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It’s the noun stupid - Video Game Consoles

Posted: 06.23.10
“Spacewar” in action. (Source: MIT)

I couldn’t understand after all these years why the press keeps referring to, and getting excited about “video games,” and yet never mentioned the PC.

The first console dates back to the “Brown Box,” Ralph Baer developed at Sanders in 1962 (although Baer says he thought of it in 1952.) Sanders licensed it to Magnavox in 1969, and Magnavox then released it in 1972 as the Odyssey.

However, the first computer game, “Spacewar,” was developed on a PDP-1 in 1961 by Martin Graetz, Steve Russell, and Wayne Wiitanen at MIT.

Actually, using a computer to play a “game” dates back to 1946 when a missile game was designed for playing on a CRT by Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann. But those examples were laboratory games, not products, and the Odyssey was a commercial product (and sold about 100,000 in the first year.)

Well DUH…. “Video games,” to the press means consoles and maybe handheld devices like DS and PSP. “Video” coming from the video of the TV—TV-Video, it’s all the same thing isn’t it? They don’t call them graphics games, or PC games, do they?

You see “PC games” are just another app that runs on PCs, but console games, well, they’re video games – don’t you see the difference? Big companies like Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, Activision, EA, Ubisoft and others are in the video games market and as NPD tells us, it’s big, really BIG—in the U.S. which is the market NPD measures. Video Games is an index, something to watch. PC games, on the other hand are just one more application out of many.

And, just in case you’ve not been keeping score, these $300 ASP console devices with TV resolution have, since 2005, sold almost 270 million units. Well yes, PCs sell 300 million every year, and yes the ASP is close to $1,000 and yes they have higher resolution monitors—but—they are not single function dedicated devices like a console—why shucks, it’s like comparing a dedicated $200 e-reader to a $700 iPad.

According to Strategy Analytics, the video game market worldwide has grown by over 50% in the period 2005-2010 and is estimated to be worth $47.5 billion in 2010. We think the PC hardware—just hardware—gaming market will be worth $29 billion next year.

So now, after all these years, I finally get it—video games = consoles. I can put my sword away and give those windmills a reprieve. No longer do I have to carry on the crusade to get the PC a little respect. If you’re interested in computer games you’ll have to look elsewhere for data. NPD and GFX may have some PC game sales data, but they don’t like to talk about it. Increasingly, these titles are not sold in the stores. And how would you measure all the game downloads from Steam and other sources—not everyone goes to Walmart to buy a game you know (and even if they did, NPD doesn’t collect cash register data from Walmart.)

E3, the Electronics Entertainment Expo, is primarily a console game conference. Probably, the show organizers should just admit that and clearly market the show as a console show. Every once in a while over the years the PC folks would go to E3, but this year only Alienware and Intel were on the show floor and Nvidia had a meeting room.

Game developers, including Activision, EA, and Ubisoft say they don’t like the PC because of software piracy. This is a specious claim given that one of their major issues is stopping Console game piracy. And with download sites like Steam is it really an issue? I think it’s more a matter of the PC moving too fast for them. As a result they design for a console and then re-port to the PC resulting in 50% of the PC’s power going to waste.

So maybe we need an E4—Extreme Electronics Engagement Experience conference and this show will be devoted to games designed for the most advanced graphics platforms out there. And maybe that’s what all this is really about. Maybe, what’s really got me all riled up is that I’m afraid people will stop developing games that take advantage of the great graphics hardware that’s available on the PC. And when that days comes, I’m going back to the beer distribution business in Newark.