The Fragmented Crowd: What Audience Is Really Waiting For Next Generation Consoles?

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.


Comments

    You are dead on. Which is why I got a kick-ass gaming PC built at the start of the year. I'll most likely get a Steam Box (if they offer LAN cloud gaming) when they come out for couch-play.

      Ditto! I have a monster set-up, and am looking forward to Valve's eventual plunge into the world of console gaming. I work at EB Games, though, so I might have to get the PS4 and 720 anyway.

      Enjoy your half-baked next gen console ports and your LAN parties at the local school hall.

      Got my 28800 BBS modem plugged in and ready to go! I'll see you online on skifree.

        HA! Righto mate.

        Enjoy Call of Duty in November, heard this ones a real game changer.

          What about Uncharted? Gears? Halo? God of War? inFamous? Last of us? Heavy rain? Demon souls? Little Big Planet? Forza? Mario? Zelda? Monster Hunter/? etc etc etc

            Yea they're all sweet games and I love them all... What's your point? Consoles have great games? Yep. And those games were all made in a time where consoles matched the graphical capabilities of high-end PC's, for a fraction of their price.

            Consoles are closed platforms. They started when graphic-heavy PC's were cumbersome, they thrived when PC's were still considered "nerdy", and they survived in the 21st-century due to the PC's out of control piracy and high cost of hardware.

            Since then, games have integrated high amounts of online gameplay. So much that online components tend to outweigh a single-player campaign. This was an industry-wide effort to curtail piracy numbers (too complicated to play online for most if you pirate, especially on console.)

            Apart from the latest GPU's on the market, hardware costs have plummeted in comparison to pre-2005. Also, we've got hardware manufacturers and software developers designing ways to better integrate PC in the lounge space. Valve's Big Picture & Steam Box and Nvidia's PROJECT SHIELD are only the beginning.

            In the same way the Android OS has dominated the smart-phone market, the "PC" will evolve from the tower in a study, or the giant box underneath your TV, or the device you rest on your lap; into a device that looks and acts like a console, but isn't.

            Or who knows, maybe the console (xbox/ps4) will evolve into a PC haha.

    These dual releases (re: metal gear 5, versus xiii, watch dogs) may only be serving to hurt next gen console sales. On one hand, you won't want to play an inferior version of a game, but you wouldn't also pay for a new console just to play an updated current gen game.

    Jim Sterling put it best.

    "New console, same old bullshit".

    I think this is part of the reason that consoles are now entertainment devices.

      That could be part of the reason they are losing their place.
      They are trying to do too much and not enough of it the best. I have a number of friends with consoles who are getting upset with the amount the fiddling around and time it is taking to play a game on their console.
      The advantage consoles had over PC was it just worked, bang the disc in and go. Now with connection required and downloading patches and updates that differentiation is gone. And they don't like it

      I know mine is. Haven't played a game on my PS3 since Uncharted 3, but I use it daily for playtv, blurays, and stream media to it.

      I bought 5 games for my console this cycle, and 3 of them were Uncharted.

      What do you mean "are now entertainment devices" ever heard of a Super Nintendo entertainment system.

    I feel like you failed to address the rise in gamer population and disparity in the last decade.

    It's all well and good to say "the 120 million people playing on PS2" but I can guarantee you that the majority of people "playing one dollar apps on their iPad" were not part of that 120 mil.

      It might not be a majority but I can guarantee as much as you can that a bunch of the 17/18 years olds who were playing as part of that two million an now doing exactly that. Finished high school and moved on to respectable jobs and have grown out of gaming. Approaching (or past) 30 and married with kids the dedicated console is no long high on the priority list

        I'm not sure that there is a distinct link between finishing high school and "[growing out of gaming]" in fact going by the national average we can only assume it becomes more predominant in your later 20s and early 30s. The subject of kids has merit as consoles could restrict TV time, but equally I'd like to think as a busy parent a console would be an easier alternative than maintaining a top end gaming PC since it's so brainless. Just turn it on when you get a spare minute, pop in the game and play.

          Nearly everyone I know quit gaming once we finished school, I know I did and all my friends.. Anecdotal evidence but evidence nonetheless.

          Don't get me wrongn a large number of of people who played PS2 will still be gaming. But there is a percentage that have 'moved on' or grown out of it. Those terms are generally what they use and I don't think it happens to everybody or even a majority.
          Hell I'm over 30 and posting on kotaku so pretty sure it isn't something I will grow out of. But to say that the 120 has fragmented and some of them are now playing $1 apps is accurate. I don't know the percentages but I know people who played games during high school now don't even own a colsole.

            Oh yeah, I'm sure its fragmented to some extent. But to say the entire audience has been "scattered" feels a little hyperbolic. That's all I really wanted to address, there is definitely a number which have moved on much like there is a number who have grown up on 360/PS3 and are likely looking to invest.

