Next Generation Console Meta-Conversation

I already spoke on what I think about Nintendo and their recent announcements. But I want to have a meta discussion also. Mainly to point out a few things that I’ve noticed over the years, how they’ve changed and how they’ve stayed the same.

Before the 16 bit era there was only one system that mattered, the NES. You either had one or you didn’t. You were measured by whether you had one and how many games you had. In the 16 bit era there were two systems, and most people couldn’t afford to get both, and most parents wouldn’t buy two extremely expensive toys for their children. Because in those days a video game console was just that, a kid’s toy. So every kid had to decide which side he was on, which console would he choose. It was usually in your best interest to get the same one your friends had so you could share games and be cool. An SNES kid was not usually friends with a Genesis kid. Thus the console wars originated, one system vs. another.

What wasn’t obvious until much later was that in any console war, both sides won. The losing consoles have always been the ones that weren’t even considered in the war at all. It was never Turbo Grafx 16 vs. anything. It was never Jaguar or 3D0 vs. anything. All the truly dead systems never even got to enter the ring. If you were in the ring that meant that people were buying you and fighting for you. At that point you already won and got profit regardless of actual market share percentage. Yet this fallacy of console wars persists to today. The gaming journalists and PR insist on maintaining the framework of a world where there are only two mutually exclusive video game consoles. And generation after generation everybody goes along for the ride. If you don’t believe me go look at all the XBoX sux0rz PS2 R0x0rz posts all over the net. Heck, people are fighting for and against systems they’ve never even played.

The game makers know this is going on, and they love it. They basically get you to blindly follow their brand regardless of actual content. Then you become a legion in an army that makes people feel cool or uncool depending on whether or not they have selected the same brand as yourself. To me it’s all hilarious.

What is specifically interesting about the new generation of consoles is that the framework of two mutually exclusive consoles has become more, not less, true. The PS3 and the XboX are directly competing for the same 15-25 year old male market share. Most games that come out for one system will come out for the other. And both are incredibly powerful systems that boast fancy graphics, sound and media center capabilities. The difference between the two will be their back catalogs of backward compatible games (PS3 wins), console exclusive games(depends on your taste) and the characteristics of the system themselves (i.e: controller). The only point in buying both of these systems would be to have access to all of exclusive games for both systems, but only someone with lots of extra money or ultra hardcore attitude would do that. At the high prices they are charging, like $400+, these two systems are more mutually exclusive than the Genesis and SNES were.

When it comes to the X vs. Y conversation, however, it has always been a conversation amongst the 15-25 year old male market. You don’t see old men or teenage girls arguing or caring about which console is superior. So among this market they see Nintendo as down and out. Nintendo doesn’t even get a vs. so it must be dead. And as far as the 15-25 year old male market, it mostly is.

But if you read online conversations about XboX 360 vs. PS3 you see the same old same old. Which is more powerful? Which exclusive games are better than the others? Which one has an ugly controller (*cough*PS3*cough*). What is making me think change is coming this generation is that Nintendo is still having a conversation. Other failed systems like SEGA Saturn or Game.com didn’t have anyone talking about them. They were eternally in the background and went without thought.

If you look online there are people talking about the DS, the revolution and even the gameboy micro. Even the 15-25 year old males who are their to put them down as kiddy toys are at the very least recognizing the existence of Nintendo. Failed systems of the past, other than the Dreamcast, were rarely offered even that courtesy. All of the pro Nintendo talk that is happening is even more astonishing. They aren’t comparing the Revolution to the new offerings from the other two consoles. They are imagining possibilities and coming up with ideas. I’ve seen multiple people come up with ideas like playing old NES games with online mutiplayer. Lots of non-gamers are really excited about hacking up the revolution to do really cool stuff with its 512MB of flash and its wireless capabilities. There is no question for these people if it is better or worse than some other piece of hardware. The question is whether it will live up to their expecations of awesome entertainment or not.

This leads me to conclude the following. Nintendo has already done a poor showing with the DS. The problem is simply that the hardware allows immense possibilities for innovating new and fun games. But there simply have not been enough developers who have come up to the plate with something really amazing. And as always, Japan keeps getting the goods first. But the DS still has one more chance for salvation if the online experience with GameSpy turns out to live up to its potential. And if the DS and revolution connect in meaningful innovative new ways it will not become another Game Gear. The revolution has two possible fates. If they open development enough and the quantity of software that takes full advantage of the potential of the hardware is released, then the revolution can storm the world by taking everyone who isn’t a 15-25 year old male and turning them into a Nintendo gamer. Heck, it would even get some of those guys too, I’m one of them. The other possibility is that, like the trend has shown, the only games that will take full advantage of the hardware in new and interesting ways will be games developed by Nintendo itself. If this is the case then Nintendo will still remain profitable. They have too much cash in reserve and too many Japanese brains and customers to allow anything else. But the chance for revolution could be lost.

I’ve been having video game conversations my whole life. And from the conversations I am witnessing across the net, this is what I can say for sure. Businessmen know nothing about games and gamers know nothing about business. The video game market will never be the same again.

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