Changing Media One: Reiterate

The way in we we consume entertainment and the media in general has changed radically in the past decade, and that change is only accelerating. The sheer number of media being affected is also rapidly growing, as every conceivable source of information and entertainment is re-shaping itself for a new age.


In the Changing Media Blog Series, I will be looking at the ways in which media has changed over the past ten years, and exploring ongoing and upcoming changes of note as well. Some will focus on hardware, some on content and some on the media through which that content is distributed.


To begin, let’s look at some big changes in music over the past decade and how they might impact a seemingly-unrelated entertainment medium in the future. 


In the last decade, we’ve moved from being tied to hard copies of our music, through being tied to DRM’d soft copies to a new era of evergreen DRM-free digital audio.


And the leader in portable digital audio players, Apple, has made use of an interesting paradigm shift to up-sell hardware in an all-new way. This is one of the shifts which is headed towards other media and marketplaces. Apple does not and will not make an iPod which can’t play MP3 and AAC audio in the future - in stark contrast to every time a superior Hard Copy audio format came out, in which case the previous standard was jettisoned at least on portable devices.


Instead, Apple has sold users up to new iPods by constantly iterating on essentially the same machine. Today’s top-end iPod is a 32GB SSD-based handheld computer with Desktop-class Operating System. The original? It played audio files pretty well and looked generally pretty good.


The change didn’t happen overnight. Every year, Apple gradually added more and more features to the iPod until they had the mighty machine they sell now.


Now, Nintendo is adopting this approach to the video games hardware market - and Sony appears set to do likewise. Both these companies are far from new to revising hardware - both shipped new cases for their successful SNES & GameBoy and PlayStation 1, 2 & Portable systems. What’s new is what they are set to do now.


Nintendo have released a third DS and this one, unlike the Lite, adds features. One of those features is downloadable games, another is cameras. Sony meanwhile are committed to a ten year cycle with the PS3 and look set to continue to iterate the existing PSP rather than replace it. But it’s not that simple.


Sony will almost certainly add more and more features to their lines as they iterate - perhaps the next PSP will gain a touch screen or a second analogue stick or even a hard drive for downloaded games.


It doesn’t matter how they do it, the point is Sony are going to treat PSP as Apple treats iPod. The games out right now aren’t gong anywhere, but the system will gradually gain more features as Sony releases new models - in what I anticipate will become a yearly update ala iPod itself.


Nintendo will likely do likewise with the DS and, boldly, Wii lines. Yes, the Wii could end up taking the iPod model to the living room. I anticipate things like Wii:HD being just the Wii, but with support for HD in future games - without those games breaking computability with the current Wii.


Nintendo and Sony have decided to play the long con. By constantly iterating on existing popular hardware, the companies can artificially reignite consumer demand whenever sales are waning. Apple has turned iPod into such a huge seller every year not just because it is an icon which millions want and the best player on the market, but because a huge chunk of users upgrade every year.


Additionally, this allows Apple to charge premium prices virtually nonstop as their products are rarely more than a year or so old.


Nintendo and Sony look poised to utilise that same strategy to boost sales of their hardware. Sony cannot do the same with their PlayStation 3, owing to it’s relatively high cost, but will instead extend its feature-set through software updates, constantly increasing the value equation - which will allow the system to survive longer as a fairly successful system than the PlayStation 2.


With PSP though, Sony is constantly told it must start again. Instead, Sony is simply likely to redesign the machine on a yearly or semi-yearly schedule, up-selling early adopters and gradually attracting new users to the system with the promise of new features making the system more desirable than ever.


Nintendo will replace DS and Wii every time the current model’s sales begin to slow. THe re-ignition of consumer interest (And the presence of newer hardware) will allow them to continue to charge approximately the same prices - meaning they can continue to sell hardware at a profit even as Microsoft must slash prices and make a loss.


The fact Nintendo’s hardware is relatively cheap to begin with makes it even easier for them to do this.

3 Comments
4 Comments
Posted by Jensonb

The way in we we consume entertainment and the media in general has changed radically in the past decade, and that change is only accelerating. The sheer number of media being affected is also rapidly growing, as every conceivable source of information and entertainment is re-shaping itself for a new age.


In the Changing Media Blog Series, I will be looking at the ways in which media has changed over the past ten years, and exploring ongoing and upcoming changes of note as well. Some will focus on hardware, some on content and some on the media through which that content is distributed.


To begin, let’s look at some big changes in music over the past decade and how they might impact a seemingly-unrelated entertainment medium in the future. 


In the last decade, we’ve moved from being tied to hard copies of our music, through being tied to DRM’d soft copies to a new era of evergreen DRM-free digital audio.


And the leader in portable digital audio players, Apple, has made use of an interesting paradigm shift to up-sell hardware in an all-new way. This is one of the shifts which is headed towards other media and marketplaces. Apple does not and will not make an iPod which can’t play MP3 and AAC audio in the future - in stark contrast to every time a superior Hard Copy audio format came out, in which case the previous standard was jettisoned at least on portable devices.


