599 US Dollars

599 US Dollars.

Originally I planned to just discuss this concept of obsolescence in class, but the cold air of the morning led me to go ahead and post something, as I read over our texts again on my iPad.

How many people are familiar with this meme in our class? The story goes, to hear people connected to video games as consumers tell it, that the announcement of the PS3 was doomed from the point where the famous “599 US Dollars” line was dropped. Sony was pushing the limits of what consumers were willing to spend for a game console at launch, and consumers did not like that.

Sterne’s commentary on obsolescence has a focus on waste and artificially-shortened usability in computing. I want to suggest that video game consoles represent some platform of resistance to that notion in the eyes of consumers, despite that in practice a console will only last for at the most 5 or 6 years.

Take, for instance, the average timelines used now in consuming or using a personal computer. For those who still stick with the PC, Sterne’s timeline is woefully short compared to what happens now. My personal replacement timeline is closer to two years at best, and I cycle between replacement for my desktop and its core components, my laptop and its obviously-shortened screen timeline, and mobile platforms. Contrasted with my consoles, which continue running for upwards of a decade, and the lived experience of members of the modding communities built around these consoles, and the results become clear. Technical expertise in some form allows some resistance against planned obsolescence in tech, even though the PC mod community is still wrapped up in the cycle of new processor release characterized by Moore’s law.

Note that the 599 price point has become old hat now. Consoles approached that point in the newest generation. Sony made a move that everyone else (except maybe Nintendo) wanted, establishing a constellation of price points from 99 to 599, which leads to my point. Video games are positioned as a market driver of cheapness (or value). If the PC or tablet is for work plus play, game consoles are exclusively for play in their prescribed use, which means the intro costs can be low(Er).  Thus, a user can become a user for as low as 100 and as much as $3000 or more. This seems like a broadening of the base of users, but it also excludes the avenue of reuse I discussed, preventing the average “new,” non-technical user from resisting because, well, the investment of time to become technically proficient and make an Xbox into a PC is no longer a valuable use of time. If the whole point of thes technologies is entertainment for a cheap price, then the usefulness of technical proficiency fades. No wonder my public speaking classes didn’t know who anonymous is. What value is that knowledge now?

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