    I'm not particularly excited yet because none of the platforms - Wii U included - have actually shown any decent games I want to play yet. I'm an easy sell usually, but what compels me to buy a system is probably a bit atypical.

    Ask again after E3.

      I feel the same way, exept theres nothing interesting about the new consoles, WiiU excepted.
      For the WiiU, most of my interest comes from the new tablet and the ways it has been implemented.
      The new features mentioned for the PS4 don't interest me at all and the always-online Durango has actively repelled me so far.
      I'll always be a PC gamer, but while I have indulged in consoles in the past and enjoyed it, I don't think I'll be getting anything other than my WiiU this time.

        How can something repel you when it hasn't been ANNOUNCED YET

          I don't see why that's unreasonable. If the 'feature' as leaked is correct, then it's something that would persuade him not to buy.

          That's why I said so far. Apart from presumably better specs, we don't really know anything. Information about the tablet for the WiiU was leaked in advance of the announcement and that interested me, even if I didn't know if it was actually true at the time.
          I won't make a full judgement until it is actually released, but if the emphasis is on power and always-online without some change to Xbox Live prices, I won't be buying one.
          However, if it incorporates the oculus rift and combines the kinect technology to create something out of Johnny Mnemonic, then I'll be very interested.

    I think many of us who have been through a couple or more (in my case LOTS more) generations of console releases have learned to give it some time before jumping in. In my case I've sort of neglected my PS3 for a few years and I'm going to use the next year to catch up on stuff I've missed while the next gen sorts itself out.

    I was just saying in TAY this morning that I won't buy Watch Dogs at launch if it's going to be different on Xbox 360 than on the next Xbox, and I'm sure I'm not the only one thinking like this. Plus, I plan to wait several months after launch before investing in the next generation of consoles.

    If there are other people thinking like me, people are going to hold off on consoles at launch because there's going to be no reason to upgrade to get new titles, or people are going to hold off on new titles until they can afford a launch console.

    This is going to do weird things to sales numbers.

    I think we need a new generation of consoles, but I think a lot of people aren't going to realise that until they get here, because they're probably going to proactively introduce features we don't realise we need yet instead of slowing MacGyvering them into an existing platform.

    What we really need is a new instrastructure built into these consoles - Xbox Live needs a massive overhaul, it's become bloated and sluggish like an 8 year old PC with Norton Antivirus. PSN needs a store with a user interface that doesn't suck.

    I know that some people are saying we don't need new consoles now that the next generation is finally looming on the horizon, having been predicted as "coming soon" since 2008, and people are worried that the new consoles - Microsoft's in particular - are focusing less on games and more on general entertainment (without qualifying at all why that's even a bad thing).

    I think we'll be pleasantly surprised.

      I won't buy Watch Dogs at launch if it's going to be different on Xbox 360 than on the next Xbox

      It will. I remember when we went from Xbox to Xbox 360, Ubisoft had their 360 versions of games like SC:Double Agent and Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter be completely different from the Xbox versions.

        At the moment that's what I am assuming, I hope to be proven wrong. They might just have to downgrade the graphics a bit, rather than affect the actual gameplay.

    I'm already reasonably sure that I won't be buying the next Xbox. Not just because of all the stupid rumours but because I barely play my 360 and I'm not really a fan of their exclusives.

    The PS4 I'll probably end up getting at some stage because there'll be a few exclusives I want, plus games that don't come to PC.

    But really I have the WiiU and a nice PC hooked up to the TV so if I can get away with just having those for this next generation then I will.

    I don't really think all the doom and gloom about how many people are interested in console gaming is really warranted. The PS3 and 360 between them have sold about 150m units. Yes, the PS2 sold 150m+ on its own, but that was a freak occurrence - it's pretty hard to bottle that kind of lightning twice. In addition, publishers/developers these days have access to the additional revenue stream from selling DLC add-ons to existing games which is something they didn't have available to them in the PS2 days.

    Given the rumoured similarities between the next PS and XBox consoles, the cost of porting a game from one to the other should be pretty negligible compared to the current state of affairs with PS3 and 360 being so different, so the efficiencies of cross-platform development should be much greater. If they repeat the same numbers again and sell 150m between them on hardware that is damn near identical then that should be easily a big enough market to be viable.

    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

    That is the problem facing gaming right there. It's not that the consoles aren't viable, it's that the publishers / developers too often don't work hard enough. How many mediocre FPS's or 3rd person cover-shooters do you see saturating the market? These games fail because there's no earthly reason why they should succeed. Because they don't DESERVE to succeed. If you make a product that's the same as a bunch of other products out there but only half as good, you're going to fail. That's the way the market is supposed to work. You need to either make something better or make something different. Too many publishers are either unwilling or unable to do either.

