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Console War VI Part 4 March 19, 2020

Posted by Maniac in Console War, Histories.
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As we entered 2017, the PS4 was dominating the sales charts over the Xbox One, but Microsoft was showing no sign they were throwing in the towel. Nintendo, on the other hand, was. Sales of the Wii U console were in the toilet, despite its incredible library of exclusive games and the imminent release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo was preparing to shift their focus to their next console, the NX. Due to the fact it would not be released in time for Christmas 2016, Nintendo took the unprecedented step to not reveal their console at E3 that year. Since E3’s foundation, no new console had ever missed an E3 showing and after the Wii U’s poor sales performance, many mainstream pundits wrote the NX off as Nintendo’s final product just as they had with the Wii nearly a decade earlier. We would find the answer very soon as Nintendo held a press event at the start of 2017. Their topic would be the NX.

Nintendo took the stage to announce the Nintendo NX was going to be coming to retail as the…Nintendo Switch. But what was the Nintendo Switch? Was it a console follow up to the Wii U or a handheld follow up to the 3DS? It was actually both. As the console was presented on stage, it appeared to be a fully functional tablet with detachable motion controllers. Then, it was placed into a charging dock where the game being played moved over to display on the adjacent HDTV. The Press dropped their jaws. There was no latency and no loading time in the transition between tablet and television, and Nintendo also showed the transition from television to tablet was just as seamless.

But what about the games? The Nintendo Switch would launch with a series of exclusive titles and ports of beloved games from the Wii U. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which had already been shown on the Wii U, would get a native Switch version at launch. Mario Kart 8 from the Wii U would also get ported to the Switch at launch as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This Deluxe version included all of the Wii U version’s DLC and some new features. This was good because the Switch was completely incompatible with the Wii and Wii U’s games and controllers. The Switch didn’t even have a disc drive, so retail games would ship on game cards, similar to the carts used for the DS and 3DS. It also had 32GB of internal memory, but its memory could be expanded if the user installed a microSD which had a transfer speed of 65-95Mb/s. The downside was the Nintendo Switch, even docked, could only produce a maximum 1080p image, making 4K UHD gaming out of reach for the Switch. Even after all that, the final price of the Nintendo Switch in box with controllers and a dock would be just $299 US.

The Nintendo Switch released in March 2017 and sold like hotcakes. Within no time it even surpassed the known sales of the Xbox One. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a must-own launch title (as expected) but one of the games brought over from the Wii U, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, was a big system seller and became the de facto multiplayer title for the Switch at launch. Players like myself were impressed with the Switch, but we were looking forward to some of the later games that were announced for the system including Octopath Traveler, Splatoon 2 and (of course) Super Mario Odyssey. No new Pokémon game was announced for the Switch, but Pokémon’s arcade fighting game Pokkén Tournament would get a Switch port in the form of Pokkén Tournement DX, and it would include three new characters that until that point had only been seen in the arcade version.

E3 2017 came and Microsoft finally revealed the final specs of the 4K-native Xbox One console they had previously been teasing as Project Scorpio and its name, the Xbox One X. This 4K native X console would feature an improved GPU and CPU and promised superior performance over the PS4 Pro bundled into a console that would have the capability to play 4K Blu-Ray movies on disc. It would be coming in November 2017 for a price of $499 US, a $100 premium over the PS4 Pro. Not a single first-party title was released alongside the Xbox One X to show the possibilities of the increased horsepower, but Microsoft did release a free patch for Halo 5 near the X’s launch to bring the game 4K 60fps support on the X. Other third-party developers also took the time leading up to the X’s launch to prepare patches for multiplatform games they already enhanced for the PS4 Pro including Final Fantasy XV. Since the Xbox One X had an improved CPU as well as a GPU, Microsoft assured players their new console’s performance was just as good as the PS4 Pro, and in some cases might be a little better. That was good since it had a nearly $100 premium over the PS4 Pro.

While few PS4 owners chose to trade in their original PS4s for the newer Slim model, many of them were more impressed by the Pro and made the more expensive upgrade to the 4K console. Sony was even nice enough to add a data-transfer feature into the PS4’s operating system using the console’s Ethernet port. People who chose to upgrade to the Slim or Pro from an earlier PS4 found the transfer process painless if time consuming. At a base price of $399 for the Pro, which was still $100 cheaper than the Xbox One X, PS4 games across the board looked so much better on it. In fact, Sony partnered with companies like EA and UbiSoft to make sure that their third-party titles could take full advantage of the Pro’s improved GPU, so games like Battlefront II and Watch_Dogs 2 would launch with full 4K Pro support when they released. By E3 2017, Sony’s entire lineup of first-party titles including Detroit: Become Human, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy would all preview in 4K on the show floor. While The Last of Us Part II would need more development time, all of the other games I listed shipped with PS4 Pro native support, and those games looked fantastic.

