Journalists enjoy playing into the hands of “fanboyism,” which is a cynical and patronising term for those trapped within a sort of intentional ‘militant-marketing’. Articles like this tend to inflame both sides, and headlines almost always lack appropriate context. That’s what the text body is for, don’t be lazy; information is empowerment. If you look at a site like N4G.com, the front page is littered with opinion on the value of the Xbox One and PS4, and cherry picked statistics project doom and gloom in both directions. Systems die once they cease to be supported, not because of gossip, but each time it happens, nobody celebrates.
Marketing used to be a lot more aggressive than it is now. “SEGA does what Nintendon’t,” being a key phrase arming fans during the SEGA/Nintendo rift of the 8-16 bit era. Blast processing: beat that Nintendo. Look how fast sonic is. Look at that parallax scrolling. The NES can’t do that, they’d chant on their lunch-breaks. A sort of battle-cry.
On Facebook, I saw a comment from a girl working in PR who criticized Sony’s quickly thrown together second-hand trade in video. She said something like “I don’t like this kind of aggressive marketing,” and explained how Sony’s video pushed her towards the Xbox One. Overtly aggressive marketing is confined to the Samsung/Apple mobile rift, with Microsoft and Sony virtually best buddies in the perceived console war.
The video in fact was not drawn up in Japan months in advance after contemplating the variable ROI and risk vs reward. It wasn’t considered in their quarterly budget, and Sony did not pay millions to get it on the front page of every hobbyist magazine. The reality of one of the most effective marketing videos of Sony’s campaign, is that it was thrown together off-stage, in the moment, literally as a joke. A sly jab at something that would have been exposed through a million dollar marketing campaign is indicative of a new market culture — one that seeks to put yourself slightly ahead, not one that tries to crack a walnut with a sledgehammer.
If Sony were even remotely as aggressive as hardware manufacturers of the 80’s and 90’s, Sony’s strategic targets would be the Xbox One’s lesser power, and consistent inability to run games over 900p. They’d go for the balls, so to speak. Now’days, such targets are cheap-shots, and when your very existence is under jeopardy, you might find that your enemy is actually your friend.
Microsoft’s focus on an all-round entertainment system, and Sony’s foray into interactive streaming indicate that both companies are concerned for their products relevancy. OnLive, although unsuccessful as a business, proved that a cheap plastic console with the internet could do the same job as a $400 system. Valve took a leap into the living room with their new operating system and streaming technology, but as I said before it’s important to note the actual hardware involved is not the important product. The Ouya system managed to turn a mobile chip into a house-hold videogames console, with limited success. The Wii U struggles to find relevancy in a market dominated by AAA releases. Everybody is concerned about the relevancy of their systems, and so turns to software for the answer.
If physical consoles are to survive the next 10-15 years, knocking Microsoft or Sony out of the picture would be a hideous nail in the coffin. Neither Microsoft nor Sony are stupid enough to be at the other end of that hammer. The AAA market has been flying a little too close to the sun, and converging monetisation models are alienating the core demographic from major publishers. Self publication and distribution with lower overheads and free, viral marketing is slowly replacing traditional publication methods, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to compete with that (although Titanfall is a good example of EA effectively trying to market an indie game as AAA).
As the gaming community turn to YouTube commentators for their buying advice over traditional journalists, we’re at a time where media is relatively hurriedly heading in a new direction in a sort of more complex transition than print to internet. Consumers have more power than they previously have ever had, and a larger voice.
Steam is lauded by gamers, as they resist the necessity to use Origin. Origin doesn’t offer as good a service as Steam, many argue. I agree. But there is something inherently worrying about consumers violently rallying for the death of a competitor. The only thing worse than price-fixing is monopolisation, but in the hardware market the stakes are much higher. It isn’t a matter of if X console fails, Y console’s prices will get higher as consumer choice declines, it’s a matter of if X console fails, the makers of Y console have to try and convince share-holders that consoles are still a viable consumer product at staggering design and production costs.
Console gaming is on its last legs, helped in nosmall amount due to the inability of AAA publishers to cover their overheads at the same time as making great games. Despite Americans spending an estimated $20 billion on games in 2013, the necessity to chase higher numbers of sales for each title is crippling some of the largest AAA publishers. You might be surprised just how many AAA publishers are working at substantial losses at the moment.
Square Enix, for example, are trying new things to ensure the games they create meet the standards of consumers. EA are trying new things, too. Usually laying people off, hoping their next game is more successful than their last. Things are not looking good for AAA publishers, and without systems to publish on, that ‘system seller’ each console needs every once in a while will begin to fade in both quality and frequency. As retail declines, and digital distribution spreads, there are many sectors who cannot survive the next 10 years so easily. Console manufacturers, publishers, and retail stores are still trying to sleep peacefully in the same bed, but it is a difficult relationship.
It’s all a bit doom and gloom really, but in a time where everyone is racking their brains over market relevancy, one has to step back and look at things a little more objectively. It’s a little cruel to pick on Nintendo, even laugh at their situation, when in reality all they really want to do is provide great gaming experiences for their demographic. Surely they should be praised for delivering what their community want, rather than hounded for not chasing AAA numbers. So the Wii U isn’t the right console for Whitey McWhiteface Takes on the World 2: The Whitening, why does that matter?
There used to be a time where each system was best for a specific style of game. The Nes and Snes was the buyers choice for RPGs, whilst the Genesis offered a wide variety of action games and brawlers. The Sharp X68000 was known for an extensive library of scrolling shooters, and Atari 2800 was known as the grandfather system of that genre. Even into the 3D era, the PS2 offered an extensive range of JRPGs, whereas the Xbox had you covered for the Western action games (although the lines blurred towards the end). This simply isn’t the case any more. Publishers needed to get their games on as many systems as possible, to get as many sales as possible, and thus began the closing of the gap.
Mutliple consoles lost relevancy, in a world where most games were available on all, and now all we have left are exclusives. If you can play The Last of Us, from your Smart TV, though, would you run out to buy a Ps3? Consoles are losing their reasons to exist, and that’s a bad thing if you love gaming.
So whilst the media hype will focus on hard-hitting information to feed wild speculation, take a step back and think a little about the current gaming climate. At the start of their launch, Microsoft is an injured dog. Forced to abandon their original DRM plans, and to open up self publication on their system for indie developers to the nuisance of AAA publishers, both Sony and Microsoft will not be thinking about how they can crush their perceived enemy, so much as how they can stay relevant, afloat, and alive.
If you really love gaming, then pick one — or both — and enjoy it while it lasts. Both systems not only deserve support, but they need it.
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