November 14, 2009

The Disposable Console Era

Chris Nitz Says Atari 2600, Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Turbo Graphix 16, all of these are great gaming systems. Back in their heydays all there was to concern one's self with was what system to get. The Nintendo vs. Sega wars ran deep on many school yards.

When did consoles turn into something so disposable? At what point did consoles start becoming such a big decision on when and what to buy? PS3 40 Gig, 60 Gig, 20 Gig, huh? Xbox 360 Arcade, Pro, Elite what? Nintendo DS, DS Lite, DSi, DSi XL? Gamers should be up in arms over this.

Nintendo is really the culprit. They started the release-a-console, change-it-a-year-later, re-release it syndrome. Nintendo started this with the GameBoy, which was a thick, white brick and a battery hog. Yet, it was a huge success. A few years later, the GameBoy got a makeover with the GameBoy Pocket. This version was smaller, used less batteries, and really did fit in your pocket. This morphed into the GameBoy Color. The GameBoy Color was the same size as the GameBoy Pocket, but this new version sported a four-color screen.

The GameBoy redesign did not fix any issues. Sure, it was nice to have a smaller GameBoy, but there was nothing that it really fixed. Yet gamers flocked to this new design. It did not stop there though. Soon gamers saw more color options added. Special editions like the Pokemon themed GameBoy Pocket were released. Stores like EB/Gamestop had deals to get you to trade in your perfectly working systems to get a discount on the "New" system.

The Nintendo DS (DS) is the latest of Nintendo portables to go through revision after revision. When the DS was first released, it was rather large. It can also be argued that it was not the most attractive. The DS got its first revision in the DS Lite. This really got the DS off the ground. The DS Lite sold millions. It is still a leader in sales today. Not content with this, Nintendo released the Dsi, which was slightly bigger than the DS Lite. The DSi added a camera, but at the expense of removing the GameBoy Advance game slot. Yup, add a camera, but take away the backwards compatibility. This hurt those who bought Guitar Hero on the DS as there was no way to plug in the peripheral.

Still not happy, Nintendo recently announced the DSi XL. Really Nintendo!?!? It is bigger than the Dsi due to a larger screen. The DSi is not even a year old, and already they are releasing something new. Why not just release the bigger version right away? The people this hurts are those early adopters.

Sony has also joined in on this redesign fun. The PlayStation 2 (PS2) is their best selling system. When it was released, it was rather large. The PS2 came out with no hard drive nor network capabilities. Hard drive and ethernet accessories were later added so that users could get online and play Socom with their friends. Games like Final Fantasy XI and EverQuest Adventures also took advantage of both of these new accessories.

Then Sony released the PS2 slim. Again, this model really didn’t fix anything. It was a simple cosmetic change. However, the redesign made the hard drive and ethernet adapter obsolete. The PS2 Slim included an ethernet port, but no internal hard drive. This means those people who wanted to buy a PS2 Slim and continue to play EverQuest were SOL. Why do this?

The PlayStation 3 (PS3) is the newest of Sony's systems to get this treatment. The PS3 Slim was recently released. This system is 33% smaller than the original PS3. Yet again, it does not fix any issues except that it uses less power. Outside of that, there are no issues it really resolved. The one item PS3 fans have been asking for is to get PS2 compatibility. The PS3 Slim was not an answer to that hope.

Microsoft is not excluded from all this. The Xbox 360 has gone through several revisions and special editions. The 360 did not have an HDMI port when it was first released. This port was added on after the 360 received its first revision. In the era of HD gaming, the omission of the HDMI port is inexcusable.

There is one revision that does make sense though. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) got a top loading redesign. The top loading NES took queues from the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). The days of blowing in your NES cartridges and finagling them to play had come to an end. This was a smart redesign choice as it resolved an issue. The issue that it fixed was fighting with your NES games to get them to play. It is just a shame that this revision came along so late in the consoles life.

Where does all of this end? If gamers are not cautious and start putting an end to this, the options on new consoles will get ridiculous. The Xbox 720 could come in two different processors, three graphic card options, and all that would become obsolete a year later when the Xbox 720 Lite comes out.

You don't need to buy the light or slim versions of consoles. But at this rate, consoles will start having options that will be obsolete after its first revision. The first PS3 Slim revision could lead to more memory on the console. This would make games load faster, or even do away with load times. More graphic memory could be added, thus causing this revision to have better graphics.

Innovation is a good thing. Innovation that screws the early adopters, well that is just screwing the consumer. While most of the changes listed here can be argued as good changes, they come with a bit of caution to the early adopters. Buy the new console at your own risk, the next iteration could contain something that renders the current generation useless.

Editor’s Note: This article was focused on gaming systems, but Apple could easily fall into this debate with the iPod’s and iPhones. The bottom line is, buy what you want with the knowledge that next year there will be something better. If you’re not happy with the features a current model has, then just wait for the next generation. If you can’t wait and you need to have the newest model as soon as it comes out, then it’s a simple matter of buyer-beware.

As for when the Xbox 720 comes out, sure, I’ll want it. And I’m sure I’ll want it right away. But before I rush out and buy it I’m going to play all the games for the 360. By the time I’m done with that, maybe a better 720 will be out.