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Do you like the current system of closed console software?

by RedSwirl » Tue Dec 01, 2015 5:03 am

This is been something that's been rattling in my head for most of my gaming life, only to occasionally come out in the form of statements that other people see as extremely controversial. It usually happens in discussions where people talk about the idea of "one console" or some kind of "unified game platform." I think it's also at the heart of why people keep asking for every freaking game to be released on PC these days.

Basically, I've never really liked the idea of certain games being perpetually locked to one platform, but most people who use consoles have been used to it for almost the entire history of the industry, so few people ever think about alternatives. Maybe it's a slightly auspicious time to talk about it now, what with Rise of the Tomb Raider being almost the only really notable third party console exclusive right now, and Sony possibly announcing support for PS2 games on the PS4 at PlayStatoin Experience this Saturday. I've tolerated the idea of games being locked to platforms, but I've never actually PREFERRED it to possible alternatives.

The idea of consoles having distinct "identities" defined by their different game libraries as having no use outside of marketing ammunition for the console manufacturers. Unless a platform is extremely unique and some piece of software is only possible by that platform's extremely unique hardware, I don't think exclusivity ever really directly benefits the consumer. You may have some small cases where a platform holder was the only company willing to finance a game (ex: Bayonetta 2). And I think people fighting over the identities of those consoles -- console warriors, as people fighting an essentially pointless battle. It should just be about games. Even if these arguments made sense back in, say, the Super NES and Sega Genesis/Mega Drive era when console hardware was exotic, even that system was kind of a mistake in my opinion, and it is disappearing today.

PlayStation and Xbox to me today are like competing cable services -- offering most of the same content with slightly different service. When people talk about PC gaming they try to champion the extra hardware power or Steam sales, but honestly the main reason I cry out for more PC ports and prefer PC today is simply because my games feel less restricted on it. Even if a game is locked to Steam there's some possibility I could crack it if need be, and Steam itself to me feels less restrictive than when I'm playing a game on consoles because I can install it on any computer.

Mainly, I just don't like having to keep 13 game machines in my house simply to maintain access to classics I care about.

I like to think no other entertainment medium has this problem. Maybe it just depends on how much you care about your medium of choice. As I was thinking about this I took a look at my parents' music collection: Over the last 35 years they've maintained a reel-to-reel with some reels of music, a record player with a few shelves full of LPs, a tape deck with a container full of cassettes, shelves and shelves of CDs, and probably many gigabytes of mp3s. The difference? A lot of it is probably the same music re-purchased in successive new formats.

Publishers have figured out they can get away with doing a shitload of HD remasters to pad out their release calendars, and I think it might be because maybe, just maybe, some people would actually like backwards compatibility. I think the Xbox One BC poll revealed the shitload of people still playing COD Black Ops 2 on Xbox 360. Why should a game as great as Read Dead Redemption be locked down to the PS3 and Xbox 360 for all time? This brings me to the argument of closed platforms versus open ones.

All the benefits (and drawbacks) of PC gaming come from it being an open platform. That makes game preservation a lot easier for one thing. I think somebody just released a fan update for Star Wars Republic Commando to fix its compatibility for modern operating systems. I feel like this is a main reason people ask for so many PC ports these days. There is actually a chance you'll be able to fire up the PC version of Disgaea or Dragon's Dogma one day 20 years from now on a contemporary computer of that time, but how easy will it be to track down a PS2 or PS3 in 2035?

I'm not saying everybody should jump over to PC. The hurdles of getting into the platform are insurmountable to the average consumer. It would be really cool if somebody somehow came up with an open platform that still has all the accessibility of a console. I would personally imagine it being essentially a beefed-up version of one of those homebrew consoles you see small companies manufacturing every once in a while, or like a vicious-ass Raspberry Pi. A reasonably powerful machine sold at-profit with virtually no control exercised over its software. To work though, while getting support from major publishers, it would have to have the backing of a major player like Samsung or somebody. Ouya failed because it tried to control its software too much, treating it too similarly to existing consoles. The Android consoles never become individually successful because of how fragmented that ecosystem is.