    They’re playing games on phones, on tablets, on Facebook, on their desktop. They’re playing flash games, casual games, free-to-play games.

    But are they the same people? Have console gamers really stopped buying consoles and console games in favour of that stuff? Or is it a bunch of people who didn't previously play games but now they've got an iPhone or iPad or are on Facebook or whatever, they end up giving them a go? Just because a new market has emerged over there doesn't mean that this market over here has gone away. But yes, it's possible that some of the casual market that made the PS2 (in its latter years) and Wii so successful have gone away to those devices.

    Yes, sales of consoles and software have dropped significantly over the past couple of years, but that's partly due to how long this console generation has gone on. It's been what... 7 or 8 years, when the "traditional" cycle was about 5 years. So yeah, we're probably at that saturation point when everybody who wants one has got one. But under the traditional cycle we should also be halfway through the PS4/XBox3 generation, not still sitting here on the beach of the PS3/360 long after the tide has gone out.

    Last edited 01/05/13 12:27 pm

    I don't think the lack of interest in next gen is a new thing. I think the PS3 and 360 have been massively satisfying.

    PS1 was littered with a hash-bag of games - some good, a few great, and plenty of pure trash. But the great ones really were better than anything that came before on a home console.

    PS2 was pretty similar - a handful of great games (in my opinion, given my generalist tastes). plenty of ho-hum games.

    PS3 / 360 has been characterised by the majority of games being great. Call of Duty / Battlefield / Halo / Killzone - each have had multiple iterations each with addicting gameplay and each offering masssive multiplayer value. Same with Uncharted, Gears of War and many, or at least several, other franchises.

    Racing games are now mega. Why buy F1 2011 or F1 2012 when F1 2010 is the nuts. Why buy GT5 when Shift and Shift 2 are awesome and massive. It will take me years to master those games. I probably won't spend years trying but I certainly owe it to myself to spend more time with those games than I have so far. Before you know it I'll be adding Grid 2 to my collection for $20, along with Dirt 4 in all likelihood.

    We have been spoilt with a very wide selection of very well crafted games. Sure, there may only be a handful of genre leading games, but look at Syndicate - that had ho hum review scores and it is in some regards a ho-hum game - it doesn't have the level of excitement of a Call of Duty, but at the same time it is a fully functional game with some original gameplay mechanics, some great graphics (some ordinary graphics too). I picked up Sydnicate for $7 brand new.

    Why do I need to buy the PS4 for $800 when I have so many untouched PS3 games already, and I'll be able to buy plenty more PS3 games for under $20.

    Yesterday I bought Bioshock Infiinte for $12, God of War Asecnsion for $17, and Spec Ops for $17 - all brand new, Unbelieveable.

    PS+ insists on giving me great games every single month. For free. Kind of.

    Sure I'll want a PS4, and for sure i'll buy one, but not before I've spent at least another 2 to 3 years with my existing PS3 collection, and not until I can buy the PS4 for no more than $400, and be able to buy plenty of PS4 games for $20 or less.

    PS4s best hope is to make it attractive and small, compatible with Move (and ideally dualshock), and able to drop in price to $349 AUD within 2 years.

      Do tell where you got Bioshock Infinite and GOW: Ascension for those low low prices!

      The best hope for the PS4 is that Sony have nothing to do with it's design or marketing!!

      They seriously have botched this generation and I have little faith they have learned anything from it...and yes I'm a PS fanboy who have been with them since the PS1 days...I'm not sure where I am going next...

    Being a 'console gamer', I really don't know what to think....now, that's telling.

      I'm the same, not sure I want to keep buying what will essentially be the next DLC for every major franchise with the next gen as they are not talking up anything but minor 'upgrades' *cough*BF4*cough* and the ability to post some crap on FB!

      To me, games like MAG and now PlanetSide2 showed glimmers of the future with massive integrated environments (imagine the blending of changes from the online mmo into the single player or coop game) instead of the usual 12v12 bs... If BF4 on PS4 doesn't give us 64vs64 as a bare MINIMUM, then what's the point???

        I agree. And, to be more specific, the graphics of what we have seen (Watchdogs, 1313, MGS V) all look pretty unstunning. Sure, clearly better than current gen, but to me it doesn't seem as if a barrier has been broken.

        I was unimpressed with PS2 as I don't think it offered a huge breakthrough from PS1. Arguably right, arguably wrong. The games were bigger and better, but not much - apart from the few standouts.

        PS3 / 360 gave us HD, co-incided with a big Plasma screen or such, and with the added convenience of wireless controllers. The games have excellent graphics, proper physics engines, beautiful sound effects.

