Note: [All opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of GamerXChange]
The next generation console war will kick off when the Wii U launches later this year, although there hasn’t been a date or price revealed, we do know that the Wii U is supposed to release in time for the holiday season. If the past is anything to go on, it’ll launch sometime in November, just like the Gamecube and the original Wii. With the current console generation going into the history books, the slate is wiped clean and all of the companies are back at the proverbial zero. It’s a lot like the NFL season, once the Superbowl is over, everyone is back on even ground. Last generation was kicked off by Microsoft and their upstart Xbox 360 console, this time Nintendo will hit the ground running first. Which, if any of the current big three, will win the next console war?
I don’t ask this question to stir up a ton of controversy, but to start a debate. I always end up with all the consoles anyway, so for me its all about contrast and the different types of gaming experiences I can get from each of the consoles. I felt like this current generation offered a ton of variety and the differences between the consoles kept me interested in all three of them for different reasons. I hope the next generation will continue to offer differences between the consoles so that the industry isn’t left stagnant and full of clones and copy cats. Nintendo tends to innovate early on, Sony and Microsoft usually sit back and wait to see how successful those Nintendo innovations are, if they prove successful, they are quick to copy or put out their own twist on it.
The Wii U has a clear advantage in that it launches first, it’ll probably be the cheapest next generation console by the time the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox 720 launch. Nintendo seems to have learned their lesson from the 3DS launch and I believe they realize the Nintendo Wii U needs to launch at an affordable price. If I had to put in a guess, I’d say it’s going to cost between $249 & $299, new hardware adopters are almost always core fans, those core fans are usually willing to pay more for hardware early on, but I don’t think Nintendo wants to go that route. I’d expect a price that surprises a lot of people, we have to remember that the tech inside the Wii U isn’t brand new, there is no hard drive or Blu-Ray player, and the Game Pad isn’t really full of pricey tech either. I don’t think Nintendo has ever released a console that was more than $299 at launch.
A lot of people are complaining that the Wii U isn’t really next generation, but I’d remind those people who “next gen” has absolutely nothing to do with the power of a machine, but it’s simply the cycle in which consoles are released. The Wii wasn’t much more powerful than the Gamecube, but it was still next generation like the PS3 and Xbox 360 all the same. I think some people use the lack of power or casual argument to justify why the Wii outsold the PS3 and the Xbox 360, but the bottom line is that Nintendo was on to something with the Wii and they hands down won the generation with it. If you look back at the history of gaming, you’ll see that the console with the most horsepower never wins the console war. It’s always the console that offers a great selection of games, and at an affordable price. I feel like this next generation is going to rely on these console makers ability to cater to a wide variety of people. They will need to appeal to core, casual, techies and people just looking for entertainment.
The Wii U will be Nintendo’s first foray into the HD gaming market, and its first year on the market will go unchallenged by Sony or Microsoft. We could actually see or hear about the PS4 or the Xbox 720 earlier then expected if the Nintendo Wii U starts selling like crazy at its launch. Microsoft and Sony might want to steal some of Nintendo’s fire by confirming their own next generation plans. The Wii U will have its own online network, much like what Microsoft and Sony already have, so that is a step in the right direction. A lot of the Wii U’s success will depend on what third parties do with the consoles. If the PS4 and the Xbox 720 don’t launch until the holidays in 2013, the Wii U could very well have a 10 million unit lead.
Sony is in a tough situation, they are losing money at an alarming rate as a company. The gaming division is finally profitable after years of bleeding cash due to the PS3′s costly parts. They probably are in no hurry to start the next generation because it means going back to taking a loss on every console and starting all over. The PlayStation 3 has really picked up towards the end of the console generation, but the early mistakes still seem to haunt Sony. Jack Tretton stated in an interview during E3 that Sony is never first with their consoles, but they are the best. This makes me think that Sony might not release their next console until very late 2013, they might not even release the PS4 in North America until early 2014, sort of like what they did with the PlayStation Vita, they divided the launch between Japan and the other territories. The other thing to take from his comments is that the PlayStation 4 might very well be another expensive machine. I have to believe that Sony has learned their lesson from the PS3, a high launch price can kill your brand, and with the economy not exactly being good right now, another high-end console could severely hamper Sony’s bid to get back on top in the console wars.
Sony has also had a strange approach to the way they handle their next generation consoles, when the PS3 was announced, Sony still had most of their developers working on PS2 games, which meant the PS3 launched with sub par games, with a few exceptions. Sony can not afford to launch the PS4 without some quality software. Sony is heading into 2013 with a slew of heavy hitters slated to release on the PlayStation 3, God Of War Ascension and The Last Of Use just to name a couple. The developers that are making those games are two of Sony’s best, so it begs to question why aren’t they working on the PlayStation 4 to ensure it has a great launch lineup? The only other major concern that I have about the PlayStation 4 and its chances to regain the top spot in the console wars is the possible lack of backwards compatibility. If the rumors are true and Sony has abandoned The Cell, they wont be able to have backwards compatibility with PS3 games. This could come as a blow because the Nintendo Wii U is backwards compatible with the Wii and it is looking like the Xbox 720 will be fully backwards compatible with the Xbox 360. Now Sony did purchase cloud gaming company Gaikai, this could have been a preemptive strike to offer people some way of playing older titles on their new hardware, but it’s not true backwards compatibility and not everyone can stream games. So this would be a major obstacle for Sony to overcome if the lack of a Cell is true.
