Social/mobile games versus next-gen consoles
In the past year, there has been one particular prediction about the next generation of consoles from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo that always got my outmost attention: »Next-gen consoles are the last of their kind and will bow to the new leader – social/mobile games.« There are other reasons being thrown around for the forthcoming failure of next-gen consoles, like the eventual release of one, unified digital platform or simply the heavily rumoured Apple TV, but social/mobile games feature most prominently in the press as the reason. It seems like each new week brings along a wise prophet who suddenly foresees the all too apparent demise of consoles in the years to come.
While I recognize the incredible potential of the young social/mobile games market, I don’t believe the future of consoles is as gloomy as many industry professionals lead us to believe (it doesn’t hurt to mention that quite a few of these so-called experts work for social/mobile game companies; go figure). Well, at least not at the merciless hand of the popular business model of social/mobile games. Here’s why I thinks so.
While there has been a gazillion rumours swirling around the internets regarding the alleged specifics of next-gen consoles, absolutely nothing is yet concrete about them. This leaves room for as much speculation as your heart desires.
The majority of social/mobile game advocates make their predictions based on the business models of current-gen consoles. So, in essence: very pro-retail, closed environment, controlled pricing and distribution, and little to no flexibility. What I don’t get for the life of me is why these predictions are based on the status quo and completely disregard the possibility of significant additions to how games are distributed to consumers on consoles. Who’s to say one of the three console manufacturers won’t introduce new ways to distribute games? Won’t do away with controlled pricing models? Won’t allow developers and publishers to implement their own digital platforms? This is one liberty social game advocates take all too often. Everybody is talking about the usual stuff – more processing power, better GPU, more RAM, etc. – but very few mention possible changes to how games are priced and distributed.
I recently mused how great it would be if Capcom, for example, made a fighting game which would act as a service and not a product. Imagine Street Fighter IV not as a one-time release, but as a service. The entry price would be lower, say between $10 and $20 (or even free to play!), consumers wouldn’t be force-fed the whole package, but would be given a certain portion of the pie for the entry price and then the possibility of other pie slices – as in more fighters, stages, game modes, game features (online multiplayer, spectator mode, customization, etc.), you name it, at an additional low fee per piece.
This, in turn, would (sooner or later) largely cut out the middle-man which, obviously, wouldn’t sit well with game retailers whose bread and butter are physical releases. I’m perfectly aware that this is the primary reason for the very slow move to a more open and flexible digital console platform. However, since this is a whole other topic which would warrant not only its own blog post, but a full-fledged book, I won’t go into it.
My intention is not to bash social/mobile games. It’s only to raise another possibility which often goes unmentioned in a lot of discussions about next-gen consoles versus social/mobile games. Hopefully, the big three will be smart enough to take the true power of social/mobile games seriously and craft their next-gen offerings accordingly.