It’s a battle as old as the ages. Well, not actually, but it’s as old as dedicated home consoles. The Console Wars. I can see them now – the big manufacturers, dramatically standing atop a storm-swept mountain, lightning loudly crashing, silhouetting their gleaming armour upon the rimed clouds, prepared for mortal combat. There is probably some dramatic crescendo of drums playing in the background. And, as always, there can only be one.
The console wars is one of the stupidest conflicts in gaming.
Microsoft? Sony? Nintendo? Who cares. They all play games.
Here’s the truth of the console war – the best console is all of them equally. Pitting console fans against each other in the rabid death pit known as the internet is such a great way to sow division within the community. And, scariest of all, it’s been perpetuated by the very community it is most damaging to.
Sure, the “first” console war – between the SNES and the Genesis – resulted (sort of) from marketing hype. But really, it was the community that got behind it. One console was cooler than the other for whatever reason – and the particular console that was cooler depended entirely on who you talked to. Disunity and conflict. Superiority and hubris. Pointless arguing over pointless things. The start of the console wars may have been a marketing spark, but, like the assassination of Franz Ferdinand (the person, not the band, read your history), it resulted in the snowballing self-perpetuation, ultimately leading us to the dramatic mountaintop deathmatch.
It’s not like one console is objectively better than another, either. Sure, one might have more teraflops, but the other one might have a better controller, or better publisher support, or less hardware failure, or, or, or. It’s a never ending checklist of pros and cons, and neither are objectively superior.
Going into the next console generation, this is even truer than ever before.
With both console boxes offering very similar performance, and architecture that almost exactly mirrors the traditional PC, it really boils down to which company you hate the most. And, as much as I love hating companies, that’s sort of wrong. Consumer choice regarding which console to buy is largely extraneous on a tangible level, with both consoles offering pretty similar hardware bundles.
Which makes the consumer wars even more stupid. Instead of bagging out Microsoft for whatever reason, or Sony for who knows what, both sides should be supporting the other. It’s a simple economic equation that goes thusly:
1. Monopolies are bad
2. One side winning creates a monopoly
3. Ergo, one side winning the console war is bad and everybody loses
Think of all the money Microsoft and Sony provide to their first and third party dev teams. Think of all the amazing games that get made using that money. Hell, think of all the indie devs that survive and eat because of money provided by the hardware companies. If one were to be wiped out, we’d lose all that. There would be no competition, no impetus to create a market for developers. No money being put into games development. No games. A unified market caused by the elimination of one party would destroy that ecosystem, with everybody losing.
But on the flipside, there needs to be some form of opposition to generate that competition. And that’s perfectly okay. Economic competition and market factors being used during contract negotiations is just swell. Free market and capitalism and what have you. The problem comes when this is reflected by the gaming community in a toxic way.
You’ve all seen the comment threads. One side decries the other’s favoured console, and it turns into one big flame war until someone drinks the Kool Aid. Instead of that division, think of all that time and energy that could be used for the good of all games. What if the Microsoft lovers said “you know what, Sony’s pretty great and they should be a healthy company and everyone should flourish”? What if Sony fans said “Microsoft provide a valuable service to developers and ensure the industry as a whole is healthy, good going”? What if we all held hands and sang songs and didn’t yell about each other being pathetic? Wouldn’t everything be so much nicer?
The worst element of the console wars is that damned thing called “The Exclusive”. Oooh. Microsoft’s shooty bang bang game has a different main character than Sony’s shooty bang bang game. How thrilling. Ugh. Yes, these (generally) first party games are sometimes pretty great, but why is it a good thing that they are bound to only one console? Think about it – say you have a market of a hundred. Fifty people buy the Xbox and fifty people by the Playstation. You have a hundred people owning consoles, but fifty owning Xbox and fifty owning Playstation. If you make a console exclusive game, your potential market is fifty. If you make a multiplatform game, your market doubles. That’s TWICE THE INCOME. That should be plenty more profit compared to the income generated by buying console exclusivity.
And perpetuators of the console wars and console exclusives think that the exclusives lead consumers to decide which console to buy. How about this factoid? The average number of consoles owned by the consumer in the US is two. We can assume from these numbers that a decent proportion of the population own both of the two major consoles. Consumers will be able to pick up all the exclusives either way, the only difference is they’re further out of pocket in having to buy both consoles.
Instead of focusing on delivering the greatest games to the largest audiences, the console wars divides the funds and attention of everyone. It’s a waste, a throwback to a different time, and, at the worst, is exploitative of the consumer. All those invested in the console wars (looking at you, gamers) should decide to call a truce to support the bigger picture – video games as a medium.