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Console Wars V – Part II October 20, 2010

Posted by Maniac in Console War, Histories.
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Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 without a Halo game even announced at launch or internal Blu-Ray support.  A year ahead of the competition, the Xbox 360 struck first and hard.  At a release price of $399 dollars with a hard drive and a hard drive free $299 model, the Xbox 360 was the biggest Christmas item of 2005.  The number one game for it?  Halo 2 for the original Xbox, which was the first game Microsoft made backwards compatible with the new console, and gave it an HD facelift with a native 720p resolution, and removal of the texture pop.  This made Xbox fans think of the 360 as a logical upgrade, exactly what Microsoft wanted.  Of course there was also native 360 games like Call of Duty 2, the biggest 360 exclusive seller of the Christmas season, Perfect Dark Zero by Rare, who made the original Perfect Dark, considered by many the best game of the N64, and Dead or Alive 4, the first HD entry into the popular Dead or Alive fighting series.

Sony released a year later with Playstation 3’s, but just like with the Playstation 2’s launch, they could not meet the original launch numbers for the console, however unlike the Playstation 2, nobody cared how many Playstation 3’s were on shelves, they weren’t going to buy it.  The high price and lack of any high profile games was unconvincing to get early adopters to buy the system immediately.  Blu-Ray, seen as the killer feature of the new consoles, found itself in the middle of a format war at launch.  Sony’s competition in the HD war had launched HD-DVD months earlier, and had several exclusive studios and a strong early lineup of movies.  Sony, while it also had exclusive studios like Disney, 20th Century Fox and their own studios, they all had made very bad movies in the previous year.  When these bad movies had their BD release in the initial run, nobody cared about them, and Blu-Ray wasn’t the killer function Sony was banking on to sell the Playstation 3 in the early months.  Even the lack of vibration on the new controllers made Playstation 1 and 2 owners think twice about thinking of the Playstation 3 as an HD upgrade to all their current games, instead keeping their current Playstations as they were.  However nothing was more damning to Sony than the high price point, over $200 more expensive than their chief rival and the poor showing of launch titles they had at that year’s E3.  Very quickly the supplies of Playstation 3’s made it to the retail shelves where they just sat and collected dust.

But then something happened.  Something Sony and Microsoft had not even considered.  The Nintendo Wii released shortly after the Playstation 3 and was selling out everywhere.  Even with a larger supply at launch than the Playstation 3 had, retailers could not keep it on shelves and would always be sold out.  While sellouts were a common occurrence with a new console (the Sony PS2 could not be found on shelves for over half a year after release) the Nintendo Wii, the cheapest and lowest powered console of this generation, was sold out for over a year.

With all the processing power and HD graphics of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, the Nintendo Wii has become the far leader in this generation’s console war based upon sales.

But how did the Wii, if it did everything wrong, still come out on top? The graphics were nowhere near as good as the other consoles, but with low system specs came a low price for the unit. The low price point at launch was a big initial draw. On top of that, even with the low price Nintendo was still making profit from every unit sold, Sony, even with their high price, was losing a fortune with each Playstation 3.

What about the lack of DVD? Well the truth is by this point in time, everyone already had a standalone DVD player, making DVD playback not the must have feature as it was the last generation. Also, Blu-Ray, which is what Sony was banking on to sell their PS3s just as DVD had sold the PS2s, simply was not taking off as quickly as Sony expected due to the low install base of HDTVs at the time (only about 20 percent of homes at the time had HDTVs and most of them only supported 720p or 1080i) and the poor initial lineup of movies.

The Wii also came with the best game for the system packaged inside the console already, just as it had been with Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt in the original NES. By bundling with the console, Wii Sports became one of the highest selling games of all time with over 50 million copies sold as of this time of writing.

The war was just beginning, but the lines were immediatly drawn, the positions were immediatly cast, and the fanboys were completely fanatical to their sides.  More games would be coming, prices would be dropped, and new technology would be destined for the horizion.  Will the console war shift?  We’ll find out soon.

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