After the Nintendo Switch launched, Nintendo allowed its early adopters the chance to play their multiplayer games online for free, but they needed to sign up for an online account because the fact it was free was merely temporary. However, games like Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe had great online functionality gamers enjoyed. However, even gamers who loved their Switch were getting more and more frustrated by the Switch’s limited features. Game saves could not be backed up, which for a handheld (that could be lost or dropped) was a serious issue. Downloadable classic games from Nintendo’s back catalog (which was a big reason why I bought a Wii and a 3DS back in the day) were not offered for sale on the Switch’s digital marketplaces. On top of all of that, The Pokémon Company had not yet announced if an all-new Pokémon game would be coming to the Switch. Pokémon games pushed Nintendo handheld sales unlike any other release, and since the Switch functioned as both a handheld and as a console, I could not imagine a better design for a platform a Pokémon game to be released on than the Switch.

Nintendo assured players this issue would be rectified when they launched their premium online service, Nintendo Switch Online. When it launched, it would allow subscribers to resume playing multiplayer games online, and offer them new features including cloud save sync for selected games and access to a select catalog of NES games. At merely $20 per year, the price Nintendo asked for put the $60 a year price for Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus to shame. In 2019, The Pokémon Company finally announced an all-new Pokémon generation would be coming to the Nintendo Switch which would use Nintendo Network for online functionality, but that is a very long story that is not going to be addressed in this article.

As this generation’s console war comes to a close, the winners are clear. Sony’s PS4 is the winner, Nintendo Switch (despite being a late entry) receives the Silver, and the Xbox One comes in third with the Bronze. The Nintendo Wii U can be considered as coming in 4th place, and receives no medal.

So how did the PS4 come out on top? A few reasons, but I think it can be boiled down to price and superior first party offerings. Microsoft made a lot of mistakes this generation and it cost them deeply. At launch, the PS4 was $100 cheaper than the Xbox One and ran multiplaform games at better performance. The exclusive titles Microsoft hoped would help the Xbox One overcome that price premium were critical flops full of microtransactions gamers were not interested in playing. Great exclusive titles like Quantum Break and Sunset Overdrive were not considered enough to put an Xbox One in people’s homes. Those games would have to make up for lost sales when they released on the PC. After third parties looked over just how much they were losing in sales by being Xbox One exclusive and Microsoft did away with the Kinect, no third-party publishers were willing to make exclusive titles for the Xbox One by 2016. This was devastating for the console.

In 2019, Microsoft did their best to cut their losses by releasing a new version of the Xbox One S that lacked a disc drive. This was arguably one of the dumbest calls Microsoft has ever made for two reasons. One, the 4K Blu-Ray Disc player was a major reason why people bought the Xbox One S in the first place, and a disc-free console essentially removed what was the ONLY positive the console had over the PS4 Pro. On top of that, at the same time the disc-free Xbox One S reached retail at a price of $250 US…it had to compete with the thousands of Xbox One S consoles that were already on most retailers shelves…that were at the same time selling at discounted prices far below $250. The budget-minded gamers Microsoft was trying to attract with a disc-free Xbox One S would not pay for a $250 console when they could pay for a superior one that had a major feature they wanted for $50-100 less!

Meanwhile, PS4’s own exclusive titles were considered some of the finest games of the entire generation and Sony refused to fill them with microtransactions. God of War (2016) and Marvel’s Spider-Man went on to critical acclaim and even though it is still too early to tell, could be considered games that will be talked about for years to come. Microsoft can’t say the same about the exclusive titles that were released on the Xbox One. Even Halo 5: Guardians, has been considered by Halo fans to be a disappointment and the worst game of the franchise. Even though the Xbox One X could deliver superior performance to the PS4 Pro on multiplatform titles, by the time it released in 2017 it was far too late in the console war for anyone to care. Now, you could probably find a Xbox One X at retail for $299, whereas the PS4 Pro still commands a full price of $399, and people are still buying it.

