If (and it's a big IF since no one has shown any sign of stepping down)...If the next generation of consoles ended the notion of competing consoles, no playstation, no xbox, no nintendo just an industry wide agreed minimum standard for what a eight generation console needed to be hardware wise, how would it shape out and would we benefit or not from it?
Allowing the opening of the market for other hardware companies to treat games consoles like DVD players, you would get the cheap option which would meet the minimum standard etc or you could buy that nicer more expensive model by sony which comes with its own in built wifi, a blu ray player and decent sized hard drive.
I know there are two points people will already be jumping to make:
1. The 3DO tried that and failed which I agree but I think the development
2. That's what PC's are *duh* to which I say *yes* lets openly blur the line. Allow me to go into a shop and buy any game and it will run on console or PC alike. Let me connect a usb keyboard and mouse to my console and play starcraft 2 or an FPS how it is meant to be played.
But this is a thread more about how the industry would change for better or worse if this was to happen.
First some thoughts on why this generation might be the one where this should happen.
1. the rumoured spec leaks for both the ps4 and new xbox and the released specs for the Wii U are all AMD based and while the Wii U is underpowered, the xbox and ps4 are rumoured to be quite similar. The era of vastly different hardware architecture has in my opinion ended with the PS3, not a failure in itself but the limitations of a unique hardware design proved damaging in an industry that has grown much more reliant on 3rd party developers.
2. 3rd party developers have never wielded so much power as they did this generation. They would sing joy and praise for the end of the cost of developing for multiple formats.
3. The rise of the service industry in gaming. Xbox Live, PSN, Kinect Steam etc. There has been an explosion this generation where its the service provided and the choice of controller options has grown to be as major of a factor in console choice as the games/hardware and every controller and add on today is USB based. It also has seen other major companies move into the same areas with the like of EA's origin.
4. The growing rise of digital distribution would put an end to the issue of format. Allowing the physical side to go into SD cards.
To me I'd imagine a universal console would see the big 3 or at least microsoft and Sony move into developing their OS services more. You could own a console that has xbox live and the playstation network on them They would offer essentially what you find on the current generation, online market, achievements and friends list, but unlike today, you could choose which one is on your console, or even have both. The competition will be for people to sign on to their gold/+ versions so the competition would be over who offers the better online servers, exclusive titles in each market place, games developed by first party would only allow online play with their service. DLC deals etc. This is all happening already now but with the extra headache of having to buy exclusive hardware to access one or the other, I say get rid of the hardware requirement. Allow me if I have a powerful enough PC to do this completely from my PC or to buy a cheap console model.
And that would be where the meat of the next generation would be, in OS services. Steam could actually move into consoles and operate as a direct competitor as could Onlive, EA's origin or Blizzard's battle.net. To play games all you need is any of these OS on your console to launch it. Which one you use would be completely dependent on what treats they offer if you sign up to their subscription service or use their online market.
While the rumours of the next generation going completely digital distribution worries a lot of people I'd think with a universal design I think you could see the dvd/blu ray replaced with an SD card equivalent for the cheaper models while the more expensive models will fully support online download and play. I dont think any one would go for a fully cloud service like Onlive.