Saturday, June 13, 2009

Project Natal = new console?!

It is rumoured that Project Natal – Microsoft's new motion camera and voice recognition hardware - will launch with a new console. This is a shocking revelation if Microsoft really is going to be releasing a new console. This announcement, assuming it is accurate, is highly disturbing.

In the article, they talk about how games will be developed for both platforms, with the new platform having slightly superior graphics. This has a number of implications. Firstly, the already expensive business of producing HD games is going to get a whole lot more expensive. Ok, so the hardware is going to be similar, and it won't be double production costs. None the less, it is going to cost more, even if it is only one and half times more.

And what do developers get with this increased cost, certainly not increased sales. It isn't like there is a market waiting for this console. Think about it, casual gamers, who would be lured in by Natal would prefer to buy the (presumably) cheaper Xbox 360 with Natal. The traditional gamers already own a 360 and the best case scenario is that they will ditch the 360 for the new box. Net gain in customers due to the new console, 0.

This increased cost without increased profit might contribute to the safe-bet game market. We will see more sequels and less new IP. We might even see increased cost in games across the board (Microsoft, I don't imagine, would want new Xbox games more expensive that 360 games, and Sony and Nintendo might be tempted to follow suit).

Speaking in really predictive terms, this may speed up the inevitable, piracy on consoles. One of the reasons the PC market is shrinking compared with the console market is piracy. It is assumed that piracy on console is impossible. Nothing is impossible for a pirate. Given time, all the consoles will be cracked, the market will level out and new anti-piracy measures will have to be taken. Increasingly expensive games may act as a catalyst to the process.

And then you start hitting other problems. Sure, at first the new games will look slightly better on the new console, but hey, us 360 owners don't mind, our games still look fine. But then developers start investing money in making new games look great for the new console. There are a couple of levels that don't quite run at 60FPS on the Xbox 360. No huge deal, they were epic levels. Then it starts appearing in places where it matters, online. New Xbox owners will get a lag free (read: advantageous) experience, whilst 360 users have to lag along. Then 360 owners have to start installing games to get them to play. They have to start turning down graphics options in game if they want a solid 60FPS. Remind you of any other dying piece of hardware (in terms of game sales). Oh yeah, the PC!

It is very early days, this console hasn't even be confirmed. None the less, I play console games because everything just works. As a gamer, I prefer RTS's to action games and FPS's are better on the PC (except Halo 3, which I enjoy loads, but not because it is on the console) None the less, I play a huge amount of console games because everything on the PC is a bit iffy, even though my PC is good. This development, however, represents a trend (along with patches) towards the PC for consoles. Hopefully I am over-exaggerating, but consider this a warning.

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