As for Nintendo, the success of the Switch was unprecedented in this generation, but its late entry and the already massive existing install base for the PS4 kept them out of contention for the Gold, Nintendo still needs to be commended. They have proven time and time again when they’re more interested in creating a product that can enter the console war at a unique angle, they will succeed. They did it with the DS and Wii to great success, and now the Nintendo Switch is doing it again. The failure of the Wii U will go down as a black mark against the company, but with the Switch it is clear they learned from each of the Wii U’s failures to release an incredible product.

In 2019, Nintendo released the Nintendo Switch Lite, a slimmer Nintendo Switch tablet with integrated controllers and a longer battery life. It was only $199 US but it had a lot of downsides. It had no TV-Out functionality, making the Switch feature of something called the Switch moot. Its integrated controllers lacked rumble, making it incompatible with some launch titles and putting some hurdles into players interested in couch gaming. However its price, size and battery life were major strengths and the Switch Lite sold as a popular alternative to the Switch. Nintendo didn’t care what their customers were buying they were making a profit on each Switch that was sold.

And that is where we will wrap this generation’s console war. As I type these words out Microsoft and Sony have already revealed their successors to the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, and if all goes according to plan we will find those consoles on shelves by this Christmas. There have also been rumors a 4K Switch might be in development, but those are unconfirmed at this time. Stay tuned, because in the next generation we will be pitting the Playstation 5 against the Xbox Series X, and the Nintendo Switch is still very much in the game. What will happen? Only time will tell.

Console War VI Part 3 March 13, 2020

Posted by Maniac in Console War, Histories.
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It was 2016, we reached the midway point of the Console War, and we had a clear race. Sony’s PS4 was in the lead, Microsoft’s Xbox One was in second place, and Nintendo’s Wii U was in the far third. At around the same time in the PS3/Xbox 360/Wii generation, Sony and Microsoft had decided to mix things up by adding in new motion control peripherals for their consoles. After the painful launch of the Xbox One with the Kinect, that was not going to be repeated. Something else would need to take its place.

In the PC space, another revolution was making way. Virtual Reality gaming was a big deal in the mid-90s, with enormous headsets that promised to put their users “inside” the game. However, while the headsets of the time could replicate 3D head tracking, the primitive computing technology of the time was far too limited to create detailed real-time 3D environments or characters. By the early 2000s, VR gaming had been passed over as a fad and companies no longer invested in it. However, over the 2000s, PC hardware was becoming more and more powerful, and the Kinect, Playstation Move and Wiimote has proven new methods of motion control tracking were available. By the mid 2010s, PC gamers everywhere started to ask, “The time is right to do VR correctly! Why isn’t VR back?”

Before this time, only multimillionaires had the power to finance major products. But the world had just given birth to services like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, which allowed millions of regular people to pledge financial support for potential products. A company called Oculus decided to test the waters and asked for financial backing for an all-new VR headset designed to take full advantage of HD gaming on high-end PCs. To say the campaign was a success would be an epic understatement and Oculus would go on to be purchased by Facebook. Even after the successful backing campaign, it would take a while before Oculus would end up on store shelves, but in that time many major companies including Sony and Samsung, stood up and took notice.

There was some disagreement over what kind of hardware would work best with the VR headset. Oculus argued the PC should be the best VR component. Sony, however, argued the PS4 would be the best option for VR, and revealed they were working on a VR headset specifically designed for the PS4, Project Morpheus. Even though the PS4 wasn’t as powerful as a top of the line PC at the time, Morpheus would be able to run most of the same software as Oculus, and get its own exclusives. Soon, Morpheus would get an official name, Playstation VR, and it would be compatible with all PS4s at a price of $399US. Besides the headset, gamers would still need to buy a Playstation Camera and Move controllers to play VR games, but that would be included in the headset’s bundle pack. Plenty of games were announced for it, including a VR sequel to Psychonauts and a VR game that took place in the Batman: Arkham universe. Also some standard PS4 games could ship with VR modes.

In 2016, few had high hopes for Nintendo. The Wii U was floundering at retail despite a lineup of great exclusive first party games and Nintendo had seemed to completely give up on the Wii U. At the time Sony and Microsoft started revealing their PS4 and Xbox One hardware revisions, Nintendo was musing about their next console, dubbed the “NX”. Only one Wii U game was shown at E3 2016, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, with the caveat that it would also come to the NX when it launched. The game impressed everyone who demoed it, but it did not move Wii U sales. Instead, most gamers wanted to know more about the NX, but Nintendo was not talking about it yet.

