Former Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello believes the console gaming business has the potential to "explode" in popularity with the arrival of next-generation systems, but only if these platforms are able to avoid major potential pitfalls.
In a guest editorial at Kotaku, the executive laid out his thoughts on next-generation platforms on the eve of Microsoft's next-generation reveal event. First, he argued that Sony and Microsoft must blow gamers away with the features and services of their next-generation platforms.
"I believe that console gaming is going to explode on the scene of consumer electronics with this next generation of consoles. Sony and Microsoft absolutely need to deliver new boxes that really impress us," Riccitiello said. "They need to deliver platforms that enable game experiences that are not possible on current consoles. It is not just about graphics, although it is partly about graphics. It is also about recognizing that a lot has changed with online devices and the cloud since the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were originally introduced."
Riccitiello then highlighted four scenarios he said Microsoft and Sony must avoid if their respective next-generation platforms are to succeed.
"The first and most obvious of these pitfalls is if Sony or Microsoft forgets who brought them to the dance in the first place: gamers," Riccitiello said. "I certainly see the temptation to emphasize all sorts of experiences that these boxes might bring to the living room. These new machines can do a lot. The risk is that either or both of the new platforms emphasize these 'value-add' experiences too much, both in the user interface on the consoles themselves, or in the story they tell consumers when they unleash their avalanche of advertising. To paraphrase a political slogan, 'It's about the games, stupid.'"
He further explained that the idea of "reinventing the living room" may sound like a "big and sexy" proposition that will read well in mainstream media, but said that Microsoft and Sony should instead double down on games and on building game-focused user interfaces.
"The risk of complexity in the new console UI (user interface) is real," he said. "Give us too much on the screen, and we'll never find our games. The risk is that too many choices, and a UI design to appeal to too many audiences, means nothing stands out."
Another pitfall Riccitiello said he believes could bring down the PS4 and next Xbox is that of supply. He said that consumers today expect to be able to get what they want when they want it and if they can't, then sales could suffer.
"Past console launches have been severely hampered by a lack of supply. A new console launch with only a few million units available will simply frustrate all of us," Riccitiello said. "Limited supply means the new consoles will launch with a whimper and whine, not the cry of attack. If Sony and Microsoft want to see the next generation of consoles take high ground in the consumer electronics war this year, they are going to have to invest to make sure there are enough of the new consoles out there."
Riccitiello's third potential pitfall is that of price. He claimed getting the price right will be "very important" to the prosperity of the PS4 and next Xbox.
"The stakes are enormous," he said.
The fourth and final potential problem for the PS4 and next Xbox, according to Riccitiello, has to do with what he described as third-rail topics, such as always-online requirements and DRM schemes.
"The question of the always-on connection is one that causes some gamers' blood to boil," he said. "Gamers will want, and learn to love, the good parts of consoles being more connected to our digital lives than was possible with the machines launched eight years ago."
"At launch, Sony and Microsoft must avoid putting up new and alarming DRM schemes, and focus on enabling the cool new game experiences that seamlessly connected consoles allow," he added.
Riccitiello quit EA in March. The Battlefield and FIFA publisher is currently reviewing internal and external candidates for his replacement, though a successor has not yet been named.