The Future of Video Games is a series that takes a look at the past of video games in order to examine certain pieces of technology to figure out the direction the industry is taking.
The second part tales a look at competition and its role in shaping technology.
Nintendo Entertainment System versus Sega Masters System
Super Nintendo versus Sega Genesis versus Neo Geo versus TurboGrafx-16
Sony PlayStation versus Sega Saturn versus Nintendo 64
Sony PlayStation 2 versus Sega Dreamcast versus Microsoft Xbox versus Nintendo Gamecube
Sony PlayStation 3 versus Microsoft Xbox 360 versus Nintendo Wii
This small list is probably missing some consoles. But it was not meant to be a fully inclusive list. It was meant to give a starting point for looking at some of the most influential systems of its generation and compare the technology there. The goal is to see how competition helped influence the growth of technology used in consoles.
1. Companies Will Release Systems More Powerful Than Their Competitors
Look at the N64 and the PlayStation for a good example of that. The N64 came out roughly a year later than the PS1, and was definitely a far more powerful system (not calling it a better system, just based on raw power). Or the Xbox and GameCube. Both came out after the PS2 and were definitely more powerful than it. Heck, the Xbox One and PS4 went head to head with system power. Xbox One has the powerful processor (Microsoft upgraded their processor at the last minute) and the PS4 can render graphics faster. And both of those games are hilariously overpowered when compared to the Wii-U (Wii U came out a bit more than a year before the Xbox One and PS4).
There are other improvements, though it is difficult to say if they are done for the sake of competition or to improve on the product. Microsoft spent tens of millions of dollars to improve on the Xbox One controller. That sort of monetary investment can appear to be done to help the product stand out against the competition. But there’s not enough proof to suggest that this improvement, or may others, were done for competition.
This may seem like common sense. Having the powerful system gives bragging rights. Plus, it seems like a natural progression. The next system is naturally more powerful than the previous system. It’s because of this that I can say, with some certainty, that this pattern will most likely continue well into the future. It’s hard to say if there will be an upper limit to how powerful a system can become.
2. Video Game Companies Are Afraid Of Risk
It is strange that competition doesn’t seem to motivate the competitors to take risks. The companies seem to stick with tried and true methods of system power. If you look at the systems and what they are released with, they are upgraded versions of their older system. These small changed help differentiate one system from another.
Except for Nintendo. Nintendo will take huge risks to make their product stand out. Look at the Kinect or the PlayStation Eye if you don’t believe me. Nintendo took a huge risk with the Wii, and it paid off. Sony’s PlayStation 3, though powerful as hell, didn’t have anything really unique about it. It was functionally just like the PlayStation 2. But once Nintendo was having success with their motion sensors, suddenly the PS3 got their own camera / motion sensor about a year later. And then three years later, a controller that looked nearly identical to the Wii’s controller came out. And the Kinect? That came out four years after Nintendo’s success to go after the non-gaming audience, just like Nintendo.
There are plenty of other examples to show that Nintendo is the company that, historically, is not afraid of risk. They tried to have a bazooka rather than a lightgun for the SNES. Or look at the GameCube’s freaky design! Or touchscreen technology with the DS and Wii U. They aren’t afraid to try new things to see what works and what doesn’t.
Though to be fair, risk doesn’t pay off that often. Remember the 3D glasses for the Sega Master system? That didn’t exactly do much to help the system trounce the NES. Or, what about all the specialty controllers for the NES? Sure, some of them are still remembered (and criticized), but they didn’t do a lot.
So if the past is any indication, we can expect other video game companies to watch what is successful and then emulate it. It seems to be very rare for any company to take risks, outside of Nintendo.
What Does Competition Tell Us About The Future Of Gaming?
Competition does not seem to motivate technological growth in the industry as one would expect. Truthfully, I was expecting to see companies duke it out and put their best foot forward through innovation. It seems like they put their best foot forward and release systems with far more power. They just don’t try to go out of their way to create something that would really stand out. This is not a bad thing, as I believe gamers do like having powerful systems. And as long as gamers will continue expecting the next console to be more powerful than the last one, we can expect to see more and more of that in the future.
As for innovation. That’s hard to say. New technologies will be included on consoles only if they are proven to be successful. It helps keep all the systems competitive. It remains to be seen how competition help pushes innovation forward. So far, competition hasn’t played a huge role in technological advancement.
Coming Soon: Part 3 – Sex and Technology