On the other technology front, 4K televisions capable of Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolutions with High-Dynamic Range (HDR) color had hit the market months earlier (at very reasonable prices) but lacked hardware and content to natively take advantage of all the extra pixels in the television. There were no UHD channels (heck even to this day most HD networks don’t even broadcast in 1080p) and content providers did not have 4K capable cable or satellite boxes to offer customers who bought these new TVs. Most UHD TV home users would have to be satisfied with plugging a high-end PC into the TV to get native 4K content. This was not really the best option. In the last generation, the Xbox 360 and PS3 pushed the sales of HDTVs by offering customers the opportunity to take full advantage of their new televisions. The time was right for that to happen again.

Almost as if it was back to back, Sony and Microsoft announced new hardware revisions to their consoles were coming to retail and 4K would be at the forefront. Sony announced two new consoles would be coming to stores by that Holiday, a slim version of the PS4 that would be functionally identical to the original model (just smaller), and a 4K native PS4 Pro. The PS4 Pro would not only support all PS4 games, Sony promised they would allow developers to make their games run natively in 4K HDR. If a game had already been released, developers could bring 4K HDR support to their game in the form of a free patch. However, while the PS4 Pro could stream movies and video off the internet in 4K, the system would not support the new 4K Blu-Ray Disc format. To prove to their users that the base PS4 could still handle itself, Sony released a free firmware update for the PS4 to give gamers the chance to enable HDR on supported televisions. The catch was that HDR would sadly not work if the user had a PSVR connected to their PS4 although they promised PSVR games played on a PS4 Pro could look or run better.

Microsoft also announced two new console revisions were coming for the Xbox One, but admitted they would not be available at the same time. The first would be the Xbox One S, a slim Xbox One that unlike the PS4 Slim would support UHD Televisions, but only through upsampling their game. However, unlike the PS4 Slim or the PS4 Pro for that manner, The Xbox One S would ship with a 4K Blu-Ray Disc player. They also announced a Xbox One would be coming that would natively support 4K UHD games, and they were calling it Project Scorpio, but it would not be ready for a while.

The PSVR launched in October 2016 with a lineup of exclusive games and multiplaform titles ported from Oculus. Some games got positive praise including Batman: Arkham VR and Until Dawn: Rush of Blood, but Arkham VR received negative points for being a brief game. VR enthusiasts unable to afford a high-end PC bought the PSVR headset day one, but very quickly it became clear that VR-enthusiast market was smaller than Sony expected. Ultimately, it’s high price, small catalog and hardware limitations did not push the PlayStation VR out of being considered a niche accessory to the mainstream consumers, but the users who bought it were very pleased and were eager for more games to come to the platform.

The PS4 Pro launched in November 2016 and eventually sold incredibly well, but not at first. There were stories of hardware issues with the first lot of Pros, although Sony would honor their warranty and replace units when needed. However, despite the improved graphics and native 4K gaming support, the PS4 Pro still used the same CPU as the original PS4, and some games updated for the Pro (like Final Fantasy XV) had minor performance issues the standard PS4 did not have. This made some current PS4 owners decide to wait on upgrading to the Pro. These performance issues would eventually be worked out, but it took time.

The Xbox One S launched around the same time as the PS4 Pro and went on to become the first major positive step for Microsoft in this generation’s console war, due to the fact it was cheaper than the PS4 Pro and could play 4K Blu-Ray Discs. This introduced 4K UHD TV owners interested in buying an inexpensive 4K Disc player the opportunity to also play a hefty library of Xbox One and Xbox 360 games. Since the Xbox One S was merely upsampling its games, performance was pretty on par with the launch model of the Xbox One. However, the Xbox One S lacked the port for the Xbox One’s Kinect sensor, essentially killing that peripheral. Some users would be lucky enough to ask Microsoft to send them an adapter to make the Xbox One’s Kinect work on the new hardware, but Microsoft made VERY few and they disappeared from shelves quickly. This made current Xbox One owners hesitant to upgrade to the S, and many (including myself) decided to wait for Project Scorpio.

The PS4 Pro, PSVR and Xbox One S would all be out by Christmas 2016. The lines were drawn, and consumers were preparing to trade in their consoles for new systems. After 2017 began, Nintendo finally struck. It was going to be a VERY busy year, and that will be a story for next time.

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.

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!

