the artistry and psychology of gaming

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War of the Consoles: Why It Must Stop

War of the Consoles: Why It Must Stop

I’m a full time student and a part time English teacher in Iran. In my lovely country, everyone is underpaid and everything is overpriced, so money is a real issue. Mind you, not an “I really wanna be rich” issue, more of an “I don’t want to starve to death on the pavement” issue. As a part time employee, I earn about $200 a month. This can’t even start to cover my needs, so, naturally, I rely on my parents.

How’s that related to gaming? Well, judging by the price of the consoles of the seventh generation, a Wii is as expensive of one and half months of my job, an Xbox 360 a little more than two and a PS3 around 4. (Before the price drop of course). So, keep this in mind: I have to work 4 months in order to earn the money for a PS3.

Can I buy all the three consoles? No, I can’t. Even dreaming of such an act will cost me more than I can afford. So, I’m forced to choose. I chose a PS3.

So, last year one of the most anticipated games of my whole life, Alan Wake, was released. I had waited for this game since the moment it was announced, and each review made my urge stronger. But the game is an Xbox 360 exclusive, and PC and PS3 are the only consoles available to me. So, it’s been 2 years now. I’m still desperately looking for someone to lend his/her Xbox 360 to me. You may not believe it, but after all this time I haven’t read a single review of Alan Wake, because I want to preserve that sense of wonder of your first experience of the game.

But that’s one Xbox 360 game. Why should I not be able to play such great games on Wii- No More Heroes, Super Mario Galaxy 2, and others?

Let’s face it. No one questions the fact that there are exclusive games on consoles. We all silently accept it. As if it’s the gentle breeze among the boughs; or the water passing by, or something good, or something not stinky. There are no groups of gamers and game creators pressuring the companies to “Go multi-platform”, no sites dedicated to the cause of ending the war of consoles. There’s not even a sign of slight annoyance.

But think about it. Who benefits the most in this situation? Well, first off, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo. They hype their machine. This war divides the gaming community and provides them a dogmatic, slightly insane, fanbase. The fans will buy almost anything. They also benefit from the sales of games. The third party companies also benefit. But what about us? The gamers? The consumer? It’s nothing but trouble and loss for us. We gain absolutely nothing in the war of the consoles. We’re the collateral damage, getting ripped while big companies benefit from our misfortune.

The first problem is the most obvious one. When we buy a single console, we’re no longer able to play all the games that we want. This is our right as a gamer to be able to choose what game we play. Why should we care for the profit of these three companies- and the rest of them? We want to play all the great games, without having to ridiculously pay money to buy all of the consoles out there. And then, the games themselves are quite expensive. Then, if you buy the game early into its release, you can function as a non-paid tester, being annoyed by the bugs and then downloading the patch they should’ve added to the original game. Then, you can download the DLCs! Woohoo! An opportunity to give money to the companies again! Let’s face it; brothers and sisters in the gaming community: the industry looks at us like a bunch of cows to be milked, and we don’t object.

But there are other problems as well. When you’re forced to buy a console, you’re basically putting all your eggs into one basket. The cruel nature of the libertarian market can destroy a console easily in no time, and you find yourself with a bankrupt console on your hand. No new games will be released for it, and you’re prematurely forced to buy another one.

This will harm the video games as well. Due to the disastrous defeat of Dreamcast, many great games on the console never received the attention they deserved. Many franchises on that console haven’t been revived as of now- Shenmue series for example. Dreamcast might have its cult status, but it’s worth nothing. A potentially great collection of games are lost because a console couldn’t live on.

But there’s also a third problem. Console companies control the content of their games too much. This means that Heavy Rain is about as erotic as a game can get. You might think that’s a good thing, but it’s actually not; as it blocks many possible artistic ventures, but I digress (soon I’ll write an article on that subject too). The point is, the console companies have the power to force developers drop possibly controversial content. There was a word for that… it’s on the tip of my tongue… Ah! Censorship.

Bottom line is, the console companies have too much power over what we play. Power corrupts. Console company power corrupts our unique gaming experiences too.

And it doesn’t make any sense at all. We take it for granted because it’s been the situation we’ve always been in, but if you take a look at it from outside, it’s comically absurd. Imagine your DVD player refused to play certain films because it wasn’t released for it. Imagine your TV refused to show certain shows. It doesn’t make any sense.

The ideal situation is this: all the games must be released on all the consoles. I understand if some games are only released on PC, as some genres entirely suck on a console. But if it’s a console game, it must be released on all consoles. Therefore I can choose the games based on what they really are, their content, and I can also choose my console based on what it really is, its hardware. Consoles may compete based on which one has the best graphics and the best this and that, but not based on their exclusive games, that’s unfair. Then, people like me can buy the cheapest console with the worst graphics because I don’t care for graphics. And people who care for graphics can buy the most expensive one. You see, when the games no more play a role in our calculation we can choose both the games and the consoles based on their merits and demerits.

