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Game Consoles Hit Milestones Toward What Goal?

Both Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 reached sales milestones in Japan last week -- 3 and 1 million units, respectively -- but I'm not sure I understand the long-term strategy for game consoles.

Both Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 reached sales milestones in Japan last week -- 3 and 1 million units, respectively -- but I'm not sure I understand the long-term strategy for game consoles.I used to think that consoles were the stealth technology for becoming digital entertainment hubs, as the pricing (much lower than a desktop PC) and purpose (an immediately entertaining use) seemed matched to the purchase intentions of a large group of likely buyers (young people with money to burn). The shoot-'em-up games that drove sales of Sony's and Microsoft's first-gen consoles would give way to a variety of entertainment media, which would move ever-more consumers to swap their TV remotes for game controllers. 2-D staring would be replaced by 3-D playing.

But that hasn't happened, has it? Sure, titles have expanded into the sports realm (a giant driver of sales), but most games are still stuck in the combat mode. A new category called "casual gaming" has emerged, whether online or via cellphones, which has siphoned away new players (like adult women). Even invention of new UI, like the Nintendo Wii's marvelous motion-sensor thingee, has moved hardware sales only as far as the available game content will allow.

So where do you think it all goes?

I'm still waiting for that new generation of games that aren't the console corollary of "Fast & Furious." I regularly check my local videogame retailer to find games that play like immersive movies, using interactivity to build character, plot, and meaning. Such titles could prompt more/better ways to deliver (and support) the content...like new ways to connect consoles to the Internet, and less clumsy (or maddeningly proprietary) ways to access other stuff once you get there. This, in turn, could yield more ideas that realized social communities among more segments of gamers.

I guess I still see a long-term strategy, after all. Maybe what I'm really pondering is whether sales of console brands represent any meaningful milestones without it?

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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