Concept: Why the Video Games Industry needs Ubiquity

In the 25 years between 1983 and 2008 the CD player became ubiquitous.

In 1985 the CD player was  “ … transforming the way people listen to music. With their sweet sound, easy operation and virtually indestructible disks, they represent a technological leap beyond records and tapes.” Time magazine described it as the “ … fastest selling machine in home-electronics history”.The reason for the CDs success was simple, the sound quality was an improvement on both vinyl and tape and they were robust. CD players were the must have item of the 1980’s. CD sales increased in the mid to late 80s and sold well in the early 90’s. The first portable CD player, the Discman, appeared in 1983. The first CD player, manufactured by Pioneer, for the use in the car appeared in 1984. The CD was first used as a CD-Rom in 1985.

Whilst the CD had a great strength in its ubiquity, it also caused problems. CDs were not region specific, even with copy protection encryption they were able to be copied, and the commonness of the product meant they started to be perceived as a commodity instead of a vessel for art.

Every CD player in the world could play a properly authored CD (whilst burnt CDs can cause problems), and this meant that not only was the price of the format forced down, but the cost of the technology continued to fall. In 2011, an entry level CD player is £20 or less. This meant that the format was completely interchangeable between multiple devices and there were no problems playing a CD on players from different manufacturers.

In the video games industry the situation is quite different. There have always been competing manufacturers; in 2011 there are 3 main manufacturers of Home Consoles: Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, but there have never been an opportunity to play Nintendo games on a Sony or Microsoft device and vice versa. Whilst games may appear on different systems, they are not portable across manufacturers, these releases are multi-platform.

The platform with the most commonly shared architecture is the Personal Computer (PC). Most PCs share the same operating system (most commonly Windows), and the main differences come from the internal components. In most cases a game is limited in its reach by the system requirements, namely a new game may require elements that older PCS do not have to run. PC development has been incremental, but rapid, since their introduction in 1981 by IBM and less specifically bound by the Generations cycle that exists in console gaming.

But what if ubiquity was the goal? As Chaplin and Ruby (2005) comment:

“Ubiquity is what the [games] industry has been after for years, and ubiquity seems to be what it is finally getting. One study, from investment analysts at Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown, has just concluded that the potential market for video games had grown from 20 million people in 1980 to 96 million in 2001 and is now growing exponentially—106 million people in 2005 and onward, as every baby born takes to the videogame habit.”

This was suggested by J Allard in 2003:

What I’d like to see us do as an industry is create more standardisation… Before television was standardised, there was no television. Before video was standardised, there was only Beta. Beta only had limited success, but it was technically superior and was a profitable business – but it didn’t have ubiquitous content, and you didn’t have it in every consumer’s hands, and it was price prohibitive. Today gaming has a lot in common with what BETA had yesterday. DVD, CD, television and radio are all ubiquitous – how do we make gaming ubiquitous too? I think it’s through standardisation

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