Console War V Part 4 September 4, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Console War, Histories.
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Before I begin to talk about how the motion control revolution altered the landscape in the Console War, I want to briefly chronicle a sad footnote which happened to take place during the time before Sony and Microsoft launched their motion-control systems.  In 2010, Microsoft made the unfortunate decision that in order for the Xbox 360 to be expanded to its fullest potential, Xbox Live’s connection to the original Xbox would need to be severed.  That would mean that any Xbox player who had not been playing Xbox Live on the Xbox 360 would no longer be able to download content, updates or play multiplayer matches on any original Xbox game, and Xbox 360 players would no longer be able to play original Xbox games online, even if they were backwards compatible.  Any Xbox Live user who hadn’t upgraded to the 360 would have their service terminated and would no longer be charged for it.  Microsoft said the decision to shut off Xbox Live access to original Xbox games would allow them to bring in new features for the Xbox Live service they otherwise could not.

Microsoft discontinued the service just in time for the Halo Reach beta test, but a stubborn group of about 18 players refused to log off the system for days hoping Microsoft would change their decision.  Microsoft stood by what they were doing and would not change their minds.  Just as promised, Microsoft discontinued Halo 2’s multiplayer as well as the multiplayer for every other original Xbox game, however they did not sever access to anyone who had already been logged in.  The players who refused to log off Halo 2 were offered Halo Reach beta access as an incentive to stop playing but their protest would continue for days before they eventually logged off.

I remembered Microsoft talking a long time ago about the reason why they had to cap the Xbox Live friends list at 100 users.  It was because Halo 2’s menu system prevented showing more than 100 friends.  Theoretically, by discontinuing the online component to original Xbox users, more features could be possible on the Xbox 360, like an expanded friends list.  To this day, I can’t think of any new feature that Microsoft has added to the 360 since Xbox Live was discontinued on the original Xbox that necessitated that service being shut down.  In fact, to this day the Xbox 360’s friends list is still capped at 100 users.

Time ticked on and Holiday 2010 would become the new battleground for motion control in a way that the gaming press had never seen before.  Project Natal would launch with a new name, the Kinect, and while the original Milo demo would never see a release, the Kinect saw a heavy installation base quickly.  The price tag for a new Kinect would be $149 US, or Kinects bundled with a brand new Xbox 360 for just a $100 US premium over a non-Kinect bundled model.  While the system’s games would have a varied amount of criticism, there were a few hits including Dance Central and Kinect Sports.  In fact, players really liked the Kinect’s free pack-in game, Kinect Adventures.

The Playstation Move launched in a pretty aggressively priced bundle in comparison to Microsoft’s Kinect, but unlike the Kinect which was one solid price by itself or a discounted price when bundled with a new Xbox 360, the Move needed a lot more than just what was in a Move starter pack to take full advantage of the control system.  The Move’s special Navigation Controller, which worked similar to a Wiimote’s Nunchuck was not included with the Move bundle, and players would need to pay $25 US separately to buy one, or be forced to use one of their Dual Shock 3 controllers for a very uncomfortable experience.  Players would also need to have a Move controller and Navigation controller for every player in a Move-compatible game, and a Move wand alone cost about as much as a Dual Shock 3 controller did.

Sony bundled the game Sports Champions with all of the Move Starter packs, hoping that it would be the Move’s killer app at launch, but what Sony didn’t realize was that most PS3 gamers already had what I consider was the Move’s killer app at launch, Quantic Dream’s PS3-exclusive hit Heavy RainHeavy Rain received a hefty free patch some time before the release of the Move, which added full Move support to the game.  Quantic Dream had really done their homework, as they were able to make the Move’s control scheme work seamlessly with the already existing game.  I had played Heavy Rain with just a Dual Shock 3 at the game’s launch, but playing it again with a Move controller felt like I was playing it for the first time all over again.

Over the next two years, Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo would continue to fight it out amongst each other for console supremacy.  Microsoft would eventually release several major system updates to improve the interface of the Xbox 360’s dashboard for Kinect users.  After sales of the initial release of Kinect-exclusive games were a little underwhelming, Microsoft started to release 360 games with some form of Kinect support, so players could have several Kinect features in otherwise controller based games, and it is my opinion that is where the Kinect really started to do its best work.  Sony’s Playstation Move did not get the installation base Sony had hoped for, and because of that games that supported it were few and far between.  The game that was supposed to be the Move’s killer app, Sorcery, was released at a reduced price and could not gain the critical or financial success the Move needed to improve its sales.  Nintendo would continue to release new games from their classic properties in order to push the Wii to its absolute limits.  While games like The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, which took full advantage of the Wii’s MotionPlus feature, would be a critical and commercial hit for Nintendo, many players believed the game would have looked and played so much better if the Wii could display in high-definition.

