With the WiiU on store shelves, the PS4 sure to be on the way soon, and Microsoft’s plans for a new console almost certainly due for release at E3 – if not sooner – attention will once again turn to that age-old, overly simplistic sentence that sums up years of effort by the big console makers.
“So, who won the console war this generation?”
It has always been a very loaded question based on your definition of ‘winning’, but I think this is one of those generations where – no matter your allegiances – it would be hard to declare a winner.
Nintendo’s console makes a strong case – it crushed the 360 and PS3 in terms of actual console sales, raked in huge profits for Nintendo thanks to its expensive and numerous accessories, low development costs, and the fact that units were sold at a profit. It also introduced more families and senior citizens to video games than any other console in history other than the PC. Finally, it must be said that Nintendo largely steered clear of controversy beyond the decision to go outside their traditional audience with the console itself. They didn’t have the hardware problems, poor marketing, or other ancillary issues which plagued Microsoft and Sony.
However, the Wii’s underpowered hardware, lack of AAA titles and multiplayer support, and branding as a ‘family console’ left many to declare it a console for casual gamers and not the stereotypical gamer audience, which then begged the question if the Wii ‘counted’ in the console wars. Adding fuel to this argument was the poor sales numbers for non-Nintendo titles (note you have to get to #15 on the list before you get a non-Nintendo affiliated title), which hurt third-party support for the console; many other publishers couldn’t make money on Nintendo’s platform. Coupled together, the quiet end to the Wii era has undoubtedly harmed sales for the Wii U, which Nintendo used to try to reach out to the hardcore audience they ‘betrayed’, and caused some publishers like EA to drop support for it (a console which hasn’t even been out a year) in their new graphics engines. Declining sales for the Wii and the rough launch has hurt the company’s bottom line.
Many thought this generation would belong to Sony. They were expecting Sony could build on, and carry forward, the success they had with the PS2. They exited the last generation with a huge install base, a number of AAA titles that could be exploited for sequels, and they created Blu-ray discs that would make their games fit all on one disc! Their hardware advantage, their experience in making consoles, the added value of the Blu-ray player…it looked like a sure thing.
Between the high price point, the abysmal PR, and a launch lineup largely devoid of the characters that made them successful, Sony stumbled out of the gate and really had trouble righting the ship once they got going. The Playstation division has led the way to the bottom as the company hemorrhages money, and it is largely the result of a few too many gambles which didn’t pay off. They launched a lot of new intellectual properties and unfortunately many didn’t perform. The starting price point was too high, especially against an established competitor which had been out for a year. While Playstation Network is beginning to catch up to Xbox Live in terms of quality and value, it makes you wonder why they spent that much time on Playstation Home when that wasn’t what gamers were asking for. And finally, they followed the motion control bandwagon by releasing their own Wiimote-inspired controller instead of foreseeing that the bubble was bursting and letting the trend pass them by.
The Xbox 360
Microsoft’s effort to be the first ones out of the gate paid off in the short-term, with games that largely appealed to their ‘bro gamer’ demographic and a mix of new intellectual properties and classics like Halo 3. They revamped Xbox Live to offer a bit more for the subscription fee, though paying for it at all remains a contentious issue especially with the advertisements on your dashboard. They stepped back from publishing many games and largely relied on third-party support and timed exclusives to carry their console forward. Between the robust social features, retention projects like gamerscore, and a healthy stream of games, Microsoft was largely the online multiplayer console of choice, and owners typically had the largest game library of home console owners this generation.
Of course, you can’t bring up the 360 without mentioning the crippling Red Ring of Death or ‘RROD’ (it has its own Wikipedia page!) which ruined many consoles because of poor design. While Microsoft started offered better warranty coverage in later years, it served as a reminder to me (and I hope many others) that ‘early adopters always get screwed’. Microsoft was also criticized by gamers for having expensive proprietary accessories, a confusing ‘points’ currency system for online purchases, and a limited range of games since most of the ones they published were, again, of the ‘bro gamer’ variety. That all changed when Kinect arrived on scene. Despite a high price point, low number of quality games, and reports about it not working without excessive lighting, the device sold well…now gamers are waiting to see if it will be incorporated into the next Xbox, or if it was just another expensive add-on that will be replaced.
I think you could make the argument consumers won the console war this time. Some companies very clearly got the message that consumers are king and, if you don’t give them what they want, you are limiting your own success. That’s why projects like the Ouya were able to come together. It’s why Sony went back to its stable of successful PS2 intellectual properties years into this cycle. And it is why we had a longer console cycle with a number of great games – no matter which platform you owned.
Of course, consumers also lost studios and publishing companies like THQ and Lucasarts, though that was less their will and more poor management and Disney’s fault respectively. You can also argue, with the rumours around next generation consoles not supporting used games, that publishers won and its to the detriment of those looking to make a living off the game industry and gamers themselves.
What are your thoughts? Who won? Who lost? Are you a PC gamer who thinks the whole lot of it was entirely pointless? Let us know in the comments!