Consoles as We Know Them are Gone?

Lobotony at lost genius points to an interview with Alex St. John. Can’t say I agree with everything, but it’s very interesting.

So, yes, I can see that in future graphics will be a commodity. What am I saying, in future, I think that’s the case right now. Yes, my PS3 games look nicer than my Wii games, but my Wii games look good enough for all intents and purposes.

Yes, I can see that in future it’ll be controllers or community that will be a differentiating factor in consoles. Again, that’s already the case.

The thing I don’t really get is Mr. St John’s rather mixed message about the PC as a games platform. Now I fully agree with the point he makes about “useless junk” preventing the PC from being ideal for games development. I also agree that it’s likely Microsoft’s and Intel’s enterprise background that prompts them to put the “useless junk” into the PC.

The thing is, that “useless junk” is what sells the platform, what gives it it’s market share. Historically, back in the days of DOS, it was really the lack of “useless junk” that sold the platform. By now it’s just that people are used to having that “useless junk” and seem unwilling to let go of it. World of Warcraft wouldn’t be such a big game if the Wintel platform didn’t have the gigantic market share it has.

So the PC platform comes with a lot of “useless junk” that makes games development hard, but helps sell games.

Similarly, using World of Warcraft as an example of a game whose DRM features cause it’s huge market share is somewhere between plain wrong and weird. For one thing, there’s no DRM in WoW that I can see, there is authentication and some tamper protection. The latter just prevents legitimate players from cheating, and has nothing to do with DRM as such. The former is a simple subscription service, again no DRM involved.

As Mr. St John says, the reason WoW is not copyable is that it’s hard to copy a community. And even that need not be true, as the case of Blizzard against bnetd clearly demonstrates — the only thing you can do is make it too expensive for people to try.

In truth, not only have graphics become a commodity, but games themselves — or they are beginning to. You can copy World of Warcraft for free. Blizzard actively encourage you to give copies to your friends, because they don’t really sell the game. What they sell is a subscription service, that is, access to a community. The whole point about a community is that it’s in one way or another tied to a place. By restricting access to that place, you restrict access to the community itself — the place can be an internet forum, or a virtual world, or the gym next door. You don’t pay the gym to be allowed to work out, you pay it to be allowed to work out on it’s premises (with it’s equipment), and to engage in a community with people interested in the same thing.

I’ll be buggered if I know what that has to do with DRM, though.

There are many fine points in this interview, but I’m at a bit of a loss as to what Mr. St John’s really trying to say. The PC sucks as a gaming platform because it rocks as a platform for selling games? Consoles are dead because the PC alternatively suck and rock as a gaming platform? Closed communities are a form of DRM? Console games can’t be copied because they lack communities, which can’t be copied?

  • unwesen

    Apparently Sandy Duncan thinks dedicated games consoles are a thing of the past, also pointing out the obvious. If your games console can be used to play media, surf the web and send messages to friends, you can hardly call it “dedicated to games” any longer. Both my Wii and my PS3 fall into that category.

    What is it about people predicting that things existing in the present will exist in the future? So admittedly, the exact thing he’s quoted as saying is that dedicated hardware will die out in the future, which is a bit more of a prediction than I’m interpreting it to be. But still, it seems like a no-brainer to me, and hardly news-worthy.

    Incidentally, you can play parts of my music library on your games console browser, thanks to YouTube. Just click on any of the linked videos on an album page. How nifty is that?