Models, Revisions, Add-ons are all the rage – A perspective

In a previous article I discussed the peripheral craze and how it can be incredibly ridiculous at times.  That got me thinking though, what about all the madness involved with console models, hardware add-ons, and rebranded names?  This isn’t anything new although we are presented with quite a few options in our console shopping now more than ever.  We aren’t limited on just one thing or another, and although it isn’t anything near the options of PC’s, there are choices.  When it comes to home consoles though, is this really a good thing?

It used to be somewhat simple, you could go buy your Atari 2600 and you knew what you were getting… that is, depending on where you purchased it.  At that time if you were to purchase an Atari 2600 at Sears, it would have been called the Sears Video Arcade.  Slightly confusing, right?  If you were to buy an Intellivision console at Sears it would have been called the Sears Super Video Arcade.  It was essentially the same system with a different name.  Back in those days, the companies would market their consoles to these retailers and the retailers were allowed to rebrand it as they saw fit. I can imagine that there were a few folks who possibly bought an Atari 2600 and then bought a Video Arcade thinking they were different systems.  Besides that, to label an Atari a Sears Video Arcade and then label the Intellivision the Sears Super Video Arcade is just plain nonsense.  The names were too identical and no doubt it caused unneeded frustration.

The NES and Super Nintendo stayed relatively free of any mass confusion.  Very late in the NES lifecycle, Nintendo released a revised version of the console but it was what it was, a revised version at a low price. No harm no foul. The same happened to the Super Nintendo as well.  Although at one point there was meant to be a type of CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo to bring disc based gaming to it.  This disc based add-on was going to be made from Sony, but Nintendo opted to go with Philips at the last minute which pissed Sony off.  Nintendo never went through with the add-on and instead, Philips made a Disc based system called the Philips CD-I which carried some licenses from Nintendo… it was horrible.  Sony, out for revenge so to speak, created the Playstation after the rejection from Nintendo.  This doesn’t mean Nintendo is free of guilt though when it comes to revising.

Nintendo loves their handheld market and they do very well at it.  Starting way back from their Game & Watch line of portable gaming, Nintendo has had quite a stranglehold on the handheld market.  They became very popular with the introduction of the Game Boy. After quite a few years Nintendo tried switching it up by creating updated models such as the Game Boy Pocket (smaller version of the Game Boy).  After all these were released, fans finally got what they were hoping for, the Game Boy Color.

The Game Boy color introduced, you guessed it, a color screen and color games nearly ten years after the original Game Boy was released.  That’s a pretty good lifespan and a solid investment that we don’t see much anymore due to technology changing so fast.  Eventually Nintendo would move on from that system and release the Game Boy Advance which was a much more powerful handheld system that rivaled the Super Nintendo (and it was great and had its own revisions as well).  Although, you can see where all these can be confusing at times.  Now Nintendo has their hottest handheld to date, the DS.

The DS is the latest handheld system from Nintendo and it has had many model revisions already.  In the past five years we have seen the original DS, the DS Lite, the DSi, and the newest model – the DSi XL.  That’s a lot of models in such a short time frame, but they sell like hotcakes so you can’t really argue with Nintendo’s market strategy. A concern was that there were some features that went missing from the DSi which made certain peripherals incompatible.  It also lost the ability for backwards compatibility which is a real shame.  Nintendo giveth and Nintendo taketh away I guess.  What’s even more interesting is the fact that the DSi XL was just released and apparently, you may need to repurchase your DSi Ware games.  If that’s true then that is a really shameful thing from Nintendo.  But wait! Nintendo recently announced their next generation gaming handheld called the 3DS scheduled to be released next year!  I wonder how many models we’ll get of the 3DS? You can bet quite a few.

Sega definitely had a problem with confusing their audience during the Genesis days.  The Genesis was selling quite well and their war with Nintendo was historic.  The two companies battled it out for video game supremacy.  Sega wanted to keep pushing out the newest technologies so they could constantly have a leg up on Nintendo. But what Sega ended up doing was creating too many of these powered-up add-ons for the Genesis which simply caused them more money, more problems, and loss of consumer loyalty.

One of the console add-ons was the Sega CD which offered disc based gaming to the Genesis.  You would connect this with your Genesis and have a bit more power and of course disc based gaming (which was extremely high tech at the time).  Although for the most part, this consisted of FMV’s(Full Motion Video) games and there wasn’t much in the way of gameplay itself.  But for the time it was quite techy and neat.  The funny thing about this is that there were two models of the Sega CD itself which added more unnecessary confusion.  I think there were even compatibility issues with the different models of Sega CD’s compared to the different models of the Genesis!

