A New Perspective on the Console War
The internet is a buzz with smack talk about how Sony obliterated Microsoft and that the Xbox One is doomed. This type of banter isn’t new to me. This will be the third console generation to happen while I’ve worked in the game industry, and the talk happens every time, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating or short-sighted.
Let’s a take step back in history, shall we? This E3 is actually very similar to the E3 following the last console reveals/launches, with the players in different places. Sony, the then market leader, announced an outlandish price for the PS3. Do you remember what it was? $599. That’s right! More expensive than any of this upcoming generation’s consoles will be. During this same time, everyone pretty much considered Nintendo down for the count, because the “gamers” weren’t that interested in what the Wii had to offer. Microsoft was riding high coming out of that of E3. Having already launched the 360, they were able to focus on the games. Now that we’re at the end of that generation, let’s take a look at how it all played out.
At the start of 2013, worldwide sales of the Wii were close to 100 million. Xbox 360 and PS3 have garnered 77 and 70 million respectively. In the end, Nintendo kicked everyone’s butt because they appealed to a broader audience, and Sony’s ridiculous launch price didn’t put them THAT far behind in the long run.
Now, we have Microsoft at the highest price point, Sony making competitive pricing decisions, and Nintendo has already launched the Wii U. Microsoft is trying to broaden its audience by releasing a system that does more than just games. Sony is releasing a system targeted squarely at “hardcore gamers,” and Nintendo is revealing its heavy hitting software for the Wii U.
If previous E3s have taught us anything, it’s that you can’t really predict what’s going to happen because the consoles and their launch prices have very little to do with the long-term success or failure of the system. It’s all about the games, people! The Wii U is seeing a boost in sales after announcing new games in both the Mario and Zelda franchises, as well as a new Mario Kart and a new Super Smash Bros. These are the games that everyone wants from Nintendo. And while the Wii U has been struggling thus far, the promise of these titles should help sales of the system improve.
Microsoft is taking a different approach with Xbox One, seeing gaming on the same plane as other media, including television, music and movies and wants to make a device that will appeal to people who would like to have all of their entertainment in one place. But, it’s also taking an aggressive approach in the DRM and required connectivity issues that aren’t sitting well with a lot of gamers. Many gamers have said they feel like Microsoft is “abandoning them.” And while that language feels a bit melodramatic to me, it is partially true. The hardcore gaming audience is no longer the primary focus.
Sony has pulled no punches. They’re releasing a system focused on games. It will have other media features, but the games are the core. They’re also stressing how open the system will be in terms of DRM and online connectivity. Their approach is pleasing to the hardcore crowd, but it doesn’t seem likely to broaden their audience. In the end, that may not matter, but it’s hard to discount if you look at how the Wii shocked everyone.
Microsoft and Sony are taking two different approaches. How the world responds to those approaches has yet to be seen. In terms of software, Sony is lacking one important element that Nintendo and Microsoft have nailed down – the blockbuster exclusive that will sell systems. Nintendo has the most going for it in this regard because it has more than one (Mario and Zelda), and their brand recognition surpasses any other gaming franchises. Microsoft has Halo, but it won’t be a launch title. Sony doesn’t have one huge franchise that has crazy sales. Rather, they have a number of popular franchises that sell well, but not as much as Mario or Halo. However that doesn’t mean Sony won’t find its gem this generation.
So to wrap up, no one, and especially not me, can say with any certainty what will happen this time around. It’s way too early to count anyone out of the game, so let’s ease off the trash talk. I know it plays off the us vs. them team mentality, but this isn’t a football game, folks. A loss of any of these console makers results in less competition, which translates into less innovation. A person who truly loves games should not want anyone to fail.