Game Consoles: No new hardware!

New console form factors don’t count! And what’s up with the lack of stuff for girls at E3?

I’ve got two gripes with E3 this year, which is about twenty minutes by car, and five by foot, from where I live, but that’s not a gripe. The first has to do with the lack of substantive hardware evolution in the console life cycle, and the second is with the lack of evolution in girls in games.

We’re now half a decade into the life cycle of this generation of console hardware. Yet, there’s no sign of any new boxes on the horizon, and the prices are just as high as at launch. Instead, we are being treated to trinkets and marketing changes that do nothing for the user. Are these guys conspiring together to keep prices up? Cue, conspiracy theorizing.

Actually, just over a year ago, Sony was saying that they were committed to a ten year life cycle and that the Xbox wouldn’t last beyond five. We covered it here. I guess the company thought that its hardware was five years ahead of the pack so it could afford to sit on it longer than usual.

Used to be that at the five year stage manufacturers would be ready to lay the groundwork for their next gen systems. First, the trickling of leaks that would promise hardware never before seen by man or pixel. Then, steep price cuts during the holiday season to move old inventory and keep it moving, while building anticipation of future products.

Nada. Zilch. Just a bunch of game sequels, and the promise of a slimmer Xbox, or another controller add-on. Okay, the controller thing could work out well. But, if you have an Xbox, it’s kind of dumb to buy a whole new one just because it has more storage or is slimmer or made of unobtanium. Nevertheless, no august body than Wired refers to the new slimmed down Xbox as “sexy.” I refer you to my argument further down the page about the lack of girls in gaming. Obviously, sexy is not properly defined for some people.

And not a damn single price drop. Just keep milking those products Mr. Fat Console Cat Maker!

Granted, the investment in console hardware can be counted in the billions of dollars. In turn, game publishers are spending Hollywood blockbuster money on titles so, you can’t blame any of them for wanting to get a return on their investment. Electronic Arts’ CFO, Eric Brown, told the British Guardian newspaper in February of this year,

“Today we have two of the three consoles that operate in full high-definition and are running games at 60 frames-per-second. If you have a multi-billion capital investment to develop the next generation hardware, the question I would ask is, ‘If you were to produce that, what would you display it on?’ You could upgrade in theory, but you wouldn’t get the obvious graphic benefit that we saw that drove the transitions in the prior cycle.”

However, it doesn’t make sense in many other ways. The console upgrade cycle was a great way for one or other of the players to make a play for market share. With market share comes more titles, and with more titles, more licensing moolah.

There is little incentive for anyone to upgrade hardware, and that may be fine, but surely, the console business could have matured to the point where it could have come up with the equivalent of a new upgrade every two years or so, while retaining software compatibility. A damn iPhone costs $500, much more than a console.

Our entertainment dollars are not valued. They are just massaged to fit a spreadsheet. We should be throwing coins at dancing monkeys for our personal pleasure, but instead, we’re cleaning out the elephant cage and paying for the privilege. That is a golden metaphor by the standards of this site so, feel free to read it again and bask in its glow.

My other gripe is that girls and games just don’t seem to mix, no matter what anyone says. There is no Sex and the City equivalent in gaming. How can this be a real entertainment niche, or mature without women?

I hear that, at a stretch, you can argue that smartphones and Facebook are driving more females to gaming, but come on! Facebook, really?! That’s not gaming, sir, that is a wart on the butt of peopledom.

I fear that the continued domination of gaming by the male in our species will lead to all kinds of problems with future sperm strains.

Yes, there are booth babes at E3. It is not the same thing. They get paid to be there. Just read A Salute to Girl Gamers or join Women in Games International. I know I would if it wasn’t for the court order holding me back.

I just wish gamers had a little less fanboy and a lot more cynicism. You’ll never see a game company boycotted or a press junket turned down. Anyone around the industry just laps it all up because, I guess, shiny things and booth babes make them happy.