As time continued to tick by the Playstation 3 continued to gain more traction on the Xbox 360, and the Xbox 360 continued to gain on the Wii.  However, Nintendo’s early lead was just too great for either the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3 to overcome.  By 2011, Nintendo had decided that it was time for the Wii to be replaced with an all new HD game console, and with the announcement of the Wii U, the latest console war began to wind down.  Sony and Microsoft were not deterred by the Wii U’s announcement and continued to pour support into their current consoles while Nintendo ramped up support for the Wii’s follow-up.  Shortly after the release of the Wii U, Sony and Microsoft announced their newest consoles, and with those announcements this console war has come to an end.  As we close the book on this console war, the Nintendo Wii would come out with the gold medal, and the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 would share the silver medal.  For the next console war, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft would be fighting it out once more, but that’s a story that is still being written.

Console War V Part 3 September 3, 2013

Posted by Maniac in Console War, Histories.
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A wise man once said, “Every bubble bursts.” That is precisely the most articulate way to describe the fall of Nintendo’s Wii around 2009. As we enter the third part of our history series on the fifth and most recent console war, the Nintendo Wii was sitting in first, the Xbox 360 was in second, and the Sony Playstation 3 was in the far third based upon console sales. After Nintendo was able to sell an exceptional number of Wiis, a larger number than any of the console makers could have hoped for, the wind started to fall away from Nintendo’s sails. By this point, Nintendo had started to reach the limit of just how many people were interested in obtaining a Wii. They had sold beyond the gamer demographic and entered into the casual market and beyond. Unfortunately, Nintendo was now hitting their threshold.

The third party publishers were not happy. While the Nintendo Wii had the largest installation base of that generation of consoles by far, most of the sales of multiplatform games went to Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 versions, not the console with the largest market share. With its lower powered graphics package and unique control system, Wii games were not easily ported and in most cases, games for the Wii had to be designed from the ground up to be on that console. While publishers were willing to take a chance on a system with such a large market share early on, third party publishers quickly learned that once a Wii owner had a copy of Wii Sports, that was about all they were interested in playing. Sales of third-party Wii games, including games specifically made to take advantage of the Wii, just weren’t selling. It was in this environment publishers were able to release some great Wii exclusives like No More Heroes and Dead Space: Extraction, which did well critically and garnered a devoted fanbase, but just could not sell anywhere near as well as the exclusives on the other platforms. On top of that, gamers were not happy either. HD televisions were getting more affordable, and people were upset at the fact that the Wii could not support high-definition resolutions like the PS3 and Xbox 360 could. Nintendo was still riding high on a much larger market share than any of their other competitors, but the Wii was in trouble.

The Playstation 3 was starting to gain traction. After a terrible first few years marred by a high price point and constricted library, Sony had finally started to right their path. By 2009, Sony made some very aggressive price drops to the PS3 and launched a series of phenomenal exclusive franchises for the platform, like Uncharted and inFAMOUS. While they were still sitting in third, their sales numbers were climbing. On top of that, with the death of HD-DVD, Blu-Ray Disc was taking off as the exclusive HD video format, and the most popular Blu-Ray Disc player by far was the Playstation 3, due to its ability to incorporate new Blu-Ray features on a regular basis alongside regular PS3 firmware updates.

Microsoft on the other hand may have been sitting in second with the Xbox 360, but they still considered themselves to be in first. They were sitting on superior monthly sales numbers for their console and believed that they could take the Xbox 360 into the market Nintendo had previously charted. Their strategy was to get all the third party games that normally would have launched exclusively on Sony’s hardware and get the developers to release them on the 360 as well, cutting Sony’s expected PS3 exclusive titles mostly to first-party releases. They were also making a ton of money on subscription fees from Xbox Live. While they had a great string of hit exclusive titles up to this point like Halo 3, Dead Rising, and the Gears of War series, the Xbox 360’s installation base was still nowhere near as high as the Wii was.

Sony and Microsoft believed the time was right to make a break for Nintendo’s crown and the battleground would be E3 2009. That was when both platforms would announce their own new unique control systems with the intention to strike at the novelty that Nintendo had so successfully capitalized on for the past three years.

