When The Console War Dies, A Big Piece Of Videogames Will Die With It
If you’re old enough, you remember the schoolyard battles. You recall with a particular fondness the debate between Super Nintendo and Genesis. Though one could argue the console war began in the early days with the likes of the Atari 2600, Colecovision and Intellivision, I would say things didn’t really start to heat up until around 1990. Ever since then, the console wars have become a fixture in gaming culture, and many aren’t big fans of the ongoing contest.
Well, for good reason. Often childish, typically petty, usually rife with inferiority/superiority complexes, and occasionally downright frightening, gamers attacking each other over preferred forms of entertainment is indeed a little embarrassing. And while we should never support the word “attacking,” nor should there be any tolerance for those who verbally or even physically abuse others simply because they like PlayStation as opposed to Xbox, we should still acknowledge one overriding fact:
Competition begets quality.
The industry has proven, time and time again, that when one console manufacturer steps up and starts banging exclusives out of the park – which in turn results in surging hardware sales – the other manufacturers must respond. If they don’t, they’re in trouble. Granted, there are dozens of external factors, as there are in any business; for instance, the PS2 dominated not entirely because of quality games, but because of timing and miscues by Sega and Nintendo. And of course, brand-name recognition always plays a role in any business, which is one of the big reasons Microsoft’s Xbox always did best in North America.
But the point is, there has always been stiff competition between competing game companies. What began with Nintendo and Sega morphed into a three-way battle in the early 2000s and has gone strong for the past 15 years. To complicate matters, you can always toss in the omnipresent PC platform, too. Once you consider everything and gamers start voicing their opinions where everyone can see/hear – i.e., the Internet – the power of the console war is fully revealed. It’s not just about quality products being rewarded, it’s also about passion.
Yes, people screaming at each other and insulting one another over what system they like is, in a word, pathetic. But back off on the screaming and just focus on the debates, and you’ll see a group of exceedingly passionate people who simply love their hobby. And the more they talk about it, the more they come to love it. Even if they get all worked up over a debate that didn’t go the way they wanted, even if they don’t like the admittedly adolescent encounters (into which most debates eventually degrade, unfortunately), the passion is still there, smoldering.
It’s this passion that continues to drive the industry forward. Now, if we ultimately end up with only one universal gaming system, or everything goes digital, what will happen? Well, fans will still battle about which games are better than others but there will be a gaping hole where the hardware battles used to be. If you examine forums and other gaming communities online, you will find that a hefty percentage of any member’s time is often spent either reading or participating in threads that involve the console war subject (in some form).
Once this disappears, when there’s no longer any reason to debate, it stands to reason that all activity in these communities will diminish. It’s inevitable. There’s just that much less to talk about. The hardware has been such a tremendously huge part of this industry that it’s almost impossible to imagine gaming without the arguments concerning console power and capability, contrasting features, differing online systems, overall reliability, aesthetic appeal, controller quality, etc. Putting the petty crap aside for a second, look at what we’re losing…it’s a little depressing.
It just seems to me like overall passion will decline. No matter how you slice it, this will not be good for the industry. In fact, it will probably result in fewer and fewer hardcore gamers and the continued rise of casual/mainstream gamers. The latter already outnumbers the former by about ten to one these days and that gap will widen over time, especially if there are fewer reasons for a gamer to BE “hardcore.” What are the avid fans really going to sink their teeth into? The games alone? Come on. It hasn’t worked that way for a quarter-century.
I’ve loathed the console wars for years. But now that I step back and really look at it, now that I see what the future could bring, it suddenly strikes me that the death of the console war could be – and likely will be – a supremely bad thing for the industry.