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Console War VI Part 1 August 25, 2015

Posted by Maniac in Console War, Histories.
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In 2011, Nintendo would be the first to enter a new generation of console war.  Fueled by the tremendous success of the Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS, Nintendo was ready to take another gamble to try to repeat the unbelievable success of the Nintendo Wii.  They planned to create a low powered reasonably priced console which would reinvent the controller in a way that only they were capable of.  Taking inspiration from their successful handheld lineup, and the increasing popularity of personal tablet computers, Nintendo created a console based entirely around a controller equipped with both motion controls…and a touchscreen capable of displaying its own video feed.  The Nintendo Wii U was officially announced at E3 2011 to incredible fanfare, and a wide variety of first and third party games Nintendo was preparing for the console’s launch.

Sony and Microsoft said nothing about the Wii U’s announcement, and they were not concerned about Nintendo launching the next console war first.  They knew their consoles would have at least one more year in the market before they would be considered technically obsolete and they were not ready to reveal what they were working on just yet.  The mainstream gaming press gave Nintendo a lot of positive praise for the Wii U, but many were wary.  The console’s graphics were basically on par with what the Xbox 360 and PS3 were already capable of, and without the tablet controller, the Wii U was essentially a high-definition capable Wii.  The Nintendo Wii U launched at the end of 2012 with a pretty impressive series of launch games including Super Mario Bros UBatman: Arkham City Armored Edition, and the most anticipated third party game in the Wii U’s lineup, ZombiU,  To best show off the system’s capabilities, Nintendo bundled the game Nintendo Land with every premium black Wii U model sold, hoping that it would bring the same success that bundling Wii Sports with every Wii brought.

Wii U sales were slow, but the system gained a loyal following.  People who did buy the system opted to only buy the premium black model, so Nintendo eventually eliminated manufacturing the cheaper white model.  Reviews for the system ranged all over the place, while players loved Nintendo Land and ZombiU, most felt that the games alone did not merit the console’s purchase, even though it was compatible with every Wii game and allowed players to transfer all their save games, Miis and digital purchases from their Wii to the Wii U.  Meanwhile, Sony and Microsoft continued to promote their current platforms but remained tight lipped if they had any plans to replace the PS3 or Xbox 360 with new consoles.  Christmas 2012 would be dominated by the Wii U, but would it be alone for long?

In February 2013, Sony announced their successor to the PlayStation 3, the PlayStation 4.  They had no demo unit available to show the press, only a controller, a 3D camera, and a very select amount of games.  The PS4’s architecture would be a complete 180 from what the PlayStation 3 used, making it completely incompatible with any PS1, PS2 or PS3 game.  In fact, most of the system’s presentation revolved around Sony’s plans to offer a game streaming service based on Dave Perry’s Gakai service.  After the platform’s creator unveiled some of the system’s major features, including an impressive standby feature, several games were shown including a racing game called DriveClub, as well as new entries in the Killzone and inFAMOUS franchises.  Third party developers like Ubisoft also demoed their upcoming games on the PS4, and showed Watch Dogs would be coming to the platform.

After the presentation concluded, PS4 buzz began almost immediately.  It was undoubtedly a powerful system, but there were still a lot of questions about it.  Since Sony had not included a mock up of what the console was going to look like at its initial presentation and spent so much time going on about the console’s streaming services, players did not know if the PS4 would even include a disc drive until after Sony released the system’s specification sheet.  Also, the lack of backwards compatibility was an issue, especially since Sony was planning to sell new PS3 and PS4 titles over the next year, and Nintendo was able to offer Wii compatibility with the Wii U.  However, the console’s specifications impressed and the games looked incredible.

After Sony’s PS4 announcement wrapped, all eyes were on Microsoft to announce their successor to the Xbox 360.  Microsoft would announce their next Xbox console a few months later.  At the announcement event, Microsoft unveiled what their next console would look like and it’s name, the Xbox One…which happened to be the exact same thing most of the mainstream was already calling the first Xbox console since the Xbox 360 launched.  To show the audience how revolutionary their new console was, they showed a clip from the popular game show The Price is Right to show the world their console could stream regular television feeds by connecting with mainstream cable/satellite provider’s set-top boxes!  That’s right, Microsoft was showing how revolutionary their next generation console was by demoing gimmick features nobody would make use of.  They also announced a new Halo TV series was in development with the help of Steven Spielberg, but to this day absolutely nothing has come of that project.  The first game that was shown on the system was Remedy’s Quantum Break, a game which has not been released at the time of this writing, but still remains my most anticipated Xbox One game.

To cap the presentation off, Microsoft announced that every Xbox One sold would come bundled with its own brand-new Kinect camera which would enable full voice control, motion tracking, and video streaming.  When Microsoft launched the first Kinect sensor for the Xbox 360 in 2010 a lot of people thought that it had a lot of potential, but most game developers were not willing to develop games for such an expensive optional accessory.  Now that Microsoft was planning to bundle new Kinect units with every Xbox One sold developers could take full advantage of everything the Kinect added to the platform.

