The last Saturday before Christmas, Hell has frozen over and the crazy shoppers invade the streets of Leeds once again to purchase their presents in a mad rush for a day that is meant to celebrate the birth of the Holy One. Instead we help inject the struggling economy with a nationwide bout of spending for a short time and retail hopes to gain every last penny and pound from it (I'm not being cynical in the slightest, honest).
So a Merry Christmas to all and please, on Christmas Day, just stay home and put your feet up. Leeds can be quiet for one Saturday of the year for a change, can't it? (So much for wishful thinking...)
Moving on, I'm aware this is not the first time the subject has been raised on the matter but I thought I'd write something to try and stimulate some conversation (and possibly debate) about whether a fourth major competitor could, and should, enter the existing highly, highly competitive games market.
Roll back the years by twenty or so. Who do you remember being the main competitors in the video games market? No, not every single one. The main two?...
...That's right. Nintendo and SEGA. For years they were the two major Japanese companies that went head-to-head, trying to outdo each other with some form of innovation present in their current console or handheld at the time, playing the one-up game against each other and aggressively so. The NES and Master System, the SNES and Megadrive as well as (although not directly comparable in terms of power) the N64 and Saturn and the Gamecube and Dreamcast. For many years gamers knew nothing else and that was the way it was until Sony and Microsoft came into the market and since then it has (and will never be) the same again.
Flash forward again to the modern day and what do we have? The market is definitely in an interesting state at the moment to say the least. Nintendo seem to have gone the way of Apple and made its hardware, the Wii and DS (and some of its software) accessible to people from all walks of life; from kids to adults to eighty year-old grans who can kick your arse on Wii Sports.
Sony did lose some ground with the launch and slow uptake of the Playstation 3 upon release but has in recent times experienced steady growth and renewed faith among players in difficult market conditions. The partial surprise (or maybe not so much if you break it down) is Microsoft gaining popularity and many an online gamer with the Xbox 360. Although the machine still experiences difficulty selling in territories such as Japan, one only has to remember the immense size and wealth of the Microsoft company to realise that it very much is a company where its money (and game exclusives) certainly talks.
Let's not delude ourselves here. Each of the existing major competitors in the current games market have fought hard and taken their own approaches to gaining, maintaining and increasing market share in a notoriously competitive and difficult industry. Let's also realise that out of the three main competitors, one is a multinational electronics manufacturer and the other the biggest provider of PC operating systems and software around the world. Where possibly could there be the space for a fourth competitor among the big boys then?
Think of Apple's popularity in recent years. Formerly a provider of Mac computers and laptops (Macbooks) to advocates of their brand over regular PCs, they are renowned for their ease of use, editing, creating, designing and all around reliability. They see the rise in popularity of MP3 players and decide to make the market their own with the iPod. “What's the big deal though? It's just another MP3 player!” I can remember friends of mine saying at the time. And yet now the iPod is as synonymous with the MP3 player as Hoover is with vacuum cleaners.
Since then we've had the iPhone, its variants and most recently the iPad. Although Apple's devices are typically expensive compared with other alternatives on the market, their reliability, usefulness and brand image have assured their increasing popularity and advocation by consumers the world over. Moreover, how many independent developers have released titles for the iPhone/iPad in the hopes of making the next hit title on a meagre budget (such as Canabalt or Angry Birds) for a maximum return in revenue? Furthermore, how many of the general public who own some form of Apple product would prefer to buy a game for 50p-£1 and play for 5-10 minutes a day rather than spend anything up to £40-£50 and dedicate hours to a newly purchased title in order to feel their purchase was worth it? Just go ask the owners of iPhones/iPads and you'll quickly find out.
It would be foolish to forget another potential contender for fourth place among the industry big hitters. Who would have thought that Google would one day supercede Yahoo as the most popular internet search engine? And yet here we are, commonly using Google for many of our day-to-day internet searching needs (if you want to contest that claim you can Google it, of course). Not only successful with search engines, Google has developed an easy to use and speedy web browser with Google Chrome, allowed online users to edit and share documents via Google Docs and has made its search engine and other software available on numerous mobile phones such as HTC-brand models and the android series of handsets.
Besides the current mood in the games market, the majority of the world enduring an economic recession and the possibility of a double-dip occurring next year (think a repeat of the economy's worst in 2009), are there any other major reasons why one of the most successful companies on the planet that is experiencing continual growth should not get its hands further into the gaming market?
It maybe is not so much a question of can Google do so or not but in what way can they enter the market, and more importantly, how can it sustain its presence once it has claimed its place alongside the existing competition? Anyone in their right mind knows in the current climate that Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft do not want either Apple, Google or some unexpected contender to be getting a slice of their games market pie if they can help it, ever.
Do you want there to be a fourth competitor in the games market? And do you think there is even any space for another company to have a reasonable market share alongside the main three of Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft? Any thoughts, go ahead and record them in the Comments section below.