At E3 2009, Microsoft would be the one to strike first. Microsoft’s development and management team stood together to announce Project Natal. Since a major part of the Wii’s success had been in its unique motion controller, Microsoft began working on a motion control system for the Xbox 360, and they believed what they had was truly revolutionary. Project Natal was a 3D camera system that had the ability to track a user’s gestures and voice so they could interact with their games completely without the need of a controller. By incorporating real-time 3D motion capture capabilities and voice control in the Natal, Microsoft promised it would be the most immersive control experience a gamer could ever have. The most crowd pleasing part of the Natal reveal was a short pre-recorded demo done by Game God Peter Molyneux called Milo, where a woman interacted in real-time with a virtually rendered child. She could pass him pictures, and he could make out her expressions, words and gestures. The gaming press went wild.

The next day, Sony announced what their plan was going to be for the future of the Playstation 3 and it would be called the Playstation Move. Building on the already available Playstation Eye camera, Sony showed off an entirely new type of controller called the Move Wand, which featured a glowing color ball in front of a button-equipped controller grip. The Playstation Eye worked in conjunction with gyroscopes inside the Move Wand to track the controller, and the player could use the Dual Shock 3 or a smaller navigation controller to function as an analog stick. Sony explicitly stated the best part of the Move was it would have buttons with tactile feedback for the player, unlike Natal’s purely gesture based control system, and existing Playstation 3 games could be patched to support the Move controller. The bad part was the Move looked and played nearly exactly like a Nintendo’s Wiimote and Nunchuck and everyone could tell.

Nintendo made their own announcements as well in the form of a slew of new games that would be coming exclusively for the Wii including Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid: Other M, but their real response to Sony and Microsoft’s motion control announcements would be releasing shortly after E3. While motion control had already been a built in feature of the Wii since launch, in June 2009, Nintendo released something for the Wiimote that would enhance the motion capability of the Wii and allow full 1:1 control between the player and the system. It was called the Wii MotionPlus and it would launch bundled with Wii Sports Resort, the sequel to the most successful game on the Nintendo Wii. Nintendo hoped that by bundling the latest Wii Sports game with the MotionPlus, it would give players the best opportunity to see what this new technology could do, and encourage more Wii owners to upgrade their Wiimotes. If enough players upgraded their Wiimotes, more games could be released that would take advantage of it.

The announcements had been made, and it was clear that Sony and Microsoft were actively going after Nintendo. Were they able to deliver on all their promises and overtake Nintendo, or was Nintendo’s dominance in the Console War too strong to give up their crown? We’ll talk about that next time!

Console Wars V – Part II October 20, 2010

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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.

Console Wars V – Part I October 18, 2010

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The year was 2004 and the current generation of consoles had become far too long in the tooth.  The Nintendo GameCube, Sony Playstation 2 and Microsoft Xbox just did not have the power to support the new graphics engines that game developers were creating.  By the last year of their use, most game developers had shifted focus to the PC, which had always been the most powerful processing platform and did their best to scale back the graphics so they could be playable on the consoles which just did not have the power to run them at their full capability.  When software developers were flocking to the PC in droves by 2004, the console manufacturers secretly started shifting focus from their current generation and started to look towards the future.

Releasing consoles which would become obsolete at the time of release was no longer going to be a viable business model.  The next generation of consoles would have to be far more powerful than the current PCs they could compete against, or be able to do things that PCs could never do.  Also, TV manufacturers were finally mass producing High Definition Televisions, ending the era of where a 480i static filled image was your only option when watching what was on.  Now TVs were being made to support 720p and 1080i resolutions which provided a crisper cleaner image, and were widescreen, which offered a larger field of view and removal of those pesky black bars in DVDs.  In a market with only three leaders, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, they would all need to impress, and quickly.  But they had all been preparing for this, and they were almost ready to lift the curtain on what they had.

Sony had been readying the Cell Processor with IBM for some time, and it was nearly ready for mass production.  It was practically an entire computer inside a processor with multiple SPUs which could take up the work of independent functions like audio or physics, and a central processor to rule them all.  Sony was also prepping their own optical disc format for viewing movies in High Definition, something that standard DVD could not do.  It would also allow for enormous space on game discs, over five times more space than current DVD could offer.  They also wanted to make sure that full compatibility would happen with all Playstation 1 and Playstation 2 games, so they included Playstation 2’s internal hardware inside the new console.  They would also be the only console to support 1080p at launch, the highest HDTV resolution at the time, and one that no existing TV could yet display.  Sony’s third entry into the Console Wars would be the Playstation 3.  The cost of all of this processing muscle was going to be a hefty $499 for a 20gb model or $599 for a 60gb model with wi-fi support.  The controllers would be almost identical to the original Dual Shock 1 and 2, with a small downside, they would lack vibration in exchange for motion control, something Sony said was a fair trade off.