And if consoles are going to stay closed, they should at least do what iOS has been doing -- maintaining a singular software ecosystem over successive generations. I have a feeling that's what PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo plan to do going forward. The switch to x86 architecture is a big sign. By all rights PlayStation should have already achieved that idea instead of being four separate console libraries. When the PS3 first came out I thought it was a sign of the future that you had one console which could play (at the time) 15 years worth of game discs. But Sony hampered this (and a lot else) by once again designing it around exotic hardware that today can't be emulated and had to be left behind for the sake of developer convenience. Now games like Demon's Souls might be trapped on it forever.

I don't know man. Sometimes I think about downloading ROMs and ISOs for every old game I own physically.

If one thing sticks with you from this long-ass ramble of a post, it should be the hope that console games don't remain this disposable toy of a medium people still see them as. Netflix works because people care about movies from 30 or 40 years ago, but the same company once said it wouldn't rent out games because nobody cares about a console game from 10 years ago.
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Re: Do you like the current system of closed console softwar

by A.I Impaired » Wed Dec 02, 2015 10:52 pm

If you identify as a gamer, chances are you have different brands etched into your heart. Beyond the games we have platform based identities full of nostalgic marketing. Companies have made a mint exploiting our loyalty, and dividing us against others when it serves. The relationship between platform and customer has not graduated to the nothingness of a cable provider. Exclusivity fuels loyalty and gives ammunition for the fanboy. It gives a sense of belonging, a home to defend. It's silly. Maybe a mature service will win out, but even between iphone and android we see division today. Brand loyalty keeps people lining up for the new iphone. It keeps the hardcore invested and infecting those around them. We often decry balanced perspective, meta-analysis, but are we the future? Will gaming as a service dissolve borders? Maybe when hardware hits a brick wall. Until then people like to hate on the peasants on the other end too much. I do hate seeing consoles lock things off, shedding grande experiences when it is no longer profitable. I at this point could be lumped into a historian along with many of you, because I try to hang on to the games that fall into the cracks of time. PC is a decent vehicle for that if only because of access of communities to updating/modding games. It's a great historians device. The old consoles I store away are just a pain, indeed. I think though we will continue to deal with this for some time.
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Re: Do you like the current system of closed console softwar

by RedSwirl » Thu Dec 03, 2015 2:07 am

See, I let go of my fanboy loyalty somewhere in the Gamecube era, even though I only owned Nintendo hardware at the time. Trust me, you gotta be pretty damn loyal to put up with Nintendo's software libraries during the N64 and Gamecube eras. I mainly posted on the official Nintendo forums at the time. I know the spectrum of the Nintendo fanboy nation. And still, there was a point around that time when I decided to accept that the PS2 was "the game console" and that was perfectly fine. I came to peace with the fact that I was chained to Nintendo hardware by the presence of a relative few games and first party development houses I trusted.

Here's the funny thing when you make the comparison to iOS and Android though -- brand loyalty isn't even why I'm stuck on Apple hardware. I'm stuck on Apple hardware because I've invested a lot into a software ecosystem that has remained contiguous through several hardware generations. Switching to Android would mean tracking down replacements for the many functions and pieces of software I've come to rely on through iOS. That's probably the smartest and most sensible way for a closed platform to lock consumers in, and Sony and Microsoft don't even do it. Not to a great extent anyway. I could understand if someone stayed locked in to one or the other because they could bring over all their legacy software, turning the transaction into a simple hardware upgrade. But no, these companies have kept certain people locked in simply because they are the kind of people who feel the need to constantly justify their purchases in a system where they can't afford enough hardware to have access to all the worthwhile games.

