So Denis Dyack of Silicon Knights thinks that a unified standard for gaming consoles could be with us for the next generation. http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?aid=27858 Then a game will play on any manfacturer’s console. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, but also Dell, Samsung, Philips and so on. Just like a CD player.
He makes some good points. Getting rid of first party approval is the biggest and best of these, it would lead to a flowering of diversity in IP. He also says the platforms would be cheaper because of competition between manufacturers. And for game developers life would be so much easier with just one platform standard to service.
However there are a few hurdles that this model must overcome. Firstly the established platform holder technique of subsidising hardware sales with the vast profit from (overpriced) software would have to go. They would have to make all their profit on the hardware and I can’t see that working unless the consoles are at least doubled in price. Also I cannot see the existing platform holders putting their heads on the block with competition from every third world electronics factory.
But most of all it is missing what the platform holders are trying to achieve. Microsoft are trying to create a near monopoly in the home for their Xbox live platform What is Microsoft? and Sony use their consoles as Trojan horses for new, proprietory, media standards What is Sony? , so neither of these are likely to want to play. Microsoft have tried licensing a common standard in the past with MSX and got their fingers burnt. They have also seen what happened when Apple tried to license out their Mac standard.
A further disadvantage with a unified standard is that it would stunt development and hold the industry back. Currently the competition brings us new, bleeding edge platforms every few years that drive the market forward. With a unified standard there would be no impetus to move the technology on, even when it is looking decidedly geriatric. This is exactly what had happened with the audio CD.
So maybe this is just a pipe dream of an ideal world. Just like communism would work if it weren’t for the reality of human nature, so a unified platform won’t work because of the realities of technology and of the marketplace. What do you think?