Can Game Consoles Be All Things to All People?

Last Updated Jul 16, 2008 3:45 PM EDT

Playstation 3 ConsoleRemember the concept of the entertainment center? It would be a single piece of furniture in which you could fit a television, audio system, video recorder, and whatever else into a corner of the living room or den. But then the flat panel mounted on the wall, the DVD player and set top box went elsewhere, and audio was distributed around the room. If you look at the direction that gaming consoles are going, you get the sense that the vendors are trying again to create the entertainment center -- in the confines of a box that can even go with you as you travel.

From a marketing view, the idea is probably an imperative. Just consider the pressures:

  • Makers want to appeal beyond the tween and teen sets to expand the market size, because newer generations aren't swelling in size.
  • No vendor wants to be on the outs when it doesn't have the hottest system, and so needs to become more sticky.
  • No one wants to live in the world of PCs where margins are low and the market doesn't tie neatly into home entertainment.
  • If computing is moving to the Web and television offers the best image and sound display, everyone wants to become the interface between the two.
This has been the standard speculation of "convergence," but the announcements flying out of the E3 conference are showing some real attempts to push in that direction:
  1. Xbox 360 will enable streaming movies from Netflix.
  2. Playstation Network users will be able to rent and purchase movies and TV shows.
  3. Nintendo adds WiiSpeak that lets users around the world talk, like a VoIP telephone.
  4. Atari is releasing a cooking video game staring Jamie Oliver, with his recipes, intended to run on a Nintendo DS so people can take it to the grocery store.
  5. People are even talking about the iPhone as a new gaming platform.
It's like a modern take on Willie Sutton's reason for robbing banks: That's where the money is. Most people use PCs to do specific things, such as watch videos, see web sites, and listen to music. You'll know that the real danger signals are out for the personal computer industry when the game consoles and portable devices offer office productivity suites. Have Word, Will Spend.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.