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The curse of “configurable” consoles

By on January 23, 2009

The NPD data for December 2008 released last week made interesting reading. Over 2.1 million Wii consoles were sold in the US alone in December, which is a phenomenal figure. But maybe it’s not just the unique control interface that makes the Wii so successful with casUpdateual “infrequent” gamers. Maybe it’s the fact that you can actually play games when you want to. Let me explain…

After comments from several part-time gamers recently, I believe there is a real issue with both the XBox 360 and PS3  for “infrequent” gamers which is rarely mentioned. An issue which affects people who only play their console one night every week or two. And the issue is that it’s often impossible to get started without having to spend between 10-60 minutes downloading a new system firmware update or a patch for the game you want to play.

The biggest advantage consoles used to have over PCs was the fact that you could just stick a game in, and play it in seconds. Not any more.  Between them, the PS3 and 360 have had over 45 new system updates since launch, most of which were compulsory. And that doesn’t count the hundreds, possibly thousands of game patches that have been released in that time, which you must download before you can play the game.

For many people I know, this is becoming a major issue. Many casual players only play fairly infrequently, in short bursts. Maybe an hour grabbed here, 30 minutes there, often a few weeks between sessions. A game of Fifa or Madden with your mates every couple of weeks – that kind of thing.

And this is exactly where the decision to make “configurable consoles” is falling down. In the UK, the majority of players are still using copper wires for Broadband with BT (or companies that use the BT infrastructure). And therefore, broadband often isn’t really broad. System updates can take 30-45 minutes. Game patches can take 5-20 minutes. Snatching a ‘quick 30 minutes’ is a joy that next-gen consoles are taking away. Of course, the Wii has system and software updates too, but they rarely seem to be required in order to play the games.

“Configurable consoles” have some huge plus points – just look at Home, or to a lesser extent, the NXE. But the console manufactuers need to come up with a solution that allows updates to download when the console isn’t in use, without using up ridiculous amounts of electricity.

For casual part-time players, the newest generation of consoles means more downloading, and less playing. And that’s a real turn-off.

About Patrick O'Luanaigh

I'm CEO of nDreams Ltd, a production company/development studio based in Farnborough, UK. I wrote a book called Game Design Complete, used to be Creative Director of SCi/Eidos and have a wife, two girls and one cat.