A One Console Future: The Pros and Cons

When Tekken producer Katsushiro Harada recently made headlines in an interview with William Colvin of Australia’s  for expressing his desire to see the big three (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo) pool their resources to create one super console (let’s call it the PlayBox(XStation)3ii60(U), or PB3ii60U for short), I began to imagine what a one console future would look like. What would the gaming landscape become if Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony suddenly decided to share the market rather than to directly compete for it? This got me thinking, and as unlikely as such a colossal merging of these companies may be, it is still fun to speculate.

For those of you who haven’t read it or don’t remember or don’t care, here is what Katsushiro had to say: “I think it would be interesting if Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo got together just to make one console. It makes me very happy to think about all the possibilities that could occur because of that.”

Harada is certainly of the opinion that such a joint venture would open new avenues to create better games, and in that regard I am inclined to agree. Just imagine this from a third party developer’s perspective. First, developing for one platform instead of two or three (sometimes four) represents saving resources instead of having to split them up. Currently, if a game is launched on multiple platforms, time and money must be spent to optimize the same game on different consoles. A game built on the 360 might not behave the same way on the PS3 (and vice versa), so developers need to make sure the game is playable on both consoles. That might entail changing some code around, or it might mean figuring out how to get around a memory issue with one console (i.e. for Skyrim on the PS3). Conversely, developing for only one console would cheapen and simplify the development process, saving the money and time spent optimizing games for different platforms. Those resources could then be reinvested back into the development of new games (and prolonged support for older ones).

A single console world would have good consequences for gamers too. Most obviously, developers faced with only one console would be able to create a more homogenous gameplay experience, and could solve issues or bugs much quicker. Perhaps more importantly (for some of us) though, the player base of any given multiplayer game would be unified rather than splintered. Instead of being limited to the people who have the same console as you, you could engage with all of your game’s players online, and by extension this could mean that your favorite game might be playable for longer. Case in point: the PlayStation game MAG, an excellent game that featured 256 person (128 v. 128) battles. According to vgchartz MAG sold around 1.24 million units, which is not bad for a new IP by any means, but not long after the game was released the player base really tailed off (part of this was because players did not react well to changes implemented by Zipper Interactive). However, if we all had the same console, then it is easy to imagine that sales for a game as ambitious as MAG would have been greater. Larger sales numbers would have, in turn, meant that more money could have been spent to support the game further.

Finally, with one console we would see the end of fanboyism. Instead of hearing the typical “My xbox is better than your ps3 bra,” “no way dood ps3 4eva,”  “screw all y’all, Nintendo 4 life,” we could all look forward to this: “hey we all own a PB3ii60U, let’s play some games.” Well probably not, but you get the idea.

Those are the benefits, or at least a few of them, of a one-console future, but bigger questions surround the potential negative consequences of having only one console available. In the comment sections of several gaming websites that have reported on Harada’s thoughts, it seems that gamers are concerned the lack of competition will stymy innovation. I happen to agree: there is something to be said for competition spurring innovation. A quick look at our current generation of consoles suggests as much. If Nintendo didn’t get it handed to them so hard last generation, would they have come out with the Wii? If they hadn’t made the Wii, would they have conceived its progeny, the Wii U? For as much as I dislike the console (it doesn’t cater to the experience I am looking for in video games), I do admit that the Wii was revolutionary. The Wii proved that that motion gaming does have an audience (a vast one at that), and enabled Nintendo to penetrate a largely untapped casual gamer market (for better or worse) by making the console extremely affordable.

Of course the opposite could be true as well. If the current hardware manufactures decided to get together to produce one magnificent super console, we may very well end up with a best-of-all-worlds hybrid. Or is there such a thing as a console that does to much? Is it too loaded with extra features and bells and whistles that it forgets what it is trying to do: be a device created to play video games?

This idea dovetails nicely into the second issue with one console: affordability. Part of why the Wii has dominated this current generation is because it was an instantly affordable option over its higher priced competitors. But if all three current manufacturers decided to create the PlayBox(XStation)3ii60(U), there would be no competition to drive pricing. What was once $299 could go up to $399 or higher (and stay higher for longer) because, well let’s face it, there would be no other options. So while some of us may not be able to afford all three consoles in this current gen, we may be at least able to afford one—something that might not be possible in a one-console future.

So there you have it. A little bit of the good and a little bit of the bad. It is important to keep in mind that this is purely speculation as the possibility of Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft deciding to get together to produce a super console (giving up their share in the market and their profits) is highly improbably. Yet it is still interesting to imagine what the video game landscape would be like with only one console offering. Surely developers would appreciate being able to save resources and having a simpler time developing video games (and some of these benefits would be passed onto gamers), but there is also a potential for inflated costs and stagnant console offerings.

But enough about what I think. How do you feel about this idea? Are you for it? Against it? What do you think will happen if this unlikely event does come true? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.