        Of course PS4 / 720 will offer improvements, but can they really improve on the fundamentals? I'm sure they will eventually but Watchdogs, 1313 etc just look like prettier versions of the same games that we've already been playing for the past 5 to 15 years. Which is fine, but doesn't convince me to fork over $1,000+ for a console, accessories and a handful of games.

    The hype has definitely faded for me. I'm getting more use out of my 3DS than my PS3 atm, and as a safety I tend to be buying games as PC format where possible. Though it may evolve/upgrade over time, I will always have my gaming desktop. Most of my old consoles do indeed gather dust.

      Yeah, i'm more likely to get a Vita than a PS4 seeing as I've got PS+ which keeps giving me free games. As soon as that become $199 with decently priced memory cards I'll be picking one up. Very close to that now, with several $199 specials on the run-out 3G model and DSEs current $238 price for the Wifi model.

      I'm half expecting there to be a price drop and/or form factor revision in E3.

    I'm hyped to the max. I got a PS3 about 3 years ago and I'm still trying to catch up on a backlog of around 40-50 games. I'll still be getting a PS4 at or near launch though, and probably alternating between PS4 and PS3 games. I'm really excited to see on a console graphical power the likes of which has until now been the exclusive province of PC gaming. That, the share button and PS+ and I'm in heaven.

    Ah, memories looming out of the time fog.

    I bought that magazine religiously back in the day. Really was the ducks nuts.
    Mark, Luke, Tristan, Naz, *Unzipping sound*, Paul is gay, etc

    So great!

    cmon PS4! cannot wait to play MGSV!!!!!!!

    I can't wait for the Next-Gen!!! About god-damn-time.

    Overall though, you could say the same thing about "Ultra HD" Televisions and "Bluray HD +..."
    I actually think it's more to do with "Consumer fatigue" - realising as a Global society that the upgrade trail never ends. For anything. Ever.

    For me I just haven't seen the bigger picture as to why the next-gen will be so great. I've seen very little of the PS4's capabilities, nor have I seen any amazing graphical jumps as I did for the SNES->PSX->PS2->PS3. I'm also not that keen on shelling out $500-$1000 for a new system with few games to offer (in the first 12 months I'd imagine) and would have to wait a few years like I did with the PS3.

    "are you feeling the same level of anticipation you once felt?"

    Well, i'd need something to be actually shown to us to get excited. Once that happens, yes - then most likely I will be.

    I bought a wii-U at launch. Why? Nintendo games. Will I buy a ps4 or Durango at launch. Probably not. Why? Multi-platform games. Will I buy an uber-pc soon? Probably. Why? Multi-platform games.
    I like turtles.

    New generation of consoles is fine, if we can update to far more powerful machines for a reasonable price it makes sense to do so.
    More RAM, faster processors makes the job of the dev's easier as long as they're targeting similar games.

    The problem lies in trying to constantly grow individual games.
    Games used to need to sell a lot less to turn a big profit, but now we live in a world where the new Tomb Raider game sold better than any of its predecessors, but cost so much more it was deemed a failure.
    Publishers seem to think the answer to their woes is to spend more money on bigger titles rather than cheaper titles more likely to make an acceptable return.

    If a game needs to sell a million copies to break even, it's probably costing too much to make. New hardware makes the same games cheaper to produce, and studios should be aiming to capitalise on that.

    I got fed up waiting for the next generation last year, so I built myself a decent gaming PC and started trying to buy games for that rather than my Xbox or PS3. Given that I only got a PS3 for the requisite exclusives, I'm considering it highly likely that I'd only be getting the next Xbox for the same reason, purely because (at the risk of sounding like a member of the dreaded master race :3) I already have a "next-gen" machine. I'm hardly going to go out and buy two $500-700 consoles just for a few games that would not be available to me otherwise.

    I doubt I'm the only person that's thinking this way, and it's a primary reason why publishers are so hesitant. This console generation has gone on for so long, many of those that would have bought both consoles day one have already moved to PC, and everyone else is just happy with what they already have.

      I think the same way. PC is my primary platform, but I'll still pick up a PS4 because I really enjoy the Sony exclusives (mostly by thatgamecompany and Naughty Dog).

        Although thatgamecompany have gone multiplatform now that their 3 game exclusive deal with Sony has finished.

          I did not know that. Raises the question whether I like the Infamous series and Naughty Dog enough to buy a console just for them.

    I disagree with the article only because of how long this generation lasted.

    I think at the very least, the early adopter crowd are DYING for new consoles. Whether these new consoles are as successful long term is a different story, I suspect they won't be, but I think at launch, they'll probably be the most successful launch periods of all time.

    "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?"

    I doubt it. Those consoles weren't released back then.

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