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Game, Set, Mismatch? Another Front Opens in the Format War

22 Sep, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

Sony's announcement yesterday that it would use the Blu-ray standard on its new PlayStation 2 is a big, loud shot across Warner and Microsoft's bow.

If we thought the potential for a format war in high-definition DVD was a recipe for disaster, gaming platforms open a whole new front that could change the course of that war.

Whatever happens on the high-definition DVD front, using different formats on game platforms would only increase the conflict. It creates a situation that potentially splits the market between the two formats over movies and games. Sony, for example, could refuse to license “James Bond” games for Xbox. Or Warner could deny PS2 licenses for “Harry Potter” games. The two sides could stockpile content for their preferred formats.

The traditional challenge has been that PS2 has a wider variety of games, but Xbox has the killer graphics. If the platforms split on high-def, they will have to use the extra storage capacity to play to their own strengths. That would seem to put HD in a better position for DVD formats, because it could take advantage of Xbox's killer graphics; or it could open the door for Sony to use the deeper memory of Blu-ray to let gamers drift back and forth between the movie and gameplay.

Gamers have always been accustomed to having to buy different versions of software for their various game platforms. Not so with video consumers. Once the Beta vs. VHS battle petered out, most of the market was on VHS for two decades (of course, there were always laserdisc aficionados in the minority). To most people, “video” meant VHS. In fact, to most people video still means VHS — DVD is a whole different animal.

Gamers tend to be early adopters and could be the deciding force. Sure, a lot of them have more than one game platform. But I doubt that as many will be willing to buy separate movie formats as well as game versions.

Either way, I'm expecting an announcement from Microsoft soon about what will be incorporated into next-gen Xbox. They can't let that challenge go unanswered for long.

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