THE VIDEO-GAME MAKERS
Copyright 2001 www.tombraiderchronicles.com
[ November 19th 2001 ]
not often an industry prays for the dominance
of a single company, even less so when that business
happens to be Microsoft, recently branded as a
pursuer of uncompetitive practices.
week's launch of Microsoft's new games console,
xBox, will have been greeted by computer games'
developers with delight, together with the hope
that it will live up to its hype. The reason for
this seemingly odd behaviour is simple: the games
industry is beset by differing standards on different
consoles. The result has been a business hamstrung
Eidos, for example. The UK group has developed
some of the most popular titles in the business,
Tomb Raider and Championship Manager among them.
Yet in the late 1990s the company became a byword
for nasty surprises - read profit warnings - as
its financial fortunes mirrored the vagaries of
the computer games market. The nub of the problem
is the intense competition among the console makers.
In order to reinforce user loyalty, they have
consistently flooded the market with information
about developments, be it faster machines, better
graphics or improved interactivity.
for example, that Sega would be bringing out a
new version of its Dreamcast console would prompt
thousands of users to delay buying any more games
until they had the new machine. So, is xBox going
to be the console to end all consoles and give
the games industry the stability it craves? It's
certainly a big leap forward in terms of its technology,
being the first machine to be internet-ready.
This in turn opens up the tantalising prospect
of online gaming, the Holy Grail of games developers.
They envisage a world in which gamers can compete
against each other via the internet from different
countries, users can bet against their performance
and the expense of CD-Rom production, marketing
and distribution will be made redundant.
groups could also interact with users, employing
them as developers, as well as testers. The potential
for the big games companies to become true global
brands, free from the hassle and cost of offline
sales, would be enormous. Little surprise then
that the share prices of the leading publishers,
such as Electronic Arts, have rocketed since signing
up to become xBox games developers.
and Sony will be hoping that user loyalties will
prove stronger than some analysts fear. Both Japanese
groups - no surprise here - have announced new
versions of their consoles, Nintendo's GameCube
and Sony's PlayStation 2, and also plan internet
capabilities. The only question is how quickly
this happens and how much of a headstart Microsoft
it is not just the internet aspect that makes
xBox such a potent threat. Its hard disk enables
it to power graphics that have won rave reviews
from battle-hardened reviewers. Given that most
gamers are drawn from the younger, more fickle,
end of the user spectrum, Sony and Nintendo should
be afraid. Then there is Microsoft's marketing
muscle. The software giant is forecast to lose
$1bn before xBox turns a profit, a figure it can
easily afford, notwithstanding the $500m it is
spending on publicising the new launch.
to market, a leap in technology and deep, deep
pockets make xBox a formidable threat to the existing
players. Indeed, there were rumours swirling around
Las Vegas last week, scene of the world's largest
technology fair, that the three main console groups
could soon become two, Microsoft said to be in
talks with either, or both, Sony and Nintendo.
Rather than face a bruising fight, agreement on
common standards may be one way forward, with
Microsoft rewarding either of its rivals with
some share of its production contract.
would suit the games developers even better than
domination, but it seems, either way, they will
come out of this the winners.