Sunday, 21 October 2007
Games without Frontiers, costs without tears
With apologies to Peter Gabriel and with a little help from the BBC
A senior executive at Electronic Arts (the gaming software superpower) has suggested that rival gaming systems should make way for a single open platform.
Gerhard Florin, EA's head of international publishing, said incompatible consoles made life harder for developers and consumers.
"We want an open, standard platform which is much easier than having five which are not compatible,"
He said the web and set-top boxes would grow in importance to the industry.
"We're platform agnostic and we definitely don't want to have one platform which is a walled garden," said Mr Florin.
EA currently produces games for more than 14 different gaming systems, including consoles, portable devices and PCs.
"I am not sure how long we will have dedicated consoles - but we could be talking up to 15 years," Mr Florin added.
He predicted that server-based games streamed to PCs or set-top boxes, would become increasingly important.
"You don't need an Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii - the consumer won't even realise the platform it is being played on."
In the 1980s Microsoft led an initiative to create a common home computer platform, called MSX, and supported by Sony and Philips among others. It initially became a popular games platform in Japan but died out due to the growth of consoles and the rise of PCs.
Games consultant Nick Parker said the long term future of gaming would most likely not lie with dedicated consoles.
But he said competition among manufacturers had driven innovation. but added "In the future that is irrelevant. Gaming will just require potentially a £49.99 box from Sainsbury’s made in China with a hard drive, a wi-fi connection and a games engine inside.
Mr Parker said consoles were in danger of being overtaken by other companies, such as Apple, and PC technology.
"There are a lot of companies coming into the market."
With space in the living room limited, set-top boxes could yet absorb console functionality.
Mr Parker said: "Games will be provided over the net. There might not be a need for a PS4 or other dedicated consoles. But instead there could be a Nintendo channel, a PlayStation channel and an Xbox channel on your set-top box.”
Which all in all sounds like a pretty good idea. Although I’m not an expert in the economics of the Games Industry I assume there would be additional charges to ensure the recovery of development costs. Nevertheless it would still no doubt be cheaper than the current £300 for the hardware and £40 per game.
I do have one reservation. I do rather like the ability to buy and hold a physical item. Downloads and channel access don’t have a tactile quality. But if the price is right I may have to fight off my atavistic hunter-gatherer instincts.