#2. Your Entire Home and Everything You Own Is Built Around Gaming
I don't want to come off like I'm picking on Microsoft here -- they're just in a bad news cycle where everything we hear about the new Xbox is terrible. But they in particular have this very strange picture of what the "average" gamer looks like. Because it's not just somebody who has a dedicated iPad they can use as a second Xbox controller, but a person who also has a huge room dedicated to gaming (the Kinect requires up to 10 feet of open floor space -- even a coffee table will block the signal).
"Finish up, guys, your father's Irish dance team is here."
For instance, the interesting-but-impractical IllumiRoom gadget works by rendering the rest of the room useless to non-players. In other words, they seem to be imagining the standard gamer as a young, upper-middle-class guy or girl who has a huge amount of floor space to dedicate to uninterrupted gaming -- a homeowner who either A) lives alone, B) has a spare room to turn into a gaming man cave, or C) imposes his gaming habits on everyone else in the household, their needs be damned.
Maybe I'm the one who's wrong? Because I picture the typical Xbox gamer as a college kid in a cramped dorm, or a teenager sitting on his bed with his Xbox propped up on his dresser, or a young city dweller in a cluttered apartment. To Microsoft, those are fringe cases, like Hammacher Schlemmer being shocked to find that there are people using their "handheld massagers" as vibrators.
"Sorry, I just don't see it."
Likewise, they seem to be confused by people being up in arms about some games requiring a 1.5 Mbps Internet connection to function in single player. The company line seems to be "We can't imagine that anyone who doesn't have Internet is somehow in the market for an Xbox One." But that's not the point -- the fastest DSL package to my home is 3.0 Mbps, which is more than enough unless someone else in the house is using Netflix, which chokes the connection to near zero. Again, the assumption is that everything in the house is dedicated to gaming, and only gaming.
Those hardcore "man cave" gamers exist, but there's not many of them. For example, there are 75 million Xbox 360s in the world, but only 46 million online accounts, and of those, only about half pay for the extra features of the "gold" account, which lets you do things like play multiplayer. So the "I can't live without all the bells and whistles" guy that Microsoft seems to think is typical appears to be a tiny group -- like 25 percent of current 360 owners, by my count.
But none of the above is as baffling as the lives lived by the people in the below PS4 promotional video, in which a 20-something kid lives in what appears to be an abandoned garage with no furniture, but with a PS4, a big TV, an incredibly fast Internet connection (look how fast he downloads several gigabytes of Killzone), and the ability to buy $60 games on impulse, because a friend mentioned it in passing:
Who the fuck are these people? They are evidence that the industry assumes ...
#1. You Have a Shitload of Money
Let me rebut another bit of bullshit I see in every discussion about games being expensive: "If you're that poor, you shouldn't have a video game console in the first place!"
The easy answer to this is, of course, "fuck you," but the easy answer backed up with data is that the PlayStation 2 sold more than 150 million consoles, and the vast majority of them sold after they dropped the price to $150. If you think there are, or ever were, 150 million upper-middle-class console gamers in the world, you're out of your damned mind. Gaming can be a very cheap hobby if done right. You can, right now, get a used console for $50 or so, rent games for five bucks for a weekend, or pick them up used for $20. I knew a guy who didn't have damned cable TV but still had two game consoles -- it was just the best bang for the buck among his entertainment options.
That appears to be over.
They announced that the Xbox One would launch at $499. If you ever want to play with another human in person, you'll need a second controller, and they'll be $59.99. If you want two games to start out with, they're $59.99 each. A year of Xbox Live Gold is $59.99. So with sales tax, that's about $750 to get a kid started at Christmas with one of these.
But that's not all that shocking -- if you adjust for inflation, it's the middle of the pack as far as consoles go. But that's where all the other shit starts coming into play -- like Microsoft killing game rentals and lending, and your ability to play old Xbox 360 games on it. These are all of the little loopholes that let the lower class types get in on gaming. You know, like the type of people who can't afford the required Internet connection it takes to make an Xbox One work (but don't worry, there are only 100 million of those people in the USA).
Statistically, two of these people live in poverty.
Sony's system is $100 cheaper, but their previously free multiplayer service will be free no more. All of this is perfectly understandable -- modern games cost a ton of money to make (rumors swirled that BioShock: Infinite cost $100 million to make and just as much to promote). Video games aren't like TV, where the big-budget shows like LOST have always been offset by zero-budget reality shows that fill out the rest of the slate. Likewise, movie studios don't just make The Avengers -- they'll crank out a couple of special effects extravaganzas, and then the rest of the year is packed with cheap romantic comedies and found-footage horror films. Gaming isn't like that -- to have any chance at being a hit, every game has to be a big, sprawling ordeal -- they have to either spend big on graphics, or spend big on pro sports licenses.
Someone has to pay, and I'm not pretending these companies are under some obligation to make gaming affordable to the masses. This isn't freaking baby formula here.
But I'm sad because the makers of the next-gen systems (and yes, Microsoft most of all) seem to have made a conscious decision to turn console gaming into a luxury product, aimed only at the high-end enthusiasts. It's perfectly fine from a business point of view -- that 25 percent of hardcore gamers I mentioned earlier also probably spend more on gaming than the rest of the audience combined, so why not shrink the base to just the most lucrative customers? I can't argue with them -- it's a free market, they don't owe us anything. I just hate to think that had I been born to my not-very-rich family a few decades later than I was, I wouldn't have had so many of the shared experiences that defined my childhood.
"Stand back! If he sucks you in, he absorbs your powers!"
Gaming was for us, and now it's for them. Here's a video of somebody tickling a baby penguin:
David Wong has written a New York Times best-seller that is also one of the all time best-reviewed books on Amazon. Also, his movie about dong monsters starring Paul Giamatti IS AVAILABLE FOR DOWNLOAD NOW ON iTUNES, AMAZON INSTANT VIDEO, YouTube, and any other streaming service you can think of.
For more from David, check out 5 Reasons It's Still Not Cool to Admit You're a Gamer and 5 Things the Gaming Industry Will Never Fix and Why.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Reasons to Be Angrier That the NSA Is Tapping Your Phone.
And stop by LinkSTORM to bang your game controller angrily.
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