The cost of developing big budget games is enormus and only continues to climb making is all the more difficult to continue to produce games on this scale. Microconsoles offer a way to produce console games without big budgets. Several factors in the high cost of developing “big console” games is the cerification fees, minimum reslution requirements, required use of all system features, etc, with these demands it’s much more costly to produce a game good or otherwise. Another cost of big budget games is the man power required to produce all the content and the expectation by many that “no two trees can look the same”, which of course costs a lot too. Another factor in the high cost of developing big budget titles is the requirement to lease very expensive development kits. When a development kit costs around $10K and is only really a lease that’s a lot of money that could go toward adding or improving features and generally making the games better. Microconsoles have a very differnt mentality, the console is a development kit so all you need is a computer to write the code on and produce the assets and the microconsole to test on. This whole set up costs well under $10K which means game development is open again to smaller teams who can try new things and wont need to enlist the “help” of a publisher. Last but not least on the costs section is the price of the games themselves. Big budget games have to be sold at a high price because the console manurfacturer demands it and because the developer only really gets 15% of that $60 (about $9). This inflexibility is a problem for not only consumers but developers as well. Consumers may not always be able or willing to spend $60 plus tax on a game and with the price eventually droping to make space on the shelf for new games they will likely wait and in turn costing the developer revenue. Microconsoles don’t require a minimum price like that and thus can better match the price the consumer can or will pay for a given title.
Creative freedom is a big deal for many in a creative medium but with the costs and demands of “big console” games the publisher and/or the console manufacturer will make demands that don’t always fit or negatively impact a game (needlessly adding multiplayer for example). With a microconsole the developer can work on smaller projects and thus afford to go it with out a publisher and work on whatever project they wish. Pricing is also more flexible on microconsoles as the manurfacturer does not require the game be priced at $60 and can be priced more inline with what a player will actually pay and garner more sales. More sales leads to more revenue for a developer and keeps the lights on so they can continue to make games. This leads to a market that caters to a far larger number of niches instead of one large homogenus market. Some genres have fallen by the way side not becuse there wasn’t a market for them but rather due to the fact they were niche and thus would not sell well to the mass market and would not return on their investment. These genres are still enjoyed by millions but are seldom produced because they don’t make the massive profits publishers want.
Gamepads have become a very popular interface because they are very streamlined and quick to use. PCs have a mouse and a keyboard with dozens of buttons which makes them less accessable and thus less popular. Another part of the reason consoles became so popular was that they offer a consistent experience for players. You plug in the disk or start the game from a menu and it plays and is the same level of graphics and performance on all units of a given console. Imagine if you got a game you played at a friends and it was all laggy or didn’t even run on your system, you’d be more then a little pissed off and might very well blame the developer. Being able to play a game on a platform it is for is a satisfying feeling but not being able to play that game for the platform it’s built is frustrating and even a little discouraging. This all leads to the popularity of game consoles for gaming and why PC has the highest rates of piracy. Now just because PC has so much piracy doesn’t mean these people would never have bought a given game, they often feel compelled to test it first to be sure it works (also to see if they actually like the gameplay). With those high piracy rates many are unsure about releasing on PC fearing limited revenue.
Microconsoles will succeed in that they will find a place in the market, likely among enthusists who want to be able to afford more games but just can’t because of the high prices. They’re also more likely to buy mircoconsoles base on their price as a new “big console” will cost at least $400 and is ever increasingly targeted at the mass market. The “big consoles” aren’t going anywhere just yet but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for the microconsoles in the market place.
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