In the past week I have read two separate articles talking about having just one console that everyone would play. One console that would allow you to play a Mario game, a Ratchet and Clank game, and a Halo game without having to own separate consoles. Now this talk is nothing new. It has been talked about for a long time as development costs continue to rise and console exclusivities continue with more and more money spent each time. But every time it is brought up there always seems to be a lot of people saying that it is a horrible idea. Is it really a bad idea though?
One of the arguments that I have heard as to why having just one console is a bad idea is based on economics. Now I am by no means a master or economics, but I can see the argument. Having three separate consoles competing against one another keeps pricing competitive. The PS3 could have cost $1000 with all the technology and features that it has, but with the XBOX 360 selling for $399 ($299 for the core version) there would be no way that Sony could sell it for that much so they had to settle for $599 ($499 for the 20GB version). The Nintendo comes out and announcesthat the Wii will be $249 making it the cheapest console and that much more appealing to people looking to move on to the new generation. The Wii was released and has sold incredibly well, partially because of the more mass appeal of it, but also because it is the most affordable. The 360 continued to sell well even with hardware issues because it offered the next generation graphics and major games for the cheaper price. And the PS3 didn't take off as well as Sony would have hoped for and is trailing the other two consoles.
Those price points and the affect they have had on sales has brought price cuts. The PS3 has gone through a couple of them as the 60GB version was cut to $499,an 80GB model was introduced at $599, a new 40GB model is introduced at $399, and the 80GB model was reduced to $499. A lot of changes in pricing and hardware within the first year of release, all in the hopes of moving more hardware and gaining a bigger install base. The 360 has also gone through some changes both in hardware and in pricewith the introduction of the Elite for now $449,the Premium is now $349, and the Core version has been changed to the Arcade Version for $279. Nintendo on the other hand has no need to lower their prices as they continue to sell extremely well and shows no real sign of slowing down.
Now introduce only one console into the market and those price points and price cuts would be effected drastically. With no competition, whoever is to produce it would be able to set their own price without much worry. There would be no competition so if people wanted to play the latest new games they would have to pay what the company tells them to pay. Also, this brings price cuts to a halt in theory. No competition means that the only reason they would have to lower their price is to boost sales. That process could take awhile with the fact that it would be the only console out there for people to buy.
That may sound bad, but lets look at how history has played out. Companies that come out with a new product that over charge for what the people consider fair to pay for the product usually don't do to well. The company that would produce the console would have to take that into consideration and come up with a price that people are normally willing to play. Sony though that people would be willing to pay $599 for a PS3 or would settle paying just $499 for a trimmed down PS3. However, the people showed their displeasure with slow sales of the $599 PS3 and an even lower amount of sales for the $499 model (sales were so bad that they discontinued the cheaper 20GB model). So, if there was ever to be just one console they would have to look at Sony's mistake and take it to heart. What price would people really be willing to pay for this console?
As for price cuts, they would happen. As time goes on technology gets cheaper and in turn manufacturing of the console would become cheaper. Also, sales will slow done for a console after awhile. It always happens and price cuts always seems to rejuvenate sales. So there would be price cuts even without competition even though the reasons for them may have changed in some ways.
Another way to look at it is that with just one console people will not need to buy three separate consoles if they want to play games that are console exclusive. That will save the people money and hassle of having to set up three separate consoles. Not only that but it will help game developers make a bigger profit.
Since companies that make console exclusive games are only going to be able to sell their games for that console, the opportunity to make a bigger profit. With just one console, everyone that owns it will be able to play that game. There will be no worries for developers on how many people are going to be able to play there games, as everyone would be able to play their game. This also makes it easier on companies that make games for multi-platforms. They will have just one console to develop for, cutting both development time (or at least making it more efficient) and development costs. This allows for games to be made for less and allows for a larger profit for the developer and publisher. Those reduced developmental costs could also make games cost less for the public or at least keep them from going up in price.
This one console for all games also adds into the competition of companies and their games. Since everyone would be releasing their games on this one console, their products would have to be top notch and unique in order to sell better than their competition. Mario games couldn't just be the same thing over and over again as there would be more direct competition from games like Ratchet and Clank. If there is ever another Halo it would have competition from something like Killzone. This competition for the players money would make it so that companies couldn't just put out clone after clone of games in hopes of making a profit. They'd have to do something that deserves the buyers money, especially with the ability for prospective buyers to find out how good a game is by visiting review sites or reading about them in magazines.
But where the competition could improve the quality of games that are released, it could also hurt smaller developers that may actually have unique games that truly deserve to be played. Games like Okami, Beyond Good and Evil, and Psychonauts would have an even harder time selling a bunch of discs as there would be so many high profile games being released on only one console. Larger publishers like EA and Activision could possibly start buying up or combining with more smaller developers or even bigger developers. Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony would also be able to focus more on their game software division and could possibly form partnerships with companies and start a new war on the software side of things. These are all just possibilities of what could happen.
The thing is that those would probably never happen, as the likelihood of just one universal console will probably never happen. To get Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony to agree to stop producing consoles and to just focus on games for just one console is very unlikely. Even if there was a chance that they would agree on such a thing, who would develop this universal console? Would Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony team up to make the console...and how would they be able to come to terms on who does what and who gets what of the profits? Would companies that have thought about getting into the console war be willing to just accept this one console without trying to come up with their own console to compete with it? And would the developers of the games be willing to let this happen and be happy with any reasoning on why it is happening?
All these factors plus many more would go into the thought process of a universal console. The possibility of even talks about this happening is very unlikely. There would be too many egos in play for it to happen. Would it be good if it would happen though? Possibly. But only time and trends will tell on what happens. But chances are we'll be playing the XBOX 720, the PS4, and the Nintendo Something-or-Other when the next console phase rolls around and theories and hopes of a universal console will continue to be debated.