But that’s not likely to happen. There are many obstacles. Programming ones are the only understandable ones. It’s not easy to port the games and they might suck. It’s next to impossible to write the games for each console with its different engine and such. But that’s not the main reason behind it. The main reasons are two. Firstly, as gamers, we’re doped by the big companies and we have blindly accepted the situation. Therefore there’s no customer pressure on the companies to release their games on all the platforms. The second main reason is money.

So what’s the real solution? Is there any way we can reach this utopian socialist anarchist paradise where every gamer can choose whatever game s/he wants? Well, I can think of four possible scenarios which can lead to this paradise.

Firstly, if one of the big three companies completely monopolizes the market for the eighth generation. If two of them go bankrupt and only one remains, or one gains the absolute upper hand then all the third party companies will release their games for the said console. We had this in a lesser extent in the sixth generation. Back then, PS2 was clearly the dominant console, and almost all great games were released on it. The only exception I can think of is Halo.

But that’s not going to happen. In one of the most unfair moves in the gaming history, many third party companies announced on the onset of the seventh generation that they don’t want Sony to dominate the market in the upcoming generation as well. Right now, none of the three great companies seems to have the ultimate upper hand, and it’s very unlikely that this trend changes in the eighth generation. All the parties involved want competition, not monopoly. The market strives on competition.

But competition is actually good for the consumer, right? Wrong. When big companies profit this much from competition itself, it’s good for the market, not for the consumer. It’s better for the economy. But economy and market can go to hell, as I’m the gamer here. Gamers benefit from monopoly, but it’s not going to happen because it’s not good for the market. The reason that gaming industry is more profitable than cinema is not that more people go for it or anything. It’s because false competition and other methods have turned it into a huge money pumping machine and the companies aren’t going to touch that.

The second scenario is exactly the opposite. If monopoly is not possible, let have some real competition. Because only three companies is something between monopoly and free market, let’s have a really free market. Let all the big gaming companies release their own console, Sega, Atari, Capcom, EA, Ubisoft, all of them! Also let other companies in. Let Samsung, LG, Nokia, Toshiba, Apple, IBM, all of them must release their own gaming console. And let them all be moderately successful, exactly the situation with mobile phones and DVD players.

When this is the case, then the third party (and first party) companies are forced to release their games on all the consoles, because they won’t make any profit by releasing their game on only one of them.

Slightly more possible, but this isn’t going to happen either. The non-Sony, non-Nintendo, non-Microsoft companies have no prospect of any profit in the gaming industry and it’s very unlikely that they will be willing to go through the technical and economical troubles of designing a game console for that margin of profit. Hell, even Microsoft suffered heavy losses initially because of Xbox before making it big. Losses that only a company as big as Microsoft can endure, and can bankrupt a smaller company. Plus, the third partiers won’t allow it, as their money dripping cows won’t be as juicy. This is what the gaming industry profits from and it will stick to it.

The third method is the one which appeals to the common sense the most. Customers must pressure the companies. When a game is announced to be exclusive to a console, all the gamers must flood them with angry comments and threats (I’m having “we won’t buy your game” threat in mind, but feel free to be creative unless you really mean it). Let them see that we, the gamers, won’t stand the oppressive notion of exclusive games anymore! Divided we fall, united we stand! Viva la revolution! We won’t put up with this! This is the perfect plan!

No it’s not. There’s a small problem. This teeny tiny problem is that we’re totally going to put up with this. To most of us, this is just how the system works, it’s completely natural. We can’t even imagine otherwise. We don’t even stop for a second to question the status quo.

More outrageously, most of us play their stupid game. I’m sure you have observed the completely asinine arguments between fans of the different consoles. Some take it to an extreme as if Sony or Nintendo or Microsoft is their religion, political ideology, or a mixture of both.

This takes us to the final solution, which I’m the most hopeful about. Technology. Gaming technology is advancing rabidly. Compare the games now to five years before. If a day comes when game creating is a very easy skill to learn, when smaller companies can design consoles without the need of much manpower and money, when the money exchanged is less and the profit is more reasonable, maybe the atmosphere will change.

But unfortunately, gaming industry is heading to the opposite direction. They’re trying to make the technology behind the games more and more complex, with meaninglessly high graphics. A “game” such as Crysis 2 is an example of that trend. A game which has no gameplay, no story, no value whatsoever, but its pretentious and useless gimmickry at graphics and other technical features.

But still- there’s hope. That day might come. We don’t know what changes will be seen when new technologies arrive, for example nanotechnology. They might revolutionize the gaming industry, to the better.

But that change won’t come anytime soon. So, for now, this is the way things go. We all love gaming, but this is one of its biggest downsides, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

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