Did this console cycle last too long?

It has been something of a crazy week already.  I made myself stay off of PSN last night just so I could work on two new gams I'm trying to sink some serious time into for reviews, Elminage and Dragon Ball Z, but Madden and one of my best friends I'm in a couple of leagues with just keeps getting in the way.  I have held to a pretty consistent cycle of posting every 2 or 3 days over the last few months, however today I am going to break that pattern due to an article early this morning that caught my eye on IGN.

Yves Guillemot of Ubisoft has been a fairly loud proponent of getting new hardware out sooner rather than later, and in this IGN article he argues that the seven year cycle the current generation has adopted, versus the usual five year cycle, has damaged gaming badly.  One of his quotes in Polygon was, "We need new consoles.  At the end of the cycle generally the market goes down because there are less new IPs, new properties, so that damaged the industry a little bit.  I hope next time they will come more often."

Now, I have argued in the past that I think the consoles could have stood another year before we advanced systems and still feel that way.  Not because I have anything against new hardware.  I have been through a lot of console cycles by now.  One of the problems though I have with the current generation of consoles is they did not become particularly reliable until a couple of years in.  Each of the consoles had it's own 'of death' state, whether it was Sony's 'yellow light of death' or Microsoft's infamous 'red ring of death' or even Nintendo Wii's 'black screen of death'.  I have experienced every one of these issues with each brand of console less than two years after buying it.  That plus the price points really hurt adoption I think in some corners.

You hear Guillemot and others complaining that the gaming market has been down over the last two years, and there is some truth to that, but I question if the consoles are really to blame on that front.  On one hand, we have weathered a particularly nasty recession that has impacted almost every industry in some way or another.  Also, the article cited that boxed game sales are down, but by the same token digital is way, way up over what it was at the start of the console cycle.

I am not against getting new hardware out into the market, I simply hope that a lot of lessons were learned from this current generation of consoles.  We saw a huge change in how video gaming as a hobby was both perceived and leveraged over this current generation.  I honestly believe that this was the most transformative cycle in at least a decade, maybe more.  In years past the new cycles brought about higher audio and video fidelity and perhaps changes in the hardware (such as cartridge to disc or the number of inputs on your controller). 

This generation however really tapped into the online communities and digital marketplaces.  Developers like Sqaure Enix only recently really got their feet wet with things like purchased DLC and games like The Elder Scrolls Oblivion taught developers what customers wanted to spend money on and what they did not.  Publishers realized they could save a lot of money by reducing physical costs by getting games released digitally - and this was especially true of games that were maybe localized from say Japan that had a niche audience like Elminage.  These titles are not expected to have a wide audience, so there is less inherent risk in doing a digital release.

Along the way this current generation of consoles has more than ever become the center of the living room.  I remember when the PlayStation 1 could play back my music CDs and the PlayStation 2 could play back my DVD's.  Now the PlayStation 3 can play back my Blu-rays, connect to my PC to slideshow my images, connect to online video viewing services like Hulu, Amazon Prime and Netflix and stream music through my stereo system from a variety of devices.  The demands we have made on this generation's consoles has been higher than ever, our expectations greater than ever.

AAA games have grown into monstrous budgets, the likes of which we never saw in games years past.  Online security became more of a concern than ever as evidenced by the Microsoft points scam with FIFA or Sony's Network being hacked and taken down.  Hardware did not compensate for overheating and overuse, breaking down at a rate I have never never seen in the past.  I have working consoles from more than twenty years ago that still play great today.  I can all but guarantee my Wii, PlayStatoin 3 and Xbox 360 will not be working in twenty years - to be honest I would be amazed if they still worked in five.

I understand that third party developers want the new hardware out so they can take some more chances.  Guillemot makes some valid points, but there is already concern that the Wii U may not be all that advanced technically.  There have been multiple articles that the hardware is not much better than either the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3.  That is not to say the Wii U is or will be a failure, but it is a concern. 

I also find it somewhat amusing to read Guillemot's comments and then decided to stroll over and view the Ubisoft collection of games for the Wii U.  The include ZombiU, Rayman Legends, Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2013, Marvel Avengers Battle for Earth, Just Dance 4, Rabbids Land, Assassin's Creed III and Sports connection.  Only two of those titles I believe are brand new IPs.  I am certain Ubisoft has more original titles in the pipes for down the road, but they are starting off this new generation of consoles hedging their bets and relying on what they know works.  Considering early in the console life cycle, the console creators generally take a loss on their systems, who can blame them for wanting to make a bit more money off of their consoles now that the cost of producing them has come down? 

Microsoft has a bit more money to play with than say Sony, who recently took a large credit rating hit.  Sony is likely quite concerned - if this new PlayStation does not perform well early, they could be damaged financially as well. 

