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An Open Console Future

Those who follow the game industry track several on-going debates. One of the most vital points of contention is whether or not an industry future that replaces competing platforms (such as Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft’s) with an open console platform created by a consortium (not unlike DVD was) would be the most beneficial. Last week’s 1up Yours podcast (right-click to save) featured a lengthy discussion on this topic.

Those who follow the game industry track several on-going debates. One of the most vital points of contention is whether or not an industry future that replaces competing platforms (such as Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft’s) with an open console platform created by a consortium (not unlike DVD was) would be the most beneficial. Last week’s 1up Yours podcast (right-click to save) featured a lengthy discussion on this topic.

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With Sony’s announcement of distributing a free graphics engine called PhyreEngine, I realized that maybe the one console future is possible — but with an open software solution to make it happen. Someone once said that video game industry’s technical hurdle of constant software creation is as if a film director had to reinvent the camera every time they wanted to make a movie. I believe an open console with open software could alleviate that problem.

The next generation of game system from Microsoft (for example), inevitably coming out November 2010, could utilize open source software. MS and others could create a consortium to manage this open source software. It could have an open source graphics engine, physics engine (with whiz-bang physics features like in the coming Star Wars game), and what not. Microsoft would still issue licenses to publish games (like they do now for X-Box 360), but one requirement to publish games for this theoretical X-Box 2010 is that the technical code (but not the content or IP) of the games becomes open source and joins the Open Source tools that other developers can use. With a consortium managing these tools, there would be no need to reinvent the engines to create games every few years.

If this system is successful, the following generation of videogames, say in 2015, could truly be open. The consortium that manages the Open Source software could be expanded to include an open hardware platform. With such a set-up any electronics company that wanted to create an Open-Box, could do so. And any game developer that wanted to create a game using the Open Source tools would be free to. This Gaming Consortium would still monitor titles to set standards and would still insure any published games’ technical attributes are incorporated into the Open Source tools, but the Open-Box hardware would be open and would not require a license to publish for.

Such an evolution would lower the price of the hardware (because of the broad market of consoles, like DVD players now), allowing for more mainstream adoption of gaming. It would also lower the cost of game development, which has doubled in cost every five years as each new platform is released. It would standardize most of the technical aspects of games so that game developers can concentrate on the content itself. And what is better than allowing creators to focus on creating?

This situation would allow the possibility to address another on-going debate in the gaming industry — whether games can ever be considered art. A completely open platform would be a more fertile field for artistic innovation. In such a future, games that are critically-acclaimed due to their creativity, like BioShock and Portal, may not be so rare. Then game developers would be competing with their game’s content and artistic qualities.

The DVD format was a success (unlike the last two years of the HD format war). And tools with a degree of openness are on the rise (Sony’s PhyreEngine, Valve’s Steamworks, and Microsoft’s XNA platform). So, why can’t this future happen? All it takes is enough companies willing to work together as a consortium and willing to change the status quo.

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Let me know if you think this is feasible or why it wouldn’t work.

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About the author

His work has also been published by Kill Screen, Tom's Guide, Tech Times, MTV Geek, GameSpot, Gamasutra, Laptop Mag, Co.Create, and Co.Labs. Focusing on the creativity and business of gaming, he is always up for a good interview or an intriguing feature.

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