Come to think of it, the massive reshuffling of market share from one console generation to the next is proof that brand loyalty probably means jack shit to the average consumer of console games. Most people who buy game consoles switch brands almost every cycle. The majority of original Xbox owners had previously owned an N64. Sony has confirmed that a significant chunk of PS4 owners did not own a PS3. The console warriors buying into this loyalty are probably a vocal minority struggling to justify a system that rarely directly benefits the end consumer and about which most end consumers don't care.

Maybe if the console manufacturers stick with x86 architecture and go full BC in the next cycle that might change. I don't know. I feel like the isolation of game consoles from one another over the decades has embedded in everyone the idea that console games are transient toys to be disposed of when they're no longer new. Sony seems to care a little bit more about the "legacy" of the PlayStation family, as it has had a somewhat greater commitment to BC over the years. Ideally, in the future "PlayStation" should simply become a service or an operating system with a library of games agnostic to hardware generations. Nintendo might be headed in that direction if the NX is what we think it's going to be -- a software ecosystem shared between different form factors (like iOS).

Recently I saw a video explaining that the idea that video games are a boy's thing mainly comes from how companies advertised them as toys back in the 80's after the '83 crash and how that mentality has stayed with us to this day. I think that same mentality has affected how people view legacy media and software. I'm about to ramble again, but that just goes counter to how I see most people use software. In my experience, most people, rather than constantly upgrade to the newest software, will stick to the software they're comfortable with for years and years. I think some airport in France recently got shut down because of a problem specific to Windows 3.1, I still do all my work on Microsoft Office 2007, my parents are perfectly fine staying three iOS versions behind and almost never upgrade their apps simply because they work. This view of software holds everywhere except console video games. Even on PC people are still playing Counter-Strike 1.6 after over 10 years. But no, Call of Duty has to be replaced every year. Maybe it's just the super-hardcore console gamers who are wrapped up in the newness of their chosen platform. I already noted how many people wanted to see Black Ops II made playable on Xbox One after three years on the market. Members of my family (and probably a lot of other people) still break out original 2006 Wii Sports because it just works.
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Re: Do you like the current system of closed console softwar

by A.I Impaired » Sun Dec 06, 2015 4:47 am

Valid points. Fanboys loyalty maybe doesn't determine the validity of a closed system. However, locking people in with iteration seems smart until the train your on starts derailing and you stop enjoying where your going. New consoles didn't really lock people in so much at the beginning, still though I think the derailing is what people were feeling with XboxOne, or at least the XboxOne the media was representing. So yes... gamers are fickle, and not loyal at all except maybe in a way that is protracted over time via nostalgia. They are willing to take a chance like jumping from PS2 to XBox360 with a very different echo-system because of the same kind of derailing panic that PS3 started with, and that simply the 360 was new and came out first at a lower price point, and then maybe they jump back again for the same reasons. Would this have been avoided if XBone was backwards compatible from day one? Would the investment in XBLA and the previous games have made people react differently? Im not sure. Locking people in doesn't make us satisfied with a service.

Further questions are... who do we trust to provide service, and what happens if they end up shitting the bed?
What keeps one all inclusive platform reliable? Is the platform going to be curated by crowdsourced enthusiasts as we see in the modding community, or wikipedia? How do you sell that? I just dont see the average consumer wanting to be involved, or being sold this concept the same way they are a box with very specific finite features.

A platform free of exclusivity is one free of the interests of hardware manufacturers to provide bullet points to consumers, it is something that needs consistent direction from some body to get people invested. Can we trust someone like Valve to take up that mantle? Maybe. Maybe a user friendly PC experience will change everything. For now though, I think the console as a finite box is just too easy to sell.

