Love and hatred in the time of console wars

By Alex Kierkegaard / May 21, 2006

I spend as much time thinking about the latest round of console wars as anyone else in this wacky business. I realize it's silly at times. But it can also be interesting and fun. Just watching all these rich, well-educated company executives act like kids, and lie and boast and exaggerate, and fire cheap shots at each other, can be highly amusing.

I never get caught up in the loves and hatreds. I realize Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are all just companies trying to turn a profit. I don't own stock in any of them, so the rise and fall of their fortunes is nothing more to me than an intellectual exercise.

Can I predict what will happen next? Can I pick the winner months before anyone else? Can you?

When I was young and more naive and had less money, it was a more "serious" matter. I couldn't buy all the consoles. So there were games I wanted to play on, say, the Supergrafx, which I just couldn't without buying the system. Or I would save up for months to get a brand new Mega Drive, convinced that all my favorite companies would start releasing games for it, only to be bitterly disappointed by the lack of major third party support. Months and years would pass without any Capcom or Konami or Tecmo games, partly because Nintendo kept all third parties shackled under an exclusivity agreement. And so the puny NES would get three Ninja Gaidens while my 16-bit monster got none. I used to hate Nintendo for that, but I was just a kid.

These days I have a steady income and I can buy all the consoles I want. I really couldn't care less who wins in the end. The developers who have ideas for cool games will eventually find a platform to develop them on, and I will make sure I own that platform and whatever else I need to enjoy their games.

Many old-timers hate Sony because of a false belief that they were somehow responsible for the death of various old school genres. I go back and look at the insane numbers of shoot 'em ups and brawlers released from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, and I wonder how these genres managed to last that long with such a huge number of rip-offs and sequels and clones. There are probably something like ten shooting games for every FPS and racing game out there. I love shooters, and I loved the old days, but I rather prefer getting three or four good games a year (as happens now) than a glut of titles of questionable quality.

Don't be fooled into thinking that random company executives have much control over the direction of the video game industry. These people can hardly control the words that come out of their mouths, much less anything as complex and rapidly evolving as the development of a young art form. Do you remember that Nintendo exclusivity agreement I mentioned earlier? Well, look what happened to that. Did you follow Sony's dizzying rise to dominance? Well, wait and see what will happen to that.

It makes no difference who wins the current console wars, or how market share gets divided. That can only ever have a short term effect. In the long run he who has an idea for a game will find a way to realize it. If he doesn't, then his idea wasn't worth that much to begin with.

The hardware -- the nuts and bolts, so to speak -- is not as important as game journalists and people who post on online message boards would have you believe. If you are prepared to pay $1,000 every four or five years to buy all the consoles that come out, then you can safely ignore the endless articles and forum posts and opinions regarding the console wars, and spend your time playing and enjoying games. If you can't afford to pay that much (or simply don't want to), then just buy your consoles in the middle of the cycle at half price. Or wait a little longer and get them for a pittance. I've said this before but it's worth repeating: eventually the console will become like a DVD player, and we will all be able to concentrate on the experience of playing games, instead of obsessing about the systems they run on.

It's true, the console wars hoopla can be entertaining to watch -- but only if you are a detached spectator. I see so many people online taking this shit seriously -- and fighting amongst each other -- that it gets depressing some times. Don't they have anything better to do with their time than champion the causes of faceless multinationals? Apparently not.