In the last few hours since writing this I have seen a lukewarm Sony CES conference, SteamBox announcements, and everyone wondering if/fearing for any possible Playstation 4 announcements and whatever Microsoft will be revealing at E3. It’s feels ominous because I have no idea if I will want to buy any of it.
I keep seeing all these new somewhat shiny things being thrown to the audience of gamers with the hopes of garnering their interest. There is better tech in a smaller size but I’m not seeing anything that will actually drive the consoles (beyond gimmicks) or make them the successes that something like the Nintendo DS was only a few years ago. The price keeps increasing, the tech keeps getting “better” but the spark/price point that made the things like the DS a money-printing machine seems a little lost. In the end I’m seeing less games and more talk of what the systems “can” do but hardly anyone that plays games is actually interested in that selling point anymore. It’s no longer about what a system can do, but who and what will be running on that system.
Let’s stick with the DS for a moment. The console itself was cheap, had a robust assortment of games for it within the first couple years, and continuously saw new releases on a regular basis. Even with Android picking up speed we still saw Nintendo making a fortune on the system because of how wonderful the games were at such a cheap (except for a few Square Enix titles) price point. They were making games that reminded me of the special moments I had playing Super Nintendo as a kid. Rich, wonderful worlds filled with things to do and games that weren’t focused on graphical superiority but on the game itself. I could find puzzle games, RPGs, RTSs, farming games, sports games, visual novels and anything else I dared to dream up. There were games for all ages, views, beliefs, and maturity levels. I sometimes find myself laughing about it because Nintendo itself still focuses primarily on children. The 3DS to me feels like it might be my next handheld If I see them working on more games for the system, but as of right now I feel like they are struggling. Everything else I have seen looks like a train wreck.
The PSVita aside from Virtues Last Reward and Persona 4 Golden has nothing on it. The PS4 is not looking good either because of stories like this (plus most of the games I actually care about are likely never going to happen ever) and Microsoft’s new policies for Windows 8 are making me question whether I want to support them ever again. I feel as if all the major players in this serenade have lost the ability to understand the song they were beautifully singing just a little while ago. People got trapped or hung up on some new note hoping it would add some new density to their performance, and then decided to burn down everything else that had made them a success in the beginning.
We have reached a valley of extremes where people aren’t sure what to buy and the differences between the consoles have been blurred (by their own creators copying each other, no less) and all major players in this performance of sorts are now in a very weak position. It’s a valley where most of the interesting games I played last year were all indie titles or made by Atlus. A valley where everything needs over a 100 gigs in memory or it just won’t be worth the investment, and more people trying to find out what they are able to get away with without actually getting in trouble. It’s a great time to be a writer or podcaster inside this industry, but for those trying to figure out which console is their next “buy” it’s like the lesser of a few different diverse evils. I wonder how other game developers will feel when this dust finally settles and everyone gets back to making games again.
Update: Just a few hours after I began writing all of this I saw Valve announce more details on Steambox. They had a few different versions being prototyped, not just the already sexy XI3 . They also talked about how they want an even bigger community, how Steam will evolve alongside it, how some versions will fit in the palm of your hand, will be accessible from any TV within your house (up to 3 or so I guess) and a few other small tidbit details on how they will help developers. I don’t have enough details on the system yet to give any wild speculation, but even I admit it’s all more than what I would deem to be necessary. If they accomplish even a fraction of it (which being Valve is certainly a guarantee) they will have completely destroyed half the console market. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, and anyone else in the market will have to make new things or die horribly.
It’s a great day to be a game developer.