Do I like it? Of course not. I would love to pour all my love into one system that plays everything in a user friendly environment. Its hard to tell whether that is the future or just fantasy. I don't think we will see that until hardware manufacturing hits a brick wall of some kind. They are doing just fine fighting a console war. If Nintendo does end up becoming a decentralized software service rather than hardware... well... I still think sony and microsoft will court them onto their closed platforms like with sega's franchises. I think Playstation and XBox will survive regardless. I can see Nintendo Portable continuing regardless as well, all with exclusivities intact.
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Re: Do you like the current system of closed console softwar

by RedSwirl » Sun Dec 06, 2015 6:45 pm

The way I see it, Microsoft and Apple have been able to sell their operating systems for decades without locking them in as heavily. Apple does have a suite of exclusive software, but even Microsoft allows Office to be available on Apple systems. I think this is because in the computer market you mainly just have two very distinct options: The more closed accessible system and the more open power user system. That's the main selling point of each one respectively. You can find most of the same software on both (well except games but that's beside the point) but the difference is in how the system treats that software. The same difference exists between iOS and Android.

The issue with console gaming right now is that the only selling point consoles and console consumers have ever known is the software itself. Maybe the relative power of the hardware, but mostly just the software itself. Now that selling point is evaporating and the industry doesn't really know what to do. I feel like console gaming is colliding with the realities that have always been apparent in other computing sectors (and I consider console gaming a computing sector), and the people in console gaming are trying to resist or deny it. PlayStation and Xbox are looking more and more like just two services or operating systems that have most of the same software, and thus almost the same value. People are looking towards PC and Nintendo because they're the ones that stick out, and not just in terms of the games. Nintendo systems have maintained a lot of the console immediacy the PS4 and Xbox One have lost along with Nintendo always trying new control interfaces for better or worse, and PC of course has its open nature. If the NX is indeed a software ecosystem shared between form factors that could also really set it apart by giving it a certain convenience the other consoles don't have. I feel like if someone actually pulled off an open platform with the same accessibility as a console, that in itself could be a selling point for a lot of consumers.

We're getting into real hypothetical territory here and I'm not an expert on markets or businesses or anything, but you asked how games would be marketed and sold on such a platform. Well, publishers and retailers basically. PC is currently curated by the presence of multiple digital storefronts, and I imagine it'd be the same on the hypothetical open console. Really the only difference in my head is that the "console" would be one box for developers to target, to eliminate the headaches over buying the hardware or messing with settings and drivers. I see the storefronts being run by the likes of the manufacturer, Amazon, EA (Origin), Best Buy, and so-on. But that's getting away from the important part.

You're right that console manufacturers heavily backing a system based on a unique identity has been a powerful way to sell those systems. Once again though, those identities have been based on exclusive software, and that exclusive software has slipped away. Nintendo is the only company left with strong enough first party software to actually make a difference in that regard. Now, the most popular game franchises are third party and multiplatform. Sony and Microsoft, instead of focusing intently on first party like Nintendo, have instead inked marketing deals or even timed exclusive deals with the biggest third party games. Microsoft had its relationship with Call of Duty for a while, Sony did it with other games and is doing it with a lot of smaller games now that are making their "Console Debut" on PlayStation. In my mind a successful "open console" would be backed by a manufacturer powerful enough to do the same thing, at least the marketing deals anyway. It's probably all just fantasy-land stuff though. I'm just thinking about what I think should happen rather than what I think might happen.
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Re: Do you like the current system of closed console softwar

by Beige » Mon Dec 07, 2015 3:06 pm

As you say Red, once upon a time such things mattered, today they do not. For years I’ve been meaning to illustrate a deck of playing cards that had Sony, MS, Nintendo and PC icons as the four suits… so like “Jack of Nintendo” “Ace of Microsoft” with the Master Chief resplendent in mirror image… but those times have come and gone. What suit to allocate Geralt?

As long as the big development money comes from first parties there will always be an argument there. I agree that Nintendo is clearly the most Console of the Console manufacturers, but Sony had done enough to distinguish itself in this generation I think. Bloodborne, Until Dawn, the Witness… upcoming Cavewoman hunts Dinos game – indie stuff – all make a strong case. The things I’m seeing from their conferences – FF VII, Ni No Kuni, Yakuza. There’s still a reason to own a PS4. It’s still early in this generation’s lifecycle after all… we’re just getting now to the point where there will be significant console differentiation.

