Monday, 19 March 2012

Competition is Good

An article wherein Notch proves to be a reasonable guy with reasonable ideas.

I've often wondered idly about what would happen if a clear victor were to emerge out of the console wars, it's probably something that every gamer has thought about at least in passing from time to time. Fanboys froth at the thought of their "one true company" blowing away the competition and becoming the dominant force in gaming. Well, it might be a fun thought to entertain now and then, but the reality of the situation would probably be a lot grimmer of true dominance were ever to be established.

My thought process regarding this was recently prompted by some comments that Minecraft developer Markus "Notch" Persson made in a GameSpy interview regarding online distribution services like Steam and Origin:

GameSpy: Given that you've been a major part of PC gaming's recent evolution, I'm sure you've kept up with recent developments like EA's Origin. It's been gaining publisher traction but pissing off a veritable army of keyboard warriors. What's your take on that, though? Does EA need to shape up, or is Origin harmless?

I think it's a bit dangerous to only have one digital distribution platform like Steam. I love Valve, but out of principle, I find the idea of one platform a bit scary. So I like that there are others competing – for example, Desura and Impulse, who recently got bought by GameStop. It's a good thing that there are more.

Origin does a couple things badly compared to Steam -- which is impressive since they had eight years to study Steam. They should definitely have a chance to do their thing, but they might want to move away from titles that make people use it and show people why they should use it.

But I think, in principle, it's a good thing.

I could help but think about how reasonable of a stance that is to take regarding different vendors selling the same service. I've read a lot of complaints about Origin, but I'm still thankful they're there, even if I don't ever really plan to use it as a service. There's nothing wrong with competition because it keeps companies from getting complacent or worse, corrupt.

Take Steam for example: it's certainly not perfect, but a lot of people (myself included) are happy with what it offers overall. If tomorrow it became the sole provider of online PC game distribution then not much would change in the short term, but after a while I think that it would be ultimately hard for Valve to keep from doing things that they couldn't get away with doing now because people can turn to other online distribution hubs. More DRM might pop up, some demos would be downloaded onto your PC whether you wanted them or not -- something that the recent accident involving the Rayman: Origins demo proved people do not care for in the slightest -- prices could rise, sales become more and more infrequent: all of this from the lack of competition.

With consoles I can only imagine that it would be even worse. Some companies would likely go under depending who they put the most stock in: choose wrong and all of a sudden you're left dealing with one company that knows they weren't your first choice and might be just a smidge bitter about it. Innovation would also stagnate because there would be no need to compete with what anyone else puts out. Could you imagine if say, the Nintendo 64 had definitely won the console wars? Who knows what kind of stuff we'd be seeing today, depending on things like when or even if Nintendo decided to do away with cartridge based mediums; something they were quite hesitant to do before Sony and Sega started pushing with the Dreamcast and Playstation.

Thankfully, I don't think there's going to be a "winner" of the console or PC wars anytime soon, and frankly that's for the best. With so much competition even if we see some less than desirable results from time to time it's still clear that more often then not that we, the consumers, come out slightly ahead thanks to squabbles of the big three. Here's hoping it stays that way for a good, long time.

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