Has gaming technology progressed so far that it's no longer reliable?
- From: "boodybandit" <allaboutgamez@xxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 4 May 2007 08:45:25 -0400
In my basement, I have an original Nintendo Entertainment System. It's parked right next to an Atari 2600, above a Super Nintendo, not too far from a Sega Genesis (with a Sega CD and 32X attached, natch). My Dreamcast, Saturn, and even my Atari Jaguar all share the same shelf. All of these relics still function just fine, hooked up in a corner that has become a sort of a museum of gaming's past. There's even a Sega Game Gear floating around down there somewhere, along with various iterations of Gameboys and a NeoGeo Pocket Color unit.
All of these systems work, all can be played without any issue, and many of them are older than my daughter. The technology, though nothing by today's standards, still does exactly what it was constructed to do: offer a gamer fun and entertainment (or quizzical looks from my friends, in the Jaguar's case)
Upstairs, hooked up to the "big TV", we have a much more modern look at the hobby. An Xbox, Playstation 2, Wii, and Xbox 360 vie for my attention, with stacks of games for each that I'll probably never have the time to play.
In looking at this more recent crop of consoles, though, I begin to have questions about where the technology is heading. I've been lucky with my PS2 in the sense that it hasn't had the various "disc read error" messages or other technical issues that so many people have suffered through (but I hardly play the system anymore, so it hasn't had a chance to give me any problems). My original Xbox works most of the time, occasionally freezing up in the middle of a random game. So while for the most part I've been OK, I know that there was a pretty large group of gamers that have had issues with both of those consoles over their lifespan.
The Xbox 360, though, is a different story. I'm on my fifth or sixth console now, and this latest one is giving me random issues. I've had to deal with everything from the red ring of death to the disc tray not opening to the system just not playing certain games. In listening to the gaming world beyond my living room, I hear similar stories echoed through message boards and in the game store where I work. While I don't personally own a Playstation 3, in keeping my ear to the ground I hear more horror stories about overheating, locking up during games or movies, controller issues, and such.
Which brings me to my point (yes, I have one): Have the console manufacturers overstepped their limits? In the race to get more photorealistic graphics, more immersive sound, and more features (online! movie playback! music! deep frying!), have we gone past the point where we, as humans, can even build the tech we're envisioning?
My basic thought is that maybe we've just built too far ahead of ourselves, or at least farther than is affordable in a consumer space. We've gotten so focused on what the machine can do performance-wise, that we've stopped making sure that the machine can do the most basic functions, like turn on and play games. Rather than take the time to ensure that everything works like it should, there's a race to see how much we can pack into the shell before sending it out into the world, before it's ready to be there. The end result is that the systems are malfuctioning at a much higher rate than they should, and everybody is shrugging their shoulders and saying that this is to be expected with such a high tech device.
To put it another way: let's imagine a car company comes up with a great idea for putting auto-pilot into their cars. This technology hasn't exactly reached the point where we should be putting it into consumer vehicles, but the manufacturer just scoffs at this. "This is what car drivers want!" they exclaim. So they install the auto-pilot into their entire 2008 line. Since it's more advanced than their builders can actually handle, there's a high rate of failure.
They release the cars anyway, to get a jump on the other car manufacturers who are now planning to put the same technology in their 2008 cars as well. Almost immediately, people are bringing back their cars with technical issues. "Most people are having a great experience with their auto-pilot cars", the manufacturer says, "This is only a small percentage of our car users".
"Besides," they exclaim, "look at all the other things our cars can do!"
Perhaps we've just hit this "disposable" mentality where we don't even expect to get more than a few years out of a machine before we've moved on anyway. The manufacturers don't expect us to still be playing the console once their next generation hits the shelves, so at most the machine has to last five years before they want us to rush out and buy the shiniest new toy. In the earlier days of gaming, when the next generation of consoles was not assured, maybe the mentality was different.
Basically, I'm wondering why I can still play my NES after over twenty years but can't get more than a few months out of an Xbox 360.
The car manufacturer shrugs their shoulders, offers to extend the warranty in order to keep replacing the problematic vehicles without actually correcting them, and happily says "Wait until our 2009 lineup!"
So what was the problem in that poorly constructed analogy? The car people, rather than take the time necessary to make sure they could build what they envisioned, rushed the product through development and testing in order to get it out before their competitor did. They figured they'd fix any problems after the fact, rather than waiting the extra year to see if they could get everything perfect before unleashing it onto the world.
Would gamers really have risen up in outrage, torches and pitchforks raised, if they had to wait an extra year or so for a next generation system. Was the Xbox/ Gamecube/ PS2 generation so past its prime that people just couldn't bear to play these systems another moment, and were clamoring for a new system or they'd abandon the hobby entirely?
Yeah, tell that to the people still playing on their Super Nintendos.
Maybe I'm overreacting. I've dutifully replaced my 360 each time it's died. I'm not (really) coming down on the Xbox, as I am still a huge fan of the games they're putting out for the system, and because even when I'm pissed off about gaming I'm still a gamer and I need my daily Oblivion fix. I'm not just pointing at Microsoft, either: there are just as many questions and issues with the Playstation 3, but since I don't have as much hands-on time with that console I can only speak from what I've heard from others.
I was even thinking about upgrading to a shiny new Elite, figuring that a lot of the bugs had been ironed out. The message boards are already lit up, though, less than a week after launch, with more horror stories and problems. Even if only a percentage of them are accurate, after spending that much money on something you'd expect a pretty high chance of it working without any problems.
Is there any easy answer? Probably not. Unfortunately, I think we as an industry have painted ourselves into a corner when it comes to technology. Now that we've put DVD players and hard drives and music playback into our consoles, if someone were to pull them out we'd see them as stepping backwards, even if taking out some of this stuff would help them create a better console in the long run. They say we need backwards compatibility, because people want it even though hard numbers show that les that 5% of people play previous generation games on their new consoles.
Since one manufacturer makes a big deal out of it, though, all must follow suit regardless of any technical hit they may take in the process. Personally, I'd rather give up the chance to play an old game on my new hardware if it means that said new hardware will function better. Competition has gotten much more fierce, though, one-upmanship has become standard, and the manufacturers are convinced that gamers want bigger and better and faster and stronger, mostly because those happen to be the loudest and most outspoken gamers. Ironically, they're also the first ones on the message boards flipping out over the issues they're having.
If this was true, though, and all gamers wanted were better graphics and sound and such, then why is the Wii stomping the competition? Maybe it is just some remote-waving fad, but right now I'd say that innovation is trumping graphics, and fun is outselling DVD playback and MP3 support. On a smaller scale, the DS is running dual-screened circles around the PSP, proving that fun and gameplay still wins out over technology and features.
So, a message to the next next-generation of consoles: Take your time. Make sure that everything works like it should, that your technicians actually know how to build and use the stuff you're shoving into your machine. We can live that extra year or two with our "outdated" 360's and PS3's while you get it right.
Plus, when those break down, I can always go downstairs and play on my NES.
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