Boy, it has been a rough week for Microsoft. On Thursday, it was announced that the tech giant would be closing the doors to its Microsoft Entertainment Studios, a division of the company which aimed to tap the Microsoft brand into the television market through original programming. Microsoft has become as amorphous as Play Dough, constantly reorganizing its assets and priorities as a continuing response to its poorly received plans to focus on entertainment as a whole, instead of gaming, exclusively.
I’m hurt by this announcement. While some of the studio’s most-anticipated projects are still on-target for release, including a live-action Halo television series as well as Remedy’s television/game hybrid Quantum Break, I was a supporter for Microsoft’s decision to move into the television market. It goes without saying that I am in the minority for this opinion, but understand that my feelings are no different than finding out that your most-anticipated video game was just cancelled. As a TV junkie myself, I was truly eager to see Microsoft's TV plans come to fruition.
Speaking of cancelled games... ehem...
A plethora of articles have cropped up the past few months about the infamous and ever-present “Console War.” Microsoft is losing, they say. Sony is where the games are at. Steam is now a major competitor. Most of these authors have taken a side, as is to be expected in any war, and while I may be a Microsoft sympathizer at heart, I stand somewhere in the middle of the battle grounds. Seeing the gaming marketplace as a war zone instead of a market brimming with healthy competition is harmful more than anything. Here’s why:
1. Healthy Competition is Healthy
Having strong competitors might make the industry’s big corporate financial experts sweat, but the benefit this competition has on the industry is progression. Competition moves the games industry forward. Rewind the clock to your college years for a moment. You are sitting in a class for your major, and your professor is handing back the exams you took the week prior. In a veil of mystery, your exam lays face down, and slowly, very slowly, you pull up the corner to find a large ‘B-’ written in red pen. You smile. But you are curious, and you wonder how your score holds up to Suzy Smartypants who sits next to you. You peer innocently over her shoulder to see a big ‘A-’ written at the top, and suddenly, you aren't smiling anymore. Hours and hours of preparation went into that test, and although you know Suzy Smartypants must have put her time into it as well, you can’t help but feel a little jealous that she scored higher. However, it isn't long before your jealousy is replaced by motivation - motivation to work longer and harder next time to achieve a better end result.
You see, the exam represents a video game, and you and Suzy represent the major players vying for dominance in the video game market. When one competitor achieves a great result, the other becomes motivated to do something better. It doesn't matter which side makes the better product, because both have incited progress. Their efforts to best each other work in tandem to push the industry forward.
This should not be a thing...
2. Monopolies Suck
Imagine for a second that Microsoft controls the entire gaming market. (Heaven forbid.) The Xbox brand is everywhere. It is on your home entertainment system. It is on your phones. Your tablets. Your PCs. Everywhere. Now the thought might be appealing to some of you, but let me remind you: monopolies suck. If one company was given the ability to control exactly what type of entertainment consumers are enjoying, there would come a point where people would stop enjoying it. Variety is the spice of life.
I don’t eat out that often - after all, I’m a broke college kid – but when I do, the consensus is normally Brother’s Pizza, a local pizzeria. But you know what, sometimes I want Little Caesar’s, and sometimes I want Dominoes, and sometimes, Infinito’s is the way to go! If there only existed one pizza chain in the world, wouldn’t we get sick of it? The same ideology applies to the games industry. Having competition is good, because the competitors each bring something new and something fresh to the table. Some days I’m in the mood for PlayStation games, but other days, I just want to track down those achievements!
3. Because Games Are Not Going Away!
We argue that one corporation is better than another. Sony. Microsoft. Valve. Indie. Valve. Sony. Microsoft. Valve. We complain about prices. We negatively compare one exclusive to another. The arguments are irrelevant, because the intrinsic nature of the games industry is that there will always be games. These large corporations exist to feed its consumers entertainment, and that entertainment is not going away! So why waste time constantly belittling one company and praising another when both are making the products which some person out there wants to play? If only one thing was true about the video games industry, it would be that there will always be games to play.
The games industry is only growing – the number of people playing is growing with it. This notion of a “Console War” is harmful more than anything. It stunts progress. The chaos at Microsoft the past year is, arguably, the result of consumers who refused to see that great things were coming, and Microsoft, out of a lack of conviction, and most likely for fear of losing money, compromised their visions to help the industry evolve.
I must not see the negatives that everyone else sees - I wouldn't even call this a war. But even if it is, that's okay, because the good thing about wars is that they always end.