I used to play video games all the time. I was put on academic probation one semester in college because I was too focused on Halo 2, among other games, instead of that whole higher learning part. As the real world slowly took over these past few years, my gaming habits have significantly changed. Depending on your perspective they have changed for the better or the worse but simply put, I’m not the gamer I used to be. Right now free time is a commodity and too often I am finding myself hesitating to sit down and spend that free time with random people online hurling insults or losing myself in an epic single player experience. It’s not that I’m quitting video games or anything, just that my gaming habits are evolving into something different. And yet despite these changes, I don’t think any of the major consoles makers and their respective decision makers are too worried.
So why not spend some free time with me and the rest of this post?
I remember when the PlayStation 2 first launched one of the big selling points was that it could also function as a DVD player, serving two noteworthy purposes out of the box. Do you remember how big of a deal that was? It plays movies too? Compared to offerings today, the PlayStation 2 feature set is rather barebones (although the Wii still can’t play DVDs), but that additional feature was the foundation of the breadth of features the current generation of consoles has placed at our fingertips. And despite the slow burn that is the rise of the Blu-ray disc format and the initial price point of the console at launch, Sony has been somewhat successful with that similar strategy with the PlayStation 3. Last I checked, the PlayStation 3 is, dollar for dollar, one of the better Blu-ray players on the market. The cool thing is, that while it is an acceptable Blu-ray player, it also plays some pretty sweet games.
Now with digital content becoming more and more accessible, these machines are doing so many more things than just playing games. Some might scoff at the new commercials for the PlayStation 3 featuring fake pitch-man Kevin Butler and the “It Only Does Everything” campaign, but the list of features available on the PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360 continue to grow. While the quality of games continue to improve and that will always be a primary selling point for these consoles, these companies are working diligently to provide consumers with a well-rounded experience that may, or may not involve actually playing a video game. Spend hours voting in worthless polls submitted by users on the Wii. Walk around in Home for the night and see how many people you can annoy. Check messages and photos on Facebook, post to Twitter, zone out to some music from Last.fm from the Xbox 360 dashboard. This isn’t a sales pitch, just a glimpse at the different offerings available to you, before you consider playing a game.
Then there’s Netflix. One Instant Watch queue and a plethora of ways to access it. Streaming players, Internet connected Blu-ray players, Interntet connected HD Televisions, TiVo set top boxes, home theaters and of course, the major gaming consoles all offer access to Netflix’s vast libray of streaming content. Again, another excuse to turn on your console but not even think about playing a video game. During my little gaming “hiatus” my PlayStation 3 still got a lot of use but all I would do was turn it on and boot up my free Instant Watch disc. My Wii has spent more time being on in the past two months than it has the past two years and yet no Smash Bros., no Mario, no balance boards, no mini games – just Arrested Development and Firefly.
And now Hulu+ is coming to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3? It seems like as long as you are turning on their console for something, these companies aren’t too concerned with the reason just yet. Sure, software sales are great, but the games will still be there after you finish that last episode of ‘Man vs. Food’. Hulu on your video game console is just another gateway drug. While I don’t see Hulu and Netflix alone selling someone on a $300 piece of technology, word of mouth and second hand experience might be enough to spark interest. Bring in new consumers through something familiar like Hulu or Netflix and keep them around for Rock Band or even Halo. There’s no telling where an path starting with Hulu could take a prospective Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 owner, but these companies are banking on the potential of extended console use that may include video games, but it doesn’t necessarily have to.
As I said, it seems like these companies are caring less and less about the reason you are using their console as long as it’s their console you are using. There is a steady increase of content that doesn’t require twitch reflexes or a bluetooth headset to enjoy and I couldn’t be happier. I might not be turning on my Xbox 360 as much to enjoy Beast Mode or a legitimate matchmaking experience with my Firefight, but I know Microsoft can’t be too disappointed as long as I’m turning my Xbox 360 on for something. These consoles are true multi-purpose devices and as the number of additional features continues to grow, it’s likely that this combined repertoire might outshine the original intent of these devices. I’m not sure if that keeps Microsoft and Sony executives up at night or if it helps them sleep better. One thing is for sure though, each time we get a new feature to enjoy it makes me more and more excited to be a gamer. We get all the fun toys.
This post is featured on Talking About Games. Tell ‘em SugarFree sent you.