Instead, Apple has sold users up to new iPods by constantly iterating on essentially the same machine. Today’s top-end iPod is a 32GB SSD-based handheld computer with Desktop-class Operating System. The original? It played audio files pretty well and looked generally pretty good.


The change didn’t happen overnight. Every year, Apple gradually added more and more features to the iPod until they had the mighty machine they sell now.


Now, Nintendo is adopting this approach to the video games hardware market - and Sony appears set to do likewise. Both these companies are far from new to revising hardware - both shipped new cases for their successful SNES & GameBoy and PlayStation 1, 2 & Portable systems. What’s new is what they are set to do now.


Nintendo have released a third DS and this one, unlike the Lite, adds features. One of those features is downloadable games, another is cameras. Sony meanwhile are committed to a ten year cycle with the PS3 and look set to continue to iterate the existing PSP rather than replace it. But it’s not that simple.


Sony will almost certainly add more and more features to their lines as they iterate - perhaps the next PSP will gain a touch screen or a second analogue stick or even a hard drive for downloaded games.


It doesn’t matter how they do it, the point is Sony are going to treat PSP as Apple treats iPod. The games out right now aren’t gong anywhere, but the system will gradually gain more features as Sony releases new models - in what I anticipate will become a yearly update ala iPod itself.


Nintendo will likely do likewise with the DS and, boldly, Wii lines. Yes, the Wii could end up taking the iPod model to the living room. I anticipate things like Wii:HD being just the Wii, but with support for HD in future games - without those games breaking computability with the current Wii.


Nintendo and Sony have decided to play the long con. By constantly iterating on existing popular hardware, the companies can artificially reignite consumer demand whenever sales are waning. Apple has turned iPod into such a huge seller every year not just because it is an icon which millions want and the best player on the market, but because a huge chunk of users upgrade every year.


Additionally, this allows Apple to charge premium prices virtually nonstop as their products are rarely more than a year or so old.


Nintendo and Sony look poised to utilise that same strategy to boost sales of their hardware. Sony cannot do the same with their PlayStation 3, owing to it’s relatively high cost, but will instead extend its feature-set through software updates, constantly increasing the value equation - which will allow the system to survive longer as a fairly successful system than the PlayStation 2.


With PSP though, Sony is constantly told it must start again. Instead, Sony is simply likely to redesign the machine on a yearly or semi-yearly schedule, up-selling early adopters and gradually attracting new users to the system with the promise of new features making the system more desirable than ever.


Nintendo will replace DS and Wii every time the current model’s sales begin to slow. THe re-ignition of consumer interest (And the presence of newer hardware) will allow them to continue to charge approximately the same prices - meaning they can continue to sell hardware at a profit even as Microsoft must slash prices and make a loss.


The fact Nintendo’s hardware is relatively cheap to begin with makes it even easier for them to do this.

Posted by Alex_V

I'm not sure this is a new phenomenon - hardware manufacturers have attempted to tweak their existing machines throughout videogame history. But I suppose that with modern consoles and handhelds extending to video playback, music, internet and social networking, the capacity to do this is certainly greater now.

I do think though that the same basic rule applies to consoles - to stay competitive the whole system eventually needs an overhaul. I still don't see any alternative to a PS4 and an Xbox 720 in a couple of years time - a PS3 version 12 eventually won't cut it in the marketplace, no matter how much they tweak the machine in the intervening years.

And I think this does compare to the Ipod. Compare the modern Ipod Touch with the first Ipods - they are totally different machines.

The DS and PSP are more interesting, because I'm not sure I see any sort of inbuilt demand for more technologically advances in the basic hardware for a while yet. Perhaps we may see these handheld's tweaked again and again over the next decade, but not essentially changing all that much. Impossible to predict though, because who honestly saw the IPhone being so explosive as a gaming platform?

Posted by Jensonb

Well it's like I said, revising the PS3 in that manner would be completely impractical given its cost (Both to make and buy). It's much easier with portables. The only reason Nintendo can so easily extend such a strategy to their home console (The Wii) is its low cost to make and buy - it's even profitable - which means that consumers will be more wiling to simply upgrade the machine as they won't be paying to $400/£300 of a more advanced system. What that means though is Nintendo could end up selling $500 worth of hardware to consumers and still being considered cheap relative to, say, Sony, because the cost was divided between two different units.

Posted by Alex_V

I'm not sure there's any demand for an 'upgraded' wii console. A HD add-on is something Nintendo has tried before with little success - I don't think the vast majority of wii owners would see the need for it. I also can't see the Wii becoming any sort of media center or successfully extending its range in this regard - it is seen as a toy, very much in line with the old-school consoles of the 80s. We'll see - certainly interesting to think about.