Joost van Dreunen: The end of the end of the console

When it comes to gaming, I’m an equal opportunity offender.

I don’t distinguish between platforms or get locked into owning one over another. As if you could only know the true experiential richness that games offer through the lens of a single platform. Nonsense.

As I’m setting up my schedule for E3, I’m reminded that a year ago analysts were competing to stake the claim: the Death of the Console. Which, as it turns out, was greatly exaggerated. Already the Xbox One and PS4 have sold 12m units combined. It may yet be a bit too early to call bullshit on all the analysts, but in February the Xbox One broke records selling over 60 per cent more units than the 360 did at the same point in its lifecycle.

But then again, this console cycle isn’t like any other before.

For years, the console business has tried to integrate digital distribution into its offering. I remember plugging in my brand new Dreamcast, holding my breath as it connected to the Interwebs. Of course, nothing much happened, largely because publishers weren’t really ready to develop and facilitate online gameplay.

Today, that’s a different story. The success of brands like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto Online tell us that publishers have made digital key to their strategies. Already we’re seeing the market for DLC on consoles grow. In April total spending on digital console reached 27m in the US, up from 19m a year ago, and 5m in the United Kingdom, up from 3.7m.

Free-to-play on console. Oh, the humanity. Yes, free-to-play is evil. Adding in-game item shops to premium console titles is publishers double-dipping, right?

Well, frankly, it’s not. Free-to-play is a pricing strategy that allows playing a game for a while to try it out. On the open web and on mobile, it’s a practice that so far has gone ungoverned. Apple has been working to protect children from being duped into spending their parent’s money, but that’s the most of it. On closed platforms like consoles, manufacturers and publishers are keen to ensure their audience is happy. Remember, the combined install base for the PS4 and Xbox One totals 12m units. Unlike the massive audiences for mobile and social network-based games, the console market will be careful to not suck the life out of their audiences. In the walled garden of the console, you can expect to be treated like royalty.

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