Wednesday, July 09, 2008

a single PC standard

Yesterday, I said that game prices should be more similar to DVD prices than to utility software prices. I realized afterward that one of the barriers to that change is the lack of unified standards for PC software. A CD or DVD can be expected to play on any hardware of a given region (America, Europe, Asia, etc). But every PC game is made with different hardware demands.

It doesn't have to be that way.

First, let me say that I don't believe, or even hope, that the game industry will see a time of one platform... or even one data storage method. There will always be some variety, and I thank God for that. I also think that PCs will continue to be developed at a pace that leaves many consumers with outdated hardware and heterogeneous units (mixes of old and new components). Though the computer industry might eventually model itself (if it hasn't already) after the automobile industry, which plans decades into the future and withholds truly "current" technologies so that progress can be made gradually (and every penny can be squeezed).

That said, the auto industry could similarly be a model for cooperation between competing producers to set unified standards. If EA, Ubisoft, Activision, Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft, and other big publishers would be willing to work together in this way, then they could agree on an appropriate pace of technological development. In other words, they (and companies like Nvidia, Intel, AMD, etc) could agree each year on maximum system specs for all games. Some developers would continue to make games for cutting-edge computers or "retro" machines, but developers working through the industry bosses would work within a particular range of specifications... resulting in more predictable software and higher consumer confidence.

Is this realistic? I certainly acknowledge that it is unlikely in the immediate future and would emerge gradually if it did occur. But, as I've said, look at the automobile industry (I'm sure it's not the only example). This sort of thing has happened in the past, so it could happen again, right? And if it's a possibility, publishers should begin the discussion now... many years before the change would occur.

... and if it does happen, I suppose I could be wrong about hardware advances. The hardware industry would adapt to such a change in software. Games, afterall, are the primary movers of hardware advancement in residential computer sales.

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