Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have been the only console manufacturers for over a decade and a half. Back when Microsoft was entering the industry, a lot of people laughed them off. The Xbox’s legacy now speaks for itself. Sony entered the industry in a surprise move a couple of years earlier. Now, after nearly 20 years, a new console manufacturer has entered the ring. Slightly Mad Studios, developers of Project Cars and Project Cars 2, has announced plans to release The Mad Box, “the most powerful console ever built”, as CEO Ian Bell claims.
Slightly Mad Studios claims the Mad Box will be capable of 4K and VR at 60FPS per eye (I know, I know. Mad, right?) It’s expected to ship in about three years (so likely after the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Whateverthefuckitscalled). They’re keeping the exact specs close to their chest, along with the price, but the whole endeavor seems, well, mad. Ian Bell is also claiming that developers will be given a full engine free of charge that they can use to develop games for the system on. They also don’t plan on seeking out exclusivity deals.
Here’s the problem: A console with the kind of features The Mad Box is promising will need to pack a serious punch, and that can’t come cheap. I don’t think there’s a graphics card available on the consumer market that can perform VR at 60 FPS per eye (for a total of 120 FPS). Even if there was, and even in 3 years time, that kind of power won’t be cheap. Consumers are not willing to pay more than 500 dollars for a console (the Playstation 3’s disastrous launch proved this point), and I don’t see any way the mad box can achieve a price point of 500 dollars or less without cutting some serious corners.
Not to mention that when it comes to developing games, a single engine cannot be used across the board (despite what EA will tell you). Engines are typically designed to do certain things very, very well, and others not as well. Take EA’s Frostbite engine. It does first and third person shooters really, really well. They look amazing and perform pretty well on the engine. As Bioware discovered with Dragon Age Inquisition and especially Mass Effect Andromeda, though, the engine didn’t translate to RPGs well at all. Bioware had to patchwork in entire systems and tools to an engine that was never designed to accommodate them. Giving an engine away for free sounds really great, but not all engines can be used for every game. There are some great engines out there that do a variety of genres really well (like Unreal Engine 4 and Unity), but they’re not perfect either.
All that being said, I’d love to be wrong and for the Mad Box to be a huge success. I’ve long wanted a new challenger to enter the ring and shake up the status quo. There hasn’t been any real innovation in the console space in a while (unless you count Nintendo, but a lot of their ideas haven’t translated well to their competitors, so I’m hesitant to say Nintendo has really contributed anything long term to the industry lately). The big three need some real competition to spur innovation. Competition is good for business, after-all. I’m not convinced the Mad Box is the one to do it, but I’ve been wrong before.