I don’t own an XBONE and still have no plans to. This is definitely a problem for Microsoft, considering the amount of money I pumped into the first 3 years of their last console generation. Like all of you, I am as fickle as the wind when it comes to brand loyalty… though whether these attitudes are representative of the larger consumer base I have no idea. Clinging desperately to 8-9 year old franchises like Halo or Gears will not help MS’ Quixotian cause. Quantum Break makes as good as case as I’ve seen for the platform, but even one significant exclusive doesn’t justify the expense. Let’s all say Titanfall and giggle together.

Would I prefer a world where everything was released on a single service, or a plurality of services? Absolutely – but I don’t think it’s going to get better than PC in that department in the foreseeable future. The Vita is a cautionary tale of where evolutionary specialization will fuck you despite the undeniable elegance of its hardware. It makes me sad to see the noble Vita wandering around like a sick dinosaur, but this is the world we live in: tons of smaller, lower order mammalia nibbling at the collective feedbox with very little left to go around for the high order predators. For every Bloodborne there is a The Order: 1866 wandering around like a sad starving ogre, putting good people out of work.

I would put Destiny in this category. Bungie is just keeping that fucker on its feet through sheer force of will at this point. It will be a glorious artifact when we dig up its skeleton in 100 million years, but honestly it’s studios like Double Fine who are poised to stand tall at the edge of this era. Releasing hi-def ports of 20 year old games, many in a single year… this is where the smart money is. Iteration and re-iteration quickly and efficiently. Breed like rabbits so that your genes will be spread wide, even if one strain is a failure the species will survive.
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Re: Do you like the current system of closed console softwar

by RedSwirl » Mon Dec 07, 2015 7:02 pm

Y'know what's funny about most of the recent announcements from Sony conferences? They've got words like "console debut" and "console exclusive" tacked on. Very few of them are actually locked-down exclusives. And if you examine the publisher of each one, almost all have been heavily supporting Steam as of late. I think Atlus is almost the last hold-out. Sony doesn't even think it's worth it to completely buy the exclusivity of these games. But I'll admit the Japanese spice is beginning to return to PlayStation. Most of it just isn't going to be exclusive to PlayStation anymore, but that won't really matter for PS4 owners or console-only gamers. As for first party, Sony has some pretty good games, but Nintendo has icons. Microsoft has one icon.

I agree though that the current status quo is probably going to continue for the foreseeable future. I don't see any of the console manufacturers making a big shift away from closed platforms. Steam machines might be a success but if they are, it'll be on a five-year time scale. It could happen just like Steam happened: Valve put out this thing it thought some people might want circa 2004, it started out heavily flawed, Valve listened and quietly iterated on it for three or four years, and one day circa 2007 or 2008 we woke up to find out Steam was the future of PC and nobody else could do anything about it because everyone thought Valve was insane for those three years and couldn't catch up as a result. Something similar could happen with Steam machines if Valve keeps at it and eventually comes up with something developers actually want to support. Maybe getting those graphics APIs up to snuff (Vulkan) should be step one.

There's another point I want to make though. In my last post I talked about how different platforms need to have a selling point aside from the software itself, like the clear differences between Mac and Widows, and when you think about it that's exactly what Microsoft achieved during the last console generation. The Xbox 360 was ahead but I don't think exclusive games were the primary reason. Really, it was because the entire backend of the system just worked better and was in general more forward-thinking. Early on the 360 had things like party chat, accessing the OS layer while still playing a game, in-game custom music, and a clearly better content distribution network while Sony was still stuck on the Japanese way of selling exotic hardware to developers and users. By the later part of the generation Microsoft didn't even focus on first party that much, deciding to coast on the fact that all the multiplatform games were already selling more on Xbox.

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