Going Gold

Going Gold: Console War, What is It Good For?

Christian Ward | 17 Sep 2008 17:00
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The Xbox 360 is approaching its third birthday, its second price cut and its first relaunch. The approaching "New Xbox Experience" is a first for a console, akin to an OS overhaul in how it's set to change the way the user interfaces with the machine itself. Out are text-heavy menus and cool-sounding "blades," in are user-friendly, unintimidating avatars and iTunes-style shiny reflections - part of an overhaul that Microsoft itself call an "entirely new Xbox."

The price cut, redesign and focus on more family-friendly titles are all part of Microsoft's attempts to cut into the market dominated by Nintendo - and certainly, the price cut puts the Arcade model almost into impulse buy territory, attractive to Jane Everyparent who needs to pick something up for little Johnny in the Christmas sales.

Whether these attempts will pay off is anyone's guess. Microsoft is in no financial position to be reducing the amount of money it makes off every console sold, and after relentlessly targeting the hardcore gamer for the past seven years, it remains to be seen if the mass market will buy into MS's new attempts to cozy up to them. Just as the Wii is never going to be the console of power-obsessed technophiles, it's tempting to wonder if MS might not be better off sticking to the hardcore market it has cultivated over the past decade.

But no, in gaming there is no settling for second place, no being content with having cornered a profitable market. Everything is bet on being the leader, and if you can't do that with your current model, then the only option is to call a halt on this battle on start another one elsewhere, even if that means piling your business into ever-deeper debt.

This rebranding of the 360 is just one of a number of events and reports over recent weeks that point to the fact that the halfway point of this generation has already been passed, and that we will shortly begin to talk in serious terms of an Xbox 720 or a Wii 2. Rumors of Microsoft recruiting for a next-gen Halo or Epic proclaiming that developers are "approaching the upper end" of the 360's potential makes me feel that the industry is starting to get itchy feet and that we are in for another repeat of the boom and bust cycle that has perpetuated for as long as consoles have existed. Another console war, then - one good, indeed, for absolutely nothin'.

This shouldn't come as such a surprise, of course. Three years is prime mid-life crisis time for a console, when it should indeed be thinking of its forthcoming retirement and making sure the kids are in a position to take over the business. You don't need a fancy event unveiling to know that a new Xbox is coming before too long, and of course it is no surprise to learn that that is where MS are increasingly likely to divert the resources of its biggest teams.

But this self-destructive cycle is becoming an ever-greater risk, and in this war the number of winners seems to be dwindling. One only needs to look at another rash of stories over the last few weeks to see what this cycle is doing to gaming.

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