almost identical in their ensemble, but only differentiated by what they provide.
The manufacturers would gain much more by allying their industry powers, and becoming peripheral (Eye Toy, Wii stuf, guitar, holo deck), software (organize your emails, send photos, boost the ram of your machine) and publishing companies. Some may merge. Some may dissapear.
Therefore remains a fewer and major manufacturing forces. Is that a better future?

Oh sure, you've got the big publishers and studios loosing less money porting their games on two different hardwares, and these guys have enough power so they move the industry as much as actual manufacturers.

But how is it going to make the situation more flexible about who dictates the terms between smaller companies, dev and pub, and the bigger ones, which will have, of course, their own game churning studios...

Unionization?

I hesitate. which one is more appropriate? LOL... or ROFL?

Arbre:

Okay. I'm not sure I got the point of the former part with the brackets, but well... never mind.
Let's start with the premise that there is no competition at the game-playing level.
Well, this is problematic, as postulated earlier on. If there are several manufacturers, there will be competition, because you cannot avoid the fact that some assemble bits better than others.

But let's continue, and still work from a scenario where there are three manufacturers, all providing a console of their own with interoperability and the same horsepower, roughly.
...
No, I just cannot work beyond that impossible premise.

Everything you wrote after that point, as I mentioned before, is meaningless to me, because you're talking about a potential path, that, to me, is a non-starter. I agree that if Manufacturer A's console cannot play a game that works on Manufacturer B's console, there is no point to this exercise. (I'm sorry for the half-assed set notation, I was just trying to be clear. Summation: Every game made for the platform has to be able to play on every console made to the specification, or there is no point to this.)

To clarify my "scenario": There are 1+ manufacturers (Denon can join this game, Asus, and Sega can all make their own if they like), all providing a console that conforms to a standard so as to be able to play all games made for the platform, with the same horsepower (applicable to games), identically (not roughly). If Sony wants to add audio processing hardware beyond the spec for use in the Home Theater/Movie playing aspects of their version, they are free to do so, but no game will require it to run optimally. I'm talking about the world of DVD player manufacturing; no content producer creates discs that are designed/optimized/dependent upon a single manufacturer's DVD player, because they want the widest market possible. Yet, Denon can make a $3800 DVD player, which plays the same DVDs as the $30 Coby DVD player at Wal-Mart. The DVDs are unchanged, and yet the market is so much wider.

Geoffrey42:

Arbre:

Okay. I'm not sure I got the point of the former part with the brackets, but well... never mind.
Let's start with the premise that there is no competition at the game-playing level.
Well, this is problematic, as postulated earlier on. If there are several manufacturers, there will be competition, because you cannot avoid the fact that some assemble bits better than others.

But let's continue, and still work from a scenario where there are three manufacturers, all providing a console of their own with interoperability and the same horsepower, roughly.
...
No, I just cannot work beyond that impossible premise.

Everything you wrote after that point, as I mentioned before, is meaningless to me, because you're talking about a potential path, that, to me, is a non-starter. I agree that if Manufacturer A's console cannot play a game that works on Manufacturer B's console, there is no point to this exercise. (I'm sorry for the half-assed set notation, I was just trying to be clear. Summation: Every game made for the platform has to be able to play on every console made to the specification, or there is no point to this.)

To clarify my "scenario": There are 1+ manufacturers (Denon can join this game, Asus, and Sega can all make their own if they like), all providing a console that conforms to a standard so as to be able to play all games made for the platform, with the same horsepower (applicable to games), identically (not roughly). If Sony wants to add audio processing hardware beyond the spec for use in the Home Theater/Movie playing aspects of their version, they are free to do so, but no game will require it to run optimally. I'm talking about the world of DVD player manufacturing; no content producer creates discs that are designed/optimized/dependent upon a single manufacturer's DVD player, because they want the widest market possible. Yet, Denon can make a $3800 DVD player, which plays the same DVDs as the $30 Coby DVD player at Wal-Mart. The DVDs are unchanged, and yet the market is so much wider.

So the idea is that everything about graphics, physics, AI and data transfer on all points of the architecture, are all put at the same level?
That's the only way to shift competition to domains which are external to game operability. Are there any examples of this, of machines built around complex and standardized tech?
This possible future does have some interest, however getting there is nothing short of a very long affair. There are habits and advantages of old models which will be hard to budge.
I'm clearly not sold on this alternative.

Another way to tackle the issue of a multi-hardware market is to look for middleware tools, which could do the porting efficiently towards several machines. But this is easly said, not easily made.
Adjusting a game to a given machine requires severe modifications, often deep ones, which are beyond the mere translation of a base code to run on Microsoft's console, Nintendo's or Sony's.
Middlewares do provide these porting abilities, but they don't exactly exploit the different machines to their full potential.
In a way, if most studios actually agreed to work with such tools, manufacturers would find less interest in making their machines drastically more powerful and different than those of their competitors. But this is a scenario which holds no weight as far as I'm concerned.
This is a business that is largely technology driven and this won't stop. If it does, it will be temporary.

One console, five years from now? That's faith bordering, to put it simply. But I'm willing to take bets, for fun. ;)

Some while back, four people gave their opinion on the subject at Gamasutra, and it's for many points what we got to.

 

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