Console Contracts: How Will You Pay For Fhe Next Gen?

Whether it's PS4 or the next Xbox, soon you may be able to buy them like your phone.

£425. Four hundred and twenty five pounds. However you write it, it's still hard to believe that's what it cost to buy a PlayStation 3 at launch in the UK. £425! It was a crazy amount of money six years ago - today, in a recession, it sounds little short of insane.

Now try this figure for size: £500. Any idea what gaming system carries that ridiculous price tag? Have a look in your pocket. Five hundred smackers is how much it will cost you right now to walk into an Apple store and buy the cheapest model of an iPhone 4S without a contract. Suddenly Sony's pricing doesn't seem quite so mad.

I know what you're thinking. "No-one pays full price for an iPhone". Exactly. Only the rich or dumb would pay RRP for a smartphone. Why? Because we can all get them massively subsidised as part of a contract. Want the latest iPhone or Samsung thingy? Sign up to a service provider for a year or two and they'll probably give you one for free. Free! (Ignore the monthly bills and let's just enjoy the moment).

The point is we've been getting phones on contract for so long, we don't even think about it. It's just what you do. The same phones which are, increasingly, amazingly capable gaming devices are tossed around for a fraction of their true value and no-one questions it.

So if we do it for phones, why not consoles? It sounds wrong – weird, certainly – but it may happen sooner than you think. Indeed, the prevailing wind of chin-stroking industry commentary suggests this: when the next-gen (PS4 & Xbox Whatever) arrives, you won't just be able to buy the box as normal, you'll be able to buy it for (relatively) little in exchange for signing up for a couple of years to a service such as Xbox Live and/or a telly provider.

Owning a console on a contract. Sounds bizarre, doesn't it? But why should it? Think about all the things we already subscribe to without a second thought: phones, Sky, Virgin, BT, Napster, Spotify. And loads more. We take out a contract because it takes the sting out of a one-off payment that would otherwise be out of most people's reach.

The problem for next-gen consoles, as I've written about before, is they'll enter a world very unlike the one in which the current set of machines arrived. These days we have smartphones, console-quality browser games, cloud gaming and incredible indie projects available wherever and whenever you want. And in many cases, they're either free or cost less than a pint of milk to play.

Compare that with consoles, whose games still go for £40 a pop, and it quickly becomes clear that the days of Sony being able to release a new system for over £400 are surely gone.

This is nothing to do with what consoles offer in terms of the gaming experience, and all to do with the fact most people don't have hundreds of pounds to chuck around, especially when there's so many tempting, cheaper alternatives.

Moreover, why should you fork out when the likes of FIFA, Call of Duty etc. offer enough content already to keep us playing happily for hundreds of hours? Why, then, do we need to upgrade at all?

That's the killer question Sony and Microsoft will need to answer next year. And unlike any previous period in gaming history, the answer this time may not be in the form of a cutting-edge gaming experience - it might instead be the way you buy the console.

If Xbox 720 launches next year for, say £399, would you buy one? But what if you could sign up to a contract that gives you, say, Sky TV and access to Xbox Live for a couple of years, paid monthly, and you get the console for free?

If the rumours are correct, it seems that's what Microsoft could be secretly planning for its next console - and Sony too, if it has any sense. There's virtually no chance of the price of big game releases coming down anytime soon, more's the pity. In which case, your best bet for a bargain may be the hardware itself.

So, what do you think: would you be more likely to buy a next-gen games console if you could get it dirt cheap on a monthly contract, like a phone? Or would you rather just buy it the old fashioned way?



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