Since the Sega CD didn’t take off very well, Sega decided try another approach.  This time they would create an add-on called the 32X which was cartridge based and attempted to show off the power of 32 bit.  It was all about the bits back then!  It would simply fit into the cartridge slot of the Genesis and you would be good to go… It also failed miserably and it really wasn’t all that great.  I believe they were trying to capitalize off of the success of Virtua Fighter in the Arcades by bringing it into the home with the 32X, but it just never compared.  With all these attempts that Sega had tried, there eventually became a running joke about the Sega Tower!  You could stack so many things on that thing!

(The Genesis Tower!)

Eventually Sega would completely move on and create a new standalone console called the Sega Saturn.  It was a true 32 bit console, but it didn’t have a long shelf life in the U.S.  After fading away pretty quickly and Sega fans becoming quite upset with how Sega were handling their product, Sega took one last shot – The Dreamcast.  Sega finally had it right this time because the Dreamcast was an amazing console.  It was, however, a case of too little too late for them though as the Playstation had gained too much of a fan base and once the PS2 arrived, the Dreamcast died shortly after.  Sometimes creating too many things just causes an overkill and puts off your fan base.

Is your head spinning yet?  Let’s skip ahead here and look at the recent consoles.

Sony and Microsoft both have their own issues when it comes to their recent console systems.  Microsoft had a good thing going for them when they introduced the Xbox.  Although it was a big system, it was stable in the sense of hardware. It was what it was and there wasn’t much change. Then the successor to the Xbox was released, the Xbox 360.  While it has a strong presence on the market, they went about making it a bit confusing.  First off, the ability to use a hard drive was now optional which meant developers had to basically create games with the idea that a hard drive wouldn’t be used.  It’s not a good strategy.  Let’s not forget that the 360 had different models related to it.  There was the premium model that came with the hard drive and wireless controller and the core model that came without the hard drive and included a wired controller.  Eventually, the core model would be called the Xbox 360 Arcade and the premium would be phased out in favor of the Elite model. They also added an HDMI connection to the newer models while the older models never had one.  Confusing?

I still think the main problem was the fact that they gave the option for a hard drive instead of making it standard like the first Xbox.  While it is nice to give consumers options, it causes confusion on what is needed and what isn’t.  Plus, the hard drive never gave that extra ability for video game developers as they had to always base it off the fact that you didn’t own a hard drive because this would cause too many compatibility problems.  Last year, Microsoft released a firmware update which allowed gamers to install their games on the hard drive for improved performance which was a nice touch.  At least they didn’t really take anything away from their systems though and stayed consistent… even if it was a bad idea to begin with.

Sony is a bit of a different story though. With the Playstation 3, Sony had it right when they decided that all models would use a Blu-Ray drive along with a hard drive.  They offered different models with different sized hard drives which worked well for folks who wanted a cheaper version.  Then they decided to start removing features from their system.  At first they dropped the ability for backwards compatibility, which in my opinion was a strong selling point.  If you didn’t grab an early model then you are shit out of luck.  Of course this caused some confusion as a lot of people were expecting to have the ability to play their older Playstation 1 and 2 games.  At some point they also removed the feature to play SACD’s. They would also change their models a bit and eventually they ended up with the Playstation 3 Slim.  It’s a good idea as now they offer generally this one system instead of a bunch of different models, but they also took out another feature.  Not only do the slim models not offer backwards compatibility, they also took out the OtherOS feature that a lot of people really enjoyed.  But hey, if you’re buying a slim then you probably aren’t buying it to install Linux.  It wasn’t too bad until Sony recently released a firmware that takes out the OtherOS feature on current owners with older models.  Seriously, Stop!

It isn’t like I hate the idea of having options or choices.  It’s great for us to be able to choose what we want.  But when the intent of choice causes more confusion, then it becomes an issue.  When the intent of choice is simply to profit off of that confusion, then it is an issue.  For a lot of us, the decisions aren’t all that difficult.  We’re gamers and hardware freaks, we do our research and we know what we want.  But for many folks out there, it isn’t as simple and I think it’s that confusion which causes negativity and loss of purchases.  Yes, we can look at the market and see that the Wii, 360, and PS3 are selling just fine so maybe I’m just wrong here.  But I just think there might need to be a better standard when it comes to home consoles and handhelds.  They aren’t PC’s, average consumers buy home consoles for ease of use and to just be able to hook it up and play.

And one last thing, seriously stop taking away features, it’s a real buzz kill and can put off potential buyers.  I was going to buy a DSi last year until I heard of the lack of backwards compatibility and I feel lucky that I’ve read up on what Sony was doing with removing that from their systems as well (I have my nice Phat PS3 60GB ready to roll).

Make a standard for your systems and stop taking away features!  Just my perspective.


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