Did this console cycle last too long?
Yves Guillemot of Ubisoft has been a fairly loud proponent of getting new hardware out sooner rather than later, and in this IGN article he argues that the seven year cycle the current generation has adopted, versus the usual five year cycle, has damaged gaming badly. One of his quotes in Polygon was, "We need new consoles. At the end of the cycle generally the market goes down because there are less new IPs, new properties, so that damaged the industry a little bit. I hope next time they will come more often."
Now, I have argued in the past that I think the consoles could have stood another year before we advanced systems and still feel that way. Not because I have anything against new hardware. I have been through a lot of console cycles by now. One of the problems though I have with the current generation of consoles is they did not become particularly reliable until a couple of years in. Each of the consoles had it's own 'of death' state, whether it was Sony's 'yellow light of death' or Microsoft's infamous 'red ring of death' or even Nintendo Wii's 'black screen of death'. I have experienced every one of these issues with each brand of console less than two years after buying it. That plus the price points really hurt adoption I think in some corners.
You hear Guillemot and others complaining that the gaming market has been down over the last two years, and there is some truth to that, but I question if the consoles are really to blame on that front. On one hand, we have weathered a particularly nasty recession that has impacted almost every industry in some way or another. Also, the article cited that boxed game sales are down, but by the same token digital is way, way up over what it was at the start of the console cycle.
I am not against getting new hardware out into the market, I simply hope that a lot of lessons were learned from this current generation of consoles. We saw a huge change in how video gaming as a hobby was both perceived and leveraged over this current generation. I honestly believe that this was the most transformative cycle in at least a decade, maybe more. In years past the new cycles brought about higher audio and video fidelity and perhaps changes in the hardware (such as cartridge to disc or the number of inputs on your controller).
This generation however really tapped into the online communities and digital marketplaces. Developers like Sqaure Enix only recently really got their feet wet with things like purchased DLC and games like The Elder Scrolls Oblivion taught developers what customers wanted to spend money on and what they did not. Publishers realized they could save a lot of money by reducing physical costs by getting games released digitally - and this was especially true of games that were maybe localized from say Japan that had a niche audience like Elminage. These titles are not expected to have a wide audience, so there is less inherent risk in doing a digital release.
Along the way this current generation of consoles has more than ever become the center of the living room. I remember when the PlayStation 1 could play back my music CDs and the PlayStation 2 could play back my DVD's. Now the PlayStation 3 can play back my Blu-rays, connect to my PC to slideshow my images, connect to online video viewing services like Hulu, Amazon Prime and Netflix and stream music through my stereo system from a variety of devices. The demands we have made on this generation's consoles has been higher than ever, our expectations greater than ever.
AAA games have grown into monstrous budgets, the likes of which we never saw in games years past. Online security became more of a concern than ever as evidenced by the Microsoft points scam with FIFA or Sony's Network being hacked and taken down. Hardware did not compensate for overheating and overuse, breaking down at a rate I have never never seen in the past. I have working consoles from more than twenty years ago that still play great today. I can all but guarantee my Wii, PlayStatoin 3 and Xbox 360 will not be working in twenty years - to be honest I would be amazed if they still worked in five.
I understand that third party developers want the new hardware out so they can take some more chances. Guillemot makes some valid points, but there is already concern that the Wii U may not be all that advanced technically. There have been multiple articles that the hardware is not much better than either the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. That is not to say the Wii U is or will be a failure, but it is a concern.
I also find it somewhat amusing to read Guillemot's comments and then decided to stroll over and view the Ubisoft collection of games for the Wii U. The include ZombiU, Rayman Legends, Your Shape Fitness Evolved 2013, Marvel Avengers Battle for Earth, Just Dance 4, Rabbids Land, Assassin's Creed III and Sports connection. Only two of those titles I believe are brand new IPs. I am certain Ubisoft has more original titles in the pipes for down the road, but they are starting off this new generation of consoles hedging their bets and relying on what they know works. Considering early in the console life cycle, the console creators generally take a loss on their systems, who can blame them for wanting to make a bit more money off of their consoles now that the cost of producing them has come down?
Microsoft has a bit more money to play with than say Sony, who recently took a large credit rating hit. Sony is likely quite concerned - if this new PlayStation does not perform well early, they could be damaged financially as well.
Guillemot has obviously been a part of the industry a long time and has a great deal more experience with its inner workings than I have, but in this count I think he is mistaken. I think if the consoles had been rushed out sooner, it would have been far more dangerous to the industry. Can you imagine trying to sell one of these new consoles two years ago during the earlier part of the recession? Would Sony have been able to properly take lessons learned on their network security? What about Microsoft dealing with hacked accounts? Some of the successful newer IPs of this generation might not have come out, such as Dragon's Dogma. Would Skyrim have been so successful last year if their developers were straddling the line between the Xbox 360 and Durango? Would the Mass Effect 3 trilogy been allowed to 'wrap up' on this generation, or would you have been forced to buy new hardware to finish your storyline?
I do not believe consoles need a five year hard cycle to be successful. I think each cycle will bring its own lessons and the industry will adapt accordingly as we go forward. There are still excellent games being made on these consoles now, and I think we are better off for having waited until now. What do you think? Agree with Guillemot, myself or have an entirely different stance? Sound off and thanks for reading!