Today, at Digital Media Wire’s LA Games Conference, in Beverly Hills there was a lot of talk about the impending doom of console gaming and that games should all be free. While the NPD, Interpret and Eedar, who were in attendance, provided the raw data for both of these assertions, there are fatal flaws. The thought seems to come from what has happened to the music and film industry, both of which are significantly overpriced forms of entertainment. Record labels would like you to pay $20 for 30 minutes of entertainment and the film industry wants $30 for two hours. At the very least, a $60 game like Portal 2 is going to give you at least six hours and games like Dragon Age, 20-30 hours. You can argue that some games, at the standard $60 price are not worth that much, but others are well worth it.
The problem with free games is that for the most part, you get what you pay for. While a free game that is derivative of Tetris or some other classic arcade game is fine on your phone, while you’re waiting for class to start, it’s barely more entertaining than reading Google news. No one would invest enough to make a game like Uncharted, Mass Effect or Red Dead Redemption on a free to play model. Attempting to move towards that model would greatly reduce the quality of games and reinforce the common opinion that gaming is just time wasting.
There are certainly genres and demographics where publishers can increase sales. Nanea Reeves, the Chief Strategy Officer of Gaikai, in the first panel of the day reiterated how women gamers are either patronized or ignored by most gaming companies. Unfortunately, no one else on the panel appeared to understand what she meant and seemed content to throw their hands up at the problem. The sheer quantity of casual games and the platform on which they are published seems to lend itself towards garnering more women gamers. Make no mistake, home consoles were not designed for women.
This where the argument starts to be made, that consoles are dead or quickly dying. While handheld consoles sales are seriously declining, the obstacles facing home consoles are much easier remedied. Handheld systems arguably are designed for casual gaming and with advances in tablet and phone technology, are losing relevance. On the other hand, home consoles provide a level of entertainment that web enabled televisions and blu-ray players are not capable of delivering. The Microsoft Kinect and upcoming Nintendo console offer an opportunity to bring more people to consoles but, the quality of the software will be the determining factor.
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