Even if you were just writing about video games, by all accounts it was a magical time.
Take the Official PlayStation 2 magazine in Australia — back then it shifted numbers that had mainstream advertisers salivating. No other magazine has come close since. Local publishers tossed oodles of money at Editors in response; no-one questioned the budgets as they skyrocketed — it seems crazy in hindsight but it was really an all-too brief moment of crystal clear sanity. Writers were actually paid in currency to write in those days. Incredible.
And we haven't even gotten started on the games yet. The games that were churned and burned from the meat grinder and sold to any one of the 120 million consumers who owned a PlayStation 2. It seemed like games could make real money in those days. Things were far more stable. Games were cheaper to make and you could sell them at a higher price. Everything just flowed and it flowed easily. Perhaps a little too easily.
The audience was broad. It was massive in scale and it was focused. As a consumer you were remarkably easy to define and even easier to find. You were aged between 18-25, you owned a PlayStation 2, you liked shooting/slashing/punching things in some variant of that order, and you spent a significant chunk of your disposable income on video games.
When the historians finally get round to bashing out the history of video games, that era will almost certainly be canonised as the high water mark for consoles as we once knew them.
But here's what happens during periods of prosperity: the folks tugging at loosening purse strings have little reason to suspect this magical moment won't last until the end of time — so they do nothing, they change nothing. They double down on what worked previously and act surprised when the forces of change rain piss and shit from the heavens above.
So of course the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360 did precisely what the previous consoles did, with proverbial bells on — why wouldn't they? And of course publishers got on board — why wouldn't they? Sure games will cost a little more to produce, but the audience is expanding, right? Why wouldn't it?
It's always the same — during periods of success the seeds of failure are sown, but we never learn from history. Why would we?
Fast forward to 2013. Is it just me or is there a real sense of trepidation. No-one's really saying it out loud, but the signs are there — there's an elephant blindly stomping around the room. Does anyone have any real faith in the next generation of consoles? Is anyone convinced there is a large scale market for these devices?
Once upon a time selling games to a console audience was as easy as blindly firing a t-shirt gun into a packed stadium. Nowadays that audience has scattered and your aim must be true. They're playing games on phones, on tablets, on Facebook, on their desktop. They're playing flash games, casual games, free-to-play games. That broad, large scale audience has dispersed — they're no longer waving their arms blindly in that packed stadium — is it really still possible to capture their attention with a one-size fits all console?
I don't know. And neither, I suspect, do publishers. At the very least they're playing it as safe as humanly possible. Take Watch Dogs — if this was 2004 does anyone have any doubt it would have been exclusive to next gen platforms? That it would have been released solely for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360? Marketing for Watch Dogs has been very clear in informing us all of its availability on every single platform under the sun. In short: Ubisoft is hedging its bets. As well it should.
And so is EA, with this year's games. So is Activision with Destiny and, most likely, its new Call of Duty. Why wouldn't they?
They'd be crazy not to, because if publishers are quaking in their boots, if they're playing the 'wait and see' game, how are consumers responding? Ask yourself — are you feeling the same level of anticipation you once felt? How about your friends — how willing do you think they are to invest in another generation of games consoles? Are they even aware that the PlayStation 4 or the Wii U exist or are they too busy playing one dollar apps on their iPads to notice?
The audience is fragmenting at a rapid rate. Gamers are everywhere and nowhere at the precise same time and they expect to pay less. Much less. Sometimes they expect to pay nothing at all. Everyone wants something different yet we're all used to being given precisely what we want. This is the world we live in.
In millions of home scattered across the globe, PlayStation 2s gather dust. Magazines lay tattered in the attic. Does anyone really believe that that next generation of consoles will replace them? The stakes are high. The production costs are high. The margin of error is terrifyingly low. For the next generation of consoles to truly be successful they'll have to emulate that one brief perfect moment in time where we were all in the precise same spot at the exact same time. I'm not sure if lightning has the potential to strike twice.