Guillemot has obviously been a part of the industry a long time and has a great deal more experience with its inner workings than I have, but in this count I think he is mistaken.  I think if the consoles had been rushed out sooner, it would have been far more dangerous to the industry.  Can you imagine trying to sell one of these new consoles two years ago during the earlier part of the recession?  Would Sony have been able to properly take lessons learned on their network security?  What about Microsoft dealing with hacked accounts?  Some of the successful newer IPs of this generation might not have come out, such as Dragon's Dogma.  Would Skyrim have been so successful last year if their developers were straddling the line between the Xbox 360 and Durango?  Would the Mass Effect 3 trilogy been allowed to 'wrap up' on this generation, or would you have been forced to buy new hardware to finish your storyline?

I do not believe consoles need a five year hard cycle to be successful.  I think each cycle will bring its own lessons and the industry will adapt accordingly as we go forward.  There are still excellent games being made on these consoles now, and I think we are better off for having waited until now.  What do you think?  Agree with Guillemot, myself or have an entirely different stance?  Sound off and thanks for reading!
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5 comments :

  1. In the seven years since the release of the 360, so much has changed. I think Microsoft and Sony have done what they could to keep up with said change, and unfortunately, Nintendo left the Wii to languish for much of 2011-2012, as they have been doing with the last years of their consoles since the N64 (and I'm aware they release games for them, but they don't market them at all - games like Fortune Street, Kirby's Return to Dream Land, and Rhythm Heaven Fever should have had proper marketing).


    Do we need a PS4 and Xbox720? Maybe to satisfy developers, but I personally think Sony and Microsoft want to keep this cycle going for as long as possible. For crying out loud, the consoles are all still 200+ dollars! I need a replacement PS3, but I can't afford 250-300 dollars to get a new one. I'm with you, Chalgyr, I've always felt that console cycles have always needed an extra year. This time, we're getting two or three extra years and I, as a consumer, don't see the problem.

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  2. Thanks for dropping by and commenting! I think you made some very solid points about the Nintendo systems - but I also agree that the PS3 and Xbox 360 benefited from their extra time in the sun. I think about what games might have been lost over the last 2 years and while they might have eventually seen their way to this next gen of consoles, it's not a certainty by any means. New consoles often incur significant development costs and time due to Devs needing to learn their way around them.



    Thanks again!

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  3. The one issue not addressed, really by anybody that I have seen, are the consoles prices. This was the first generation that the consoles (all of them) released above $200, and REMAINED there for several years. The Xbox 360 has gotten under $200 with the basic set, but still the main set is above $200, just like the PS3.

    Last gen, the PS2 and Xbox released at $300, the GameCube at $200...being a broke college student, I went with the GameCube...but within 2 years basically had all the consoles either as Christmas or self-purchased, because they had dropped under $200. The PS2 remained at $300 for about a year and a half, and dropped to $199.99 only 6 months after the GameCube and Xbox released...which caused Nintendo and Microsoft to react with price drops as well.

    As for, "I do not believe consoles need a five year hard cycle to be successful." I think we are approaching a graphical ceiling (and with non-upgradeable consoles, it's always an issue), with processing power, amount of time developers have to spend on games, and keeping the cost factor low...

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  4. The prices have definitely been a concern this generation. I think even more so because the systems seem to break down more than in the past. I can't recall what I paid for when the PS1 initially released. I know I had it pre-ordered and purchased it day one - seems like it was in the 250-300 range, but I could be mistaken. But, it lasted me about nine years as well.


    I also agree that the leaps and bounds in visual advancement are starting to taper off. Sure, going NES to SNES brought about improvement. If you want to go another generation, the difference between NES and N64 was pretty remarkable. I'm not sure I'd classify the jump from PS2 to what PS4 will look like in quite the same way.



    I think what really helped this generation be different was the way online was leveraged, making the consoles a lot more like PC's on that front.

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  5. I completely agree with everything you've said! I think the idea that this gaming is suffering because "They're not releasing new game consoles fast enough!" is pretty silly. It's clear that this generation has needed a much longer lifespan, the hardware issues were atrocious in the beginning and unfortunately these 'Red Ring of Death' and other problems have become something that people accept, when really we should be able to have confidence that our console is going to work if we don't mess with it.

    Not to mention graphically the change from 05/06/07 to now is extraordinary, it's hard to believe Oblivion and Skyrim are from the same generation. Basically it's blindingly obvious that technology has had to take time to catch up to it's new abilities, it's only recently that this generation has become more sturdy and less of a wreck.

    Since this generation was released far too early for development technology to actually deal with I would be happy with waiting until the next one can be given to us in a more secure manner :)

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