Friday, May 13, 2005

Convergence of Hip

Last night marked
the debut of the Xbox 360, and it was presented to the world on a rawkin' MTV special, hosted by Elijah Wood.

Before the finger-wagging begins, I'll be the first to point out that Microsoft's strategy has been transparent from the beginning. Peter Moore (their VP marketing guy) stated that his aims are twofold: 'feed the core' gamers and 'captivate the masses'.

And the masses will certainly be captivated. Celebrity endorsements, amazing! That is entirely new and fresh, I certainly give a fuck what games P. Diddy plays. Interchangeable faces! Nothing is more important than the ability to match my game system to my outfits. High-definition! Yay, let's drive up the cost of game production just to include a feature that most people can't afford.

There is, of course, Microsoft's program to make the Xbox 360 a media center, to which I say, "Bah!" Sure, people modded the original Xbox to do just that, but they did it that way because it was cheap and easy.

My Xbox hard drive died. I called the company, and they informed me that I could pay them a hundred bucks and shipping and handling and they'd fix it right up. My friend said for about sixty bucks he could install a new hard drive and a mod chip, put a whole bunch of emulators on it and all the frontend software to let me burn games and movies. Now guess which option I actually considered.

I don't waste money on consoles in order to play dvds and stream music and trade pictures online. I waste money on my computer in order to do all that stuff.

The real trick is in convincing people that all the extras are really worth shelling out more money than they paid for the last console. Because once you tell people that it not only does A, but also B, C and D, they start to really consider whether they need all that crap. This is known as brand dilution. Add in too much extraneous function and it takes focus away from the whole reason you made the damn product in the first place.

Of course, what I'm actually worried about is money. The video game industry has smelt the scent of money in the water and now they're in a frenzy. The push to be flashy and ultra-cutting-edge and new and over-hyped is upping production and marketing costs, and all of those costs are being fed back to consumers.

Doesn't anybody remember Ion Storm and their out-of-control hype machine, wasteful spending and blowhard rock-star attitude?

Well, I guess not.

When people start talking about a 300 dollar or more price point for the next Xbox, I start to get a little uneasy. It is difficult for me to imagine dropping 300 dollars all-at-once, and then fifty dollars or more per game. And, of course, even more money to pay for the Xbox Live stuff.

What I would suggest is for game stores to start seriously considering a rent-to-own program.


ArC said...

The XBox, PS2, PSX, Saturn, and others (SNES and Genesis, I believe) launched at $300 or more. I think only the Dreamcast and GC launched at $200 in recent times.

Deacon said...

According to this page, a majority of systems launched between 150-250 dollars. Of course, adjusting for inflation will put those numbers higher.

It seems Playstation, PS2 and XBox did launch at 300 dollars - however, they quickly reduced that initial price. So I suppose what I'm curious to see is how quickly the XBox 360 can drop its price. There seems to be somewhat of a consensus among game developers nowadays that the next-gen systems WILL result in higher game costs, which says to me that console cost may remain higher longer in order to support the industry (since console manufacturers are in a symbiotic relationship with developers, they may be more inclined to eat some of the setup costs for the new development cycle [e.g., the hi-def mandate], which means consumers don't see the dramatic price reductions that often seem inevitable).

Of course, maybe the launch of the 360 will follow the pattern of past console launches - initial high cost, quick drop, re-furbished systems entering the marketplace early for even less, yay me. These things certainly seem to come in cycles, and naturally as the new technology matures it becomes easier to make/more stable and more affordable.

Really it's just strange for me to be without a source of income, and so the realities of gaming as expensive hobby become ever that more apparent. What underlies that worry is the sense that the gaming market is expanding rapidly and the positives and negatives that spawn from such a realization.

Gaming budgets are bloating, marketing is being given as much thought as the game itself by publishers, hollywood is talking synergy -- and it's hard to tell which directions are exciting and which simply induce nausea.

Anonymous said...

Gaming is rather expensive these days and when you think the 360 or ps3 or revolution will launch at a 300 price point atleast you have to remember that you'll likely need a new TV for high definition quality and it wouldn't hurt to have a surround sound system. Sure I can probably afford a next gen console when it comes out (ONE of them) but I'd rather wait till I can afford the whistles and bells that make them worthwhile. I don't want to be stuck with some high def converter on my old tv and headphones on playing my games. This hobby is getting more and more expensive but the average gamer age is also higher and higher (read more income), I just hope I can sustain the increase myself as this is a hobby of mine since age 10.