The main thing Sony will have to do in order to have more success than it had with the PS3 is cater to everyone. As I said with the Nintendo portion of this article, Sony has got to offer something for everyone, and they will have to market those options. The PlayStation 2 continued to sell well after the PS3 launched because it was still getting great games, it was getting great family oriented content and it was inexpensive. Sony hasn’t really offered the family content that they did with the PS2, they seem to be trying to rectify this by the end of the year. Sony has taken a page out of the Nintendo book and are offering up Little Big Planet Karting and PlayStation All Stars, they are also supposed to be releasing a family friendly 16 gig Super Slim PlayStation 3. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this version bundled with one of the games I mentioned earlier, or it could possibly be bundled with the PlayStation Move. Sony definitely will want to appeal to people so that the PS3 can continue to sell after the PS4 releases. It also wouldn’t shock me if we learn that the PS4 will launch with an upgraded Move controller right out of the box, or a Kinect like device used mainly for media and voice features in games. Sony will need to appeal to the entertainment crowd as well as the casual crowd if they want success in the next generation. We know the least about Sony’s next console, it’s the wild card of the group.
Microsoft is pretty happy with their current position as well, even though the Xbox 360 is having a down year, its only a down year when compared to 2011, which saw the Xbox 360 have its absolute best year ever. In 2011 the Xbox 360 was the number one console world wide, so it can be expected that the sales for this year couldn’t match those impressive numbers. The Xbox 360 is also the older hardware of the current consoles as well, having launched way back in 2005. Think about it, the Xbox 360 launched around the time Star Wars Battlefront 2 did. Part of Microsoft’s resurgence and longevity are due to the company making a very public push for families, casuals and the entertainment crowds. The reason these types of people are important is because home consoles are seeing very tough competition from the likes of tablets and smartphone’s. A lot of the family and casual market audience are opting to go with those devices to fill their gaming needs instead of consoles. As a person who enjoys a wide variety of games and gaming experiences, I can say that some of those types of games can be fun, but aren’t as deep as the games that consoles offer. The problem is, casuals and families don’t really care about deep gaming experiences, so its important to offer quick fun games that are easy to play.
Microsoft will enter the next generation with a few distinct advantages, the first is the fact that they have established themselves as a player in the home entertainment market already. So they will be able to expand on that and I can see them drawing in a big group of people with just their entertainment options. Secondly, they have done a great job at capturing the casual market with Kinect. Over 20 million Kinect’s have been sold in just 18 months on the market. So they already have a solid base that they can build on with the Xbox 720, the main thing Microsoft will need to do is put out a Kinect v2 that offers 1.1 motion controls. If the leaked Microsoft documents are anything to go on, they are aiming to launch the Xbox 720 with a Kinect in every box. Microsoft will have to continue to walk a fine line with the core gamer’s. I have a feeling the launch titles for the Xbox 720 will be very core. The reason I say this is that early adopters are almost always the core fans, Microsoft knows this and will probably attack next generation the same way they did this current one. New IP’s to start a generation, timed DLC, and a premium online service that millions of people love.
If we are to believe the leaked documents that Microsoft had removed, they are aiming for a release price of $299, which is pretty unbelievable in my opinion. I think that price point might be achieved, but it’ll probably be the arcade version of the Xbox 720, the version without a hard drive. There were also plans to offer a cloud service for gaming and virtual reality glasses for the next Xbox as well. It seems like Microsoft fully understands that you can’t just be a gaming platform anymore, you’ll need to offer more in order to compete. One of the other things Microsoft has in its favor is more money to spend than the other two companies. Microsoft has nearly unlimited resources and launching a billion dollar ad campaign for the Xbox 720 isn’t beyond the realm of possibility. Microsoft will be hard pressed to catch Nintendo and the Wii U, since it will have the advantage of the earliest launch, but if the Wii U is successful and people really get into console gaming with a tablet like controller, at least Microsoft went proactive and SmartGlass is a solid option for people who might enjoy that type of thing. If Microsoft can further improve upon Xbox Live, and if they can launch the next Xbox with some solid games, including a couple of new IP’s, the sky is the limit.
At the end of the day the edge has to go to Nintendo. People seem to be starved for new hardware and Nintendo is going to be the first company to try to fill that need. A lot of people have been wanting to play those fantastic first party Nintendo games in glorious HD, and this will be their first chance at that. The Wii U will probably be the biggest and most sought after item this holiday season. With a possible 10 million unit lead before the competition even sees the light of day, Nintendo is setting themselves up for a very successful followup to their console war winning Wii. What do you think about the next generation console wars? Let us know in the comment section below!