The Xbox One impressed a few but a lot of people remained skeptical.  With the exception of Quantum Break’s showing, most of the time Microsoft spent unveiling their next generation games console was used to talk about everything the system could do but play games. Also, most of the mainstream press had a bad feeling about the things Microsoft was not saying about the new system.  The Xbox 360’s Kinect was revolutionary when it was released, but anyone who had one knew it was too unreliable to work as well as a controller did.  Plus, with the improved camera, a lot of people expressed major privacy concerns with what they considered should have been an optional accessory.  However, the biggest concern the mainstream media would have about the new platform was how it would handle used and traded game sales.  Several media outlets had heard musings that the Xbox One would deny playability to all resold, rented or traded games, one of the most anti-consumer practices that any game developer could have engaged in.  On video, Microsoft spokespeople denied these claims, but officially Microsoft had planned for the Xbox One to be one of the most anti-consumer consoles in gaming history.

With the last two major console announcements out of the way, all eyes were on E3 2013.  There was no doubt that Microsoft, Sony, and third party publishers would be showing off more games for the Xbox One and PS4.  Microsoft struck first, announcing tons of exclusive titles would be coming to the Xbox One including LocoCycleKiller Instinct, Dead Rising 3, D4, Forza Motorsport 5, and the next main Halo game.  As the show concluded, they announced the Xbox One’s price, $499 US, and said all systems would include a controller, headset, 500GB internal Hard Drive and a Kinect.  However, Microsoft said nothing about how the system would handle its games or how disc purchases would be handled by the system.  Even after the show wrapped, many were still extremely concerned that the Xbox One would not be usable for players who lacked an internet connection, and that game rentals and used resales would be impossible on the system due to heavy anti-consumer copy protection.

A few hours later, Sony took the stage to show the final version of the PS4 and several of the games that consumers would be able to play day one.  Most of the games shown were multiplatform titles and sadly, Sony had no God of War or Uncharted game to show.  However, near the end of the presentation Sony had a moment that most of the mainstream press considered one of the greatest moments in the history of E3, a “drop the mic” moment if you will.  Sony’s executives made it crystal clear in plain English that the PS4 would ship with absolutely no anti-consumer copy protection and have no problem playing borrowed, resold, and rented game discs.  The system’s final price would be $399 US, a hundred dollars cheaper than the Xbox One’s.  The crowd exploded, and preorders for the PS4 in the US went crazy that night.

Nintendo was the last to present, and they showed off a library of upcoming games for the Wii U including Mario Kart 8, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, and a Wii U remake of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker.  It impressed Nintendo’s loyalists, but Wii U sales had been slumping and many were concerned that these games would not improve the Wii U’s sales.

After the E3 show concluded, both Sony and Microsoft started looking at their preorder numbers.  Sony was happy, Microsoft was not.  Oddly enough, Microsoft’s anti-consumer plans for the Xbox One were not resonating with consumers, and the lower price and solid titles offered by the PS4 was more than enough to earn gamers’ trust.  Fearing their own decisions would make them lose the console war before it even stared, Microsoft scrambled their PR teams to try to fix this debacle before the console’s launch, and they made a public announcement to all of their dedicated retailers that they were changing course with their plans and removing the online requirements and rented/resold/borrowed game restrictions of the Xbox One.  The console would have an initial online activation requirement at launch (similar to how a SmartPhone has to get activated in a store before you can take it home with you), but that would be all.  Many consumers, myself included, breathed a sigh of relief over this announcement, but the news was considered too little too late for many who simply didn’t trust Microsoft and had already planned to buy a PS4.

Fall 2013 came around, and the battle was about to start.  The PS4 launched first and quickly sold out its initial allotment.  Demand for the console was so high many were turned away with their money still in their pockets.  Even though it had no backwards compatibility, few exclusive titles, and a launch lineup of games you could likely get for other systems, new PS4s would not stay on retail shelves for long.  When asked why most players were interested in the system, the mainstream consumer listed price and technical capabilities as their primary reasons for buying a PS4.  They believed the multiplatform games looked and ran better on PS4, and for $399 US, the price was right.

Microsoft launched the Xbox One with a Kinect, a huge lineup of exclusive titles for download and retail release, and a $499 price tag.  Aside from a huge market for people who purchased the Day One edition of the console, any non-Day One Xbox One system sat on shelves to collect dust.  The peripheral that Microsoft felt would give the Xbox One a huge leap over Sony’s PlayStation 4 console became every conspiracy theorist’s whipping boy.  Even though Microsoft had reversed their decision to restrict used game sales and require a persistent online connection to play their games, privacy concerns over the Kinect sensor became the reason many gamers refused to pick up the console.  In contrast, Sony’s console was such a hot seller consumers wouldn’t be able to find it on shelves for another three or four months,  By E3 2014, Microsoft backtracked on their decision to bundle the Kinect with the Xbox One, and announced the Xbox One would be sold without a Kinect for a price of $399 US.

What came of this decision and how did this effect the Console War?  You’ll have to read that next time!

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