The answer to that last one is yes, it drives innovation, makes companies strive to improve not only features, but drive down costs at retail. All of which is great for the consumer, particularly in a close three horse race that is the gaming console market.
One recent rumour emerged from developer Crytek, makers of past PC busting games such as Crysis, and just lately, Crysis 2 which also arrived on the current console generation. According to the rumour Crytek developers already had hold of an Xbox 360 successor development kit to begin producing titles for the devices upcoming launch. This rumour was quickly quashed by Crytek management.
Nintendo has already announced the successor to the Wii, the Wii U, which brings the console into the high definition arena of its competitors the PS3 and Xbox 360. But the main focus of the Nintendo hardware announcement, made recently at the Electronic Entertainment Expo show, was the new controller associated with the Wii U.
The new controller, with its somewhat antiquated yet at the same time innovative touch screen, is another example of how Nintendo primarily doesn't fall in line with established technology trends. Nintendo is happy to forge its own path through, whereas both Microsoft and Sony have in many ways moulded their products in such a way making it difficult for consumers to differentiate the core aspects of their offerings to the market.
Well how about this? I know this is pie-in-the-sky given the companies involved, but what if one progressive Exec in either Microsoft or Sony approached another progressive Exec in the rival company with an outrageous proposal; 'let's join forces for our next console offering.'
And here, at a high level, is how it could work; Sony provide the hardware, Microsoft provide the cloud based infrastructure and much of the software. The new offshoot company, possibly known as Mon(e)y, would cherry-pick the best features of the current generation of gaming consoles, add some flourish and produce a box for the hard-core masses that would only be eschewed by the most ardent fanbois.
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Whilst there is sure to be some sort of disc player, most likely a Blu-Ray drive, it may not get used much. Movies and TV channels would streamed through an online service, and the vast majority, if not all games will come down from the cloud, not necessarily to be stored locally on the device.
That's right, more than likely given that the current generation of consoles will be with us for a couple of years to come, and in that time traditional bricks-and-mortar retail outlets for games will further erode under increasing demand for digital distribution. This will ripen the environment for devices to provide content in a largely connected world, entertainment as a service, expanding on what companies offer today.
Where the optical drive and other componentry will come in handy is in some form of backwards compatibility the new device may deliver. Whilst there would be plenty of complexity involved in getting titles designed to play on the Cell processor set-up of a PS3 as well as those that run upon the more conventional layout of today's Xbox 360, the benefits of going to market to capture a significant ready and waiting audience would be enormous.
Sony could wield their formidable ability to bundle hardware, branding BRAVIA TV's and even the hand-held PlayStation Vita along with the new console (the PlayBox ?) to make compelling economic entry points for those just getting into interactive entertainment.
Combining the licensing power of deals done with both Microsoft and Sony for continued delivery of entertainment content would be almost impossible to compete with, though there are plenty of home-entertainment manufacturers of everything from PVR's to TV's out to take a share of the markets such as the at demand movie streaming business.
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Microsoft would produce the software, bringing the goodness already delivered with the Xbox LIVE service as well as the resources to provide cloud based server clusters for game streaming, delivery and housing of PlayBox account holder data and game saves. They just need to do their security better than Sony currently does.
It could be a kind of gaming Nirvana for fans of home based interactive entertainment. But there is a downside. Sure cherry picking the best bits of the current Sony and Microsoft offerings could produce a gaming console with few flaws features wise, but the unholy match of Sony and Microsoft removes the major consumer winning benefits; Innovation and Price.
With Nintendo (and PC land for that matter) doing their own thing, what real reason does the PlayBox have to drive the art of interactive entertainment forward? Not much, if there is only one choice for your average power-hungry gamer, then that's what they will get. And it will be at a price dictated by our new gaming behemoth Mony.
Still the good news is that this will never happen. The business culture and past history shows that neither of these two companies, both protective of IP and profits, would consider coming together on such a project. Instead each R&D department is now ensconced deep within the bowels of their respective research dungeons dreaming up ways to pump more features and power into an attractively priced piece of electronica that will stimulate the saliva glands of the public at large.
So the PlayBox, which is a terrible name, will never emerge, instead both Sony and Microsoft will try to out-do each other come Next-Gen time, and this is a good thing for all of us.