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Console War VII (Part 1) January 27, 2023

Posted by Maniac in Console War, Histories.

It sure has been a while hasn’t it? Welcome back to our ongoing history series on the Console Wars, where we tell the story of our time! When we last left off, the Nintendo Switch, and its spin-off the Switch Lite, had seen tremendous success as a console with the capability to take anywhere. Nintendo wasn’t going anywhere. However, Microsoft and Sony were gearing up to replace their PS4 and Xbox One platforms with entirely new consoles, and a new Console War was about to Dawn. Let’s get started, shall we?

In 2019, the Switch platform was selling very well, and plenty of developers were still producing games for it. When it was first announced, I theorized that the Switch could have been the most ideal platform for a Pokémon game to ever be released on. The original strength of Pokémon was its ability to take it anywhere. For the Game Boy, it was common to play in one on one situations before the mass adoption of online gaming for consoles. With the Switch, a user could play their game while on the go, and when the player brought their games home, they could dock their Switches and continue their solo progress on their big-screen HDTVs. Pokémon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee proved that method could work in 2018, and those were just remakes of the original Pokémon Yellow. The time was right for an all-new Pokémon title created for the Switch from the ground up. Nintendo announced Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield.

At the reveal, the Pokémon Company offered a glimpse of an entirely new region that offered the ability to interact with Pokémon that was actually visible in the game world. There would even be open “wild areas” where trainers would need to avoid high level Pokemon they would not be able to capture. It looked fantastic. Sadly, before Pokémon Sword and Shield released, it found itself in a controversy. Unlike what was possible with previous games, The Pokémon Company admitted they weren’t able to allow the ability for play and trade every Pokémon that had ever existed, including many popular and fan favorites. With the previous generation’s announcement for cloud platforms for storing Pokémon like Pokémon Bank pushing the idea players would be able to keep their Pokémon forever, this news they would not be able to bring older Pokémon into their newest games set off a slew of negative publicity from the gamers who had literally completed their Pokédexes. They were also concerned it would set a dangerous precedent for future titles. However, in November 2019 the negative reviews of the old guard of players were absolutely eclipsed by the sheer volume of copies Sword and Shield ended up selling. That said, the fans were now split on their previously unified enjoyment of the franchise. It seemed the second wave of Pokemania was starting to wane.

There’s another contender I’d like to briefly touch upon in this article, and that was Google’s Stadia. While not technically a console, in a lot of ways it might as well have been. In 2019, Google came forward to announce they had created a game streaming service of their own. It was capable of hosting most of the major games of the time including upcoming titles like Marvel’s Avengers, but unlike other successful streaming services that charged per month for access to a library of titles, Stadia required users to pay full price for each individual game they wanted to stream. Unlike other consoles, despite ones that failed badly, gamers knew immediately if Stadia did indeed fail, their full priced games would become completely unplayable the second support for it ceased.

Google offered Stadia bundles which included a special 4K Chromecast Ultra and a Stadia controller that directly connected to your Wi-Fi hotspot. At launch, next to nobody bought a Stadia bundle. and those who did complained of latency and overpriced games on sale. To compensate, Google attempted to literally give Stadias bundles away, first to the Gaming Press and then to gamers at events like the 2019 Game Awards.

During the same event I received a free Stadia, Game Awards 2019, Microsoft revealed their next console, the Xbox Series X. It was absolutely massive, capable of delivering 4K HDR games at 120hz (depending on your display). While Microsoft did not have a large amount of exclusive games to show for it, they promised it would also be capable of playing Xbox One games, on top of original Xbox and Xbox 360 games that had previously been made backwards compatible on the Xbox One. They followed up the news later on by announcing a second slimmer, cheaper console, called the Xbox Series S. They promised it would be able to play digital versions of the same games made for the Xbox One and Xbox Series X, but the catch was it had no disc drive and could only display at 1080p resolution.

As information about the Xbox Series launch ramped up, Microsoft made an incredible stand for their retail game strategy. They would release any game that supported Xbox One and Xbox Series a single disc. Some existing Xbox One games could even be ported to become native Xbox Series games with a free patch. They assured customers the console would know what version of the game to install, and since Microsoft automatically cloud-synced save files since the days of the Xbox One, they promised save files from one platform would be able to seamlessly transfer to another. This was probably the most consumer-friendly decision Microsoft ever made.

However, the Xbox Series X was at least a year away from release and in the meantime, Microsoft wasn’t planning to release any exclusive games at launch. Even the next Halo game, known as Halo: Infinite, would also be released on PC and Xbox One. To bide time for launch, gamers were encouraged to either buy Xbox One games for it, or prepare to buy access to Microsoft’s new Xbox Live Ultimate service, which bundled Xbox Live Gold support with monthly access to the full version of many great Xbox titles. Essentially, Microsoft was employing the paid business model Stadia should have used!

2019 was a big year for gaming. While Microsoft was considered to have finished last in their generation, they were still in the fight. However, Sony, the winner of the last generation, was waiting in the wings to make their next console’s announcement. What happened? That’s a story for part 2!



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