*Really* OT: Re: Game economics (was Re: The good old days of tape players)

From: Chris Kennedy <chris_at_mainecoon.com>
Date: Wed Dec 1 22:00:46 1999

Mike Ford wrote:


> I would hazard putting forth the view that a "cycle" exists in gaming where
> consoles dominate a few years, then take a nose dive, and computer based
> gaming dominates, repeat. Video games have some powerfull points pro and
> con.

At any given level of technology it's easy to get an absurd price/performance
advantage over a more generic solution by addressing a particular special case.
As technology advances the generic solution will become competitive with the
special case, but historically a new special case solution using contemporary
technology evolves, again allowing the special case solution to provide
superior price/performance.

Part of the phenomina with games has to do with the hardware lifecycle of
consoles. Unlike generic processors, you can't do a subsequent shrink
or change process. This isn't rooted in economics, it's rooted in the
amazing fact that in this day instructions are still, in effect, hand
scheduled around the processor's clock speed and bus behavior. So whatever
you ship on day one is what you ship on day last. That console games have
the lifetime that they do is simply amazing. Imagine the x86 family
shipping at only one clock speed for the lifetime of the processor.

> Pro
> Dedicated hardware, massive sales, and low priced consoles.
> Con
> Low priced consoles mean hardware budgets are TIGHT, serious lack of talent
> (ie lets do Donkey Kong one more time), no third party innovation, 3 dozen
> different games isn't a lot choose from, Long product revision cycles (ala
> 3 years vs 6 months). TV based products have limits that PC based does not.

Hardware budgets are subsidised by software revenue. Software budgets aren't
tight at all; SCE claimed the average development budget for a single title for
the PS1 was in excess of *twenty million US dollars.*

> I can play most N64 games on a moderate PC, most playstation games on a
> newer G3 mac. When you look at just what a current generation machine can
> do, I'm not sure how much all those bells and whistles will really gain a
> person in actual game play on the new consoles.

Probably not much until the guys writing the code come to grips with it. Well,
there *are* some obvious things; the PS1 uses static backgrounds or backgrounds
which are pulled from CD; the PS2 synthesizes them on the fly. There's such
an obscene amount of computing power in the box and enough persistant store that
SCE requires that titles be designed to modify their behavior based on the
past behavior of the gamer. I've only seen a few game trailers, the image fidelity
is much better than on the PS1 and N64 and there are nice little touches, like
clouds of steam when characters exhale in cold rooms :-) The point is that a new
G3 mac can't approximate the level of hardware that's in current generation
(the PS1 is hardly current) consoles; by the time it does there will be another
batch of oddball speciality hardware (and it *is* oddball. When was the last
time that you saw a CPU chip which could be a DMA target?) with another batch
of hopelessly counterintuitive instructions specified by the game writers
ready to take up the challenge.

Chris Kennedy
PGP fingerprint: 4E99 10B6 7253 B048 6685  6CBC 55E1 20A3 108D AB97
Received on Wed Dec 01 1999 - 22:00:46 GMT

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