Opinion: Four Reasons Why Consoles Should Cease To Exist
With the Wii U in its third month on sale, announcements expected on Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen kit, and a console in the works over at Valve, speculation on hardware specifications continues to swarm all over the internet – with arguments about who will ‘win’ the next console war set to rage indefinitely.
However, the question I’ve been asking myself in recent days is whether Microsoft and Sony should even be trying to outdo each other in this department in the first place? Indeed, should they just consider releasing console software as a PC download in future?
After all, traditional platforms are becoming increasingly irrelevant for both games companies and consumers alike – for a number of reasons.
Cost of manufacture
From a production point-of-view, it’s not hard to see that the vast sums of money inherent in hardware manufacture are spiraling out of control, at the very same time that digital distribution is only growing more powerful as a business tool.
When the PS3 was first released, it cost Sony a massive $840 to manufacture the 60GB model while only selling the unit for $599. In effect, Sony was making a loss of up to $241 on each unit sold. While cost prices have since dropped, they didn’t actually start turning a profit until the third-quarter of 2008 – a whole two years after the console was first released. With Sony currently struggling with their finances, can they really afford to spend this sort of money again?
Microsoft did turn a profit on the 360. In 2007, it cost the company an estimated $323 to produce compared to a launch price of $479. However, this clearly wasn’t enough, as a price drop of $70 came in just over a year later.
Surely the most cost-effective way that both Sony and Microsoft can handle the coming generations is to release software that the public can download directly? This would eliminate all those vast hardware costs, and associated issues. Which leads me onto my next point…
Whenever a new console is released, the hardware is locked in for the next five to ten years until manufacturers release a new one. You can’t upgrade your console, and the hardware can sometimes become outdated less than a year after release.
For example, both the PS3 and Xbox 360 have less than 1GB of RAM. Now, this may have been adequate when the consoles were first released, but fast-forward a few years to a time where most PC games require at least 2GB of memory, and it clearly restricts developers in what they can achieve with the consoles they are working with.
The hardware also restricts the framerate that console games can play at. Whereas console games are currently locked in at 60 FPS, most PCs will now host games that run at up to 120 FPS, making PC titles potentially a lot smoother and aesthetically pleasing.
Related to this is the problem of console ports to PC, where we often get a stripped-down version of titles such as the most recent GTA games. This leaves a bad taste in many a gamer’s mouth – but the problem would be easily eliminated if Sony and Microsoft released console software as a download, as it would free them up from the restrictions of hardware.
Downloads are becoming more popular than physical copies
If last week’s announcements that HMV and Blockbuster have gone into administration in the UK tells us anything, it’s that the days of going to a high-street store to purchase a physical copy of a game are pretty much at an end.
Nowadays, people prefer the convenience of downloading to the hassle of going out into town; hoping that the game they want is in stock and within their budget. In this age of saving time and money everywhere you can, downloading a game over Steam or direct from the PlayStation Network generally proves so much cheaper and more convenient than heading somewhere like HMV or GAME.
Having your video game collection in one place is also much more tidy than having disc cases taking up space in cabinets and walls, and we all know discs can also be broken and snapped if trodden on – meaning that if you want to play that game again, you’ll have to shell out in order to replace it. In the case of downloads, if you lose the data you can easily download it again, with no extra cost at your end. Given this, it’s no wonder that digital distribution is rapidly out-popularising the high street – and it means that traditional consoles are becoming less and less relevant. Which is why…
Consoles are pretty much PCs already
If last year’s E3 taught us anything, it’s that both Sony and Microsoft are lavishing more and more attention on making their consoles ‘home entertainment centres’, rather than being solely focusing on gaming.
If anything, the word ‘console’ shouldn’t even be used anymore to describe the PS3 and Xbox 360, as more and more people are using these platforms to watch films and TV, and browse the web. The humble console has moved to center-stage in the living room, sitting under the family TV next to the Sky Plus box or – in some cases – replacing it entirely.
Consoles are now only a few short steps from becoming fully-fledged PCs in their own right, and both Sony and Microsoft could fully complete this transition by releasing the software as a download.
We all know that they’re trying explore new avenues for their future consoles, and with Sony struggling in the finance department, it would not only prove more cost-effective – it would most like generate a greater profit for them in the long run.