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Console War VI Part 2 May 3, 2016

Posted by Maniac in Console War, Histories.
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This is the second part of our ongoing history on this generation’s console war. If you’d like to read the first part of this article, please click here.

If there was anything that gamers could take away from E3 2014, it was that Microsoft was going to do everything they could to try and regain their lost customer base.  Without telling their developers, Microsoft announced they were no longer bundling the Kinect sensor with every Xbox One, effectively dropping the price of the console by $100 US.  As for new titles, while Microsoft had its own games coming to the Xbox One including Halo 5, they had bought exclusive console rights to many third-party published games hoping gamers would buy an Xbox One to play one of their exclusives.

Nintendo meanwhile was having their own problems with the Wii U. While the system sold decently at its launch, Wii U sales stagnated after the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One. When a console’s hardware sales slump, sales of third-party games on that console slump as well. Once they saw their games were not selling well on the Wii U, third-party publishers slowly pulled their support from the console, leaving Nintendo alone to develop and publish the vast majority of Wii U games. Nintendo announced they were cutting back on E3 plans in 2014 and decided to focus on showing their next major title, Super Smash Bros for Wii U, directly to fans by making E3 demo units playable to the public at Best Buy retailers.  While the general public could only preview the game for a few hours, Nintendo also hosted an enormous Super Smash Bros tournament in Los Angeles during E3. This epic tournament was not only open to the public, it was streamed live on Twitch.TV to a massive viewership.

When Super Smash Bros was released on the Wii U a few months later, it became a huge seller, but that wasn’t the only hit that Nintendo sold.  Around the same time Nintendo was promoting Super Smash Bros, they announced a new technology would be coming to the Wii U called Amiibo.  Amiibos were collectible figurines which made use of the Wii U controller’s NFC transmitter. They were designed with the likeness of various popular Nintendo characters and Nintendo promised anyone who used them could bring their Amiibos into their game, and that they would become more effective the more they were used. When Amiibos launched alongside Super Smash Bros on the Wii U, retailers could not keep them on shelves.

The PS4 was still selling very well throughout 2014, but even if you looked at events with the perspective of time, it is difficult to precisely determine why. Microsoft’s agressive third party buyouts ensured many popular titles like Dead Rising 3, Sunset Overdrive and Titanfall would remain exclusive to the Xbox and/or PC platforms, but gamers saw these exclusives as corporate pandering and refused to buy the Xbox One on principle, and voiced constant complaints to the publishers. In response, while Sony only had their first-party developers to rely on for exclusive PS4 titles, Sony boasted the PS4 would offer superior graphics and performance over the Xbox One when it came to multiplatform games and many independent testers confirmed this was the case.  The PS4 would get great exclusive titles like inFAMOUS: Second Son and Until Dawn but their releases were widely spaced out.  In fact, a vast majority of the system’s exclusive titles were ports of popular PS3 games like The Last of Us and God of War III.  The strength of the multiplatforms and the promise of great upcoming exclusives like Uncharted 4: Among Thieves made the PS4 the highest selling console of the year.

Instead of hosting a live press event during E3 2015, Nintendo once again chose to host live demonstrations of their games at retail stores across the country. While they had great success with titles like Mario Kart 8 and the Wii U version of Super Smash Bros, their next major Legend of Zelda game was suffering delays in development.  Nintendo had also planned an incredible fan events, including the first Nintendo World Championships in over a decade!  While the gaming press didn’t understand what Nintendo was doing, the fans who attended these events sure enjoyed themselves.  They also had been tremendously successful with their line of Amiibo figures. They were the perfect combination of collectible and game accessory. Limited run figures would sell out immediately.  Heck, they were even being purchased by people who didn’t even own the Wii U.  Everyone was buying them like crazy, so Nintendo started integrating Amiibo support into many of their new games including Super Mario Maker.

By E3 2015, Microsoft got desperate. All of the exclusive titles they had bought were not selling as many consoles as they had expected them to, and the third party publishers were becoming wise that Xbox One exclusivity meant an unacceptable drop in projected sales. Public negativity towards the Xbox One had harmed Microsoft’s image, and even though Microsoft had stopped bundling the Kinect, price matched their competition and pledged not to engage in anti-consumer resale restrictions, gamers were still choosing the PlayStation 4 over their console.  At E3 2015, Microsoft announced they were bringing Backwards Compatibility (BC) for select Xbox 360 games to the Xbox One.  Similar to how the Xbox 360 could play only specific original Xbox games, Microsoft vowed that with a simple update and installation, gamers could play select Xbox 360 games natively on the Xbox One whether they downloaded them or got them at retail!

Microsoft’s Xbox One Backwards Compatibility announcement got a mixed reaction from the mainstream gaming press. While it was undoubtably great news for consumers, it couldn’t guarantee console sales this late in the Console War.  The Wii U had full Backwards Compatibility with Wii games and hardware, and it hadn’t helped them convince most Wii owners to upgrade from the Wii.  Nintendo went to a lot of trouble to make it easy for gamers to transfer all of their purchases, saves and DLC from their old system to their new one, but most consumers weren’t even aware of it.  While Xbox One compatibility with popular Xbox 360 games was a great show of goodwill on Microsoft’s part, there was just no way to know if this would be the decision that changed gamers minds about the Xbox One.

Meanwhile, Sony had no direct response to Microsoft’s Backwards Compatibility announcements, since the PS4’s hardware was completely incompatible with the PS3. If players wanted to play PS3 games on the PS4, they would have to wait for Sony to port it, and if Sony happened to port a major retail title, consumers would usually have to either rebuy it or pay an upgrade fee.

In all, the console war was starting to look like a repeat of the PS2/GameCube/Xbox era.  Sony was on top, Microsoft was trailing behind Sony and Nintendo was in last place making almost all the games on their own system.

As the Console War hit its halfway point, Sony announced they would be entering the Virtual Reality market. That, dear readers, is a story for next time.

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