John Riccitiello

Former EA chief executive John Riccitiello wrote an op-ed piece in Kotaku today that argued for a triumphant return of console games to the front and center of the game business with the upcoming introduction of the new game consoles from Sony and Microsoft. He said the rise of mobile games is huge, but it isn’t likely to kill off console games, in the same way that Skittles candy is unlikely to kill off steak dinners.

With mobile games, Riccitiello wrote, “I play them everywhere. At home. In a taxi. On a plane. Sometimes when I am trying to get to a next level, I get up in the middle of the night to play. This may seem unusual, but the numbers speak for themselves. Mobile gaming is exploding globally with no end to the growth in sight.

“What I notice, though, is that the vast majority of my mobile gaming is done 5 and 10 minutes at a time. Sometimes 15. Sometimes, I am watching TV while I am playing. Sometimes I am writing something and need a break for a moment or two, like now. Or, I am eating a burrito. When I am playing a mobile game, it takes some, but not all of, my attention.”

But with console games, Riccitiello says, “I don’t have the fastest thumbs, so playing with any skill at all requires my focus. I am fully engaged. All-in. The room with the biggest TV is the most important entertainment room in my house. And there, console gaming rules. In the room where the entertainment stakes are the highest, console gaming wins. When I am exploring Columbia, or taking down Necromorphs, solving Portal Puzzles, or running as Faith over building tops — OK, so I still love that game — I am all-in. Fully committed. It is a commitment I am happy to make.”

Riccitiello fully expects that gamers are ready for a new generation of consoles to bring us a “new frontier of immersive gaming.” He wrote, “Sony and Microsoft absolutely need to deliver new boxes that really impress us. They need to deliver platforms that enable game experiences that are not possible on current consoles. It is not just about graphics, although it is partly about graphics. It is also about recognizing that a lot has changed with online devices and the cloud since the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were originally introduced.”

But four issues could derail a console comeback.

  1. Riccitiello says that console makers need to be reminded that it’s all about the games. If they add lots of new entertainment, the user interface for the machine will become cluttered, and it could become harder to find games on the box. And they just won’t stand out from the clutter.
  2. Console makers may not be able to produce enough units at the outset, and that will leave a lot of gamers angry.
  3. Sony’s initial price of $599 for the PlayStation 3 was a nonstarter last time. Getting the price right this time is critical, given the competition from mobile devices.
  4. Gamers hate walled gardens with digital-rights management and always-on requirements. They could rebel if faced with those features.