Microsoft had also been experimenting on a new console for some time.  Instead of going for a console which had a computer inside of a processor, they would include three multi-threaded processors which could function independently or together.  Most PCs at the time had only one processor, and even fewer had processors that were multi-threaded.  With three cores and 3Ghz coming out of each core, the Xbox 360 would be more powerful than over 90% of home desktop PCs.  Microsoft also didn’t believe Blu-Ray would take off, opting instead to stay with DVD as a storage medium for this generation, and later on allying with Sony’s chief format competitor, Toshiba, for their new format HD-DVD, promising its support for the 360 at a later time.  They were also ready to create the best interface, built around their success with Xbox Live, allowing for a unified patch system, multiplayer friends list and a cross-game achievement system.  The problem was the system was far too different than the original Xbox to support all Xbox games, so only a select few games from Xbox would be playable on the new console at launch, but more were promised to come later.

Then there was Nintendo…  with their Revolution.  No system specs were announced for it but they promised it would truly revolutionize the gaming industry in a way that would harken back to the original days when they ruled the market with the NES.  Without any data to back up their claims, most considered this hype and nothing more.  Even the early previews of it wouldn’t show the controller which Nintendo claimed needed to stay under wraps because they were worried their competition would steal it.  Finally, at E3 that year, Nintendo’s console was fully unveiled, along with it’s new name, the Wii.  The new controller was capable of motion control, something not used in the Xbox 360, and only minimally used in the Playstation 3.  The demos wowed a lot of people, and the Wii saw a lot of press that E3.  It also supported all GameCube games natively, as well as their memory cards and controllers.  But what was disappointing about it was the system specifications.  The processor was barely more powerful than Nintendo’s GameCube was, as was the graphics card.  Because of this, it would never be able to render anything in HD .  It would use DVDs as a storage medium, but would not provide DVD movie playback, a feature almost everything else supported in 2006.  The motion-control system had never been heard of before, and no one believed it could be precise or responsive enough to work, and was unlike any controller seen before.  Then there was the name, which many likened to toilet humor.  But the price would be a low $250, $50 cheaper than the lowest model of the Xbox 360, and $250 cheaper than the lowest model of the Playstation 3.  And it would include a full game, Wii Sports, which would take full advantage of the capabilities of the Wii.

With it’s low processing power and what many felt was a gimmicky controller, Nintendo was not even considered for this next format war, especially after the disappointment that was the Nintendo GameCube.  Sony and Microsoft prepared to face each other to become the number one console of the generation.  Sony was the heavy favorite, having ruled the last two console wars with an iron fist, the first one a heavy surprise, the second one was no one’s surprise.  With Blu-Ray expected to be as important to the Playstation 3 as DVD was to the Playstation 2, the analysts believed Sony had this generation in the bank.

Console War IV – Part II October 13, 2010

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The Xbox and the GameCube released within one week of each other in North America, the Xbox first and the GameCube second.  The Xbox launched with one of the best launch titles of all time, which became one of the biggest sellers of the console’s lifespan, Halo, made by newly Microsoft-Owned developer Bungie.  The Xbox would see fantastic initial sales and quick sellouts among retailers, all thanks to Halo.  Also, with the game’s support of Local Area Networks (LANs), it consequently became popular among college students who had them plugged into their network connections, as they were able to find anyone on the same local network (usually people in the same dorm) and play games against each other from their rooms.  The same thing that made the original Doom so popular on the PC was now happening on a console.

Nintendo released the GameCube with no first party Mario title, no CD or DVD playback, and no online support.  The GameCube would see immediate sales but they very quickly slowed down.  Without a first-party Mario title at launch for a Nintendo system, the GameCube slumped.  When that Mario game was finally released, it was no where near as good as their previous games like Mario 64 and the GameCube did not become the major system seller that Nintendo was hoping for.

Sony’s answer to the new competition was the release of the PS2’s original killer app, Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, the sequel to the number one game of the original Playstation and the most anticipated game of 2001, even more anticipated than Microsoft’s Halo.

One year after the launch of the Xbox, Microsoft, to everyone (including retailers) surprise, launched Xbox Live, the first ever fully integrated premium console online multiplayer service.  All future Xbox games, if they supported Live functionality, would be able to use Xbox Live’s servers to have full cross-game voice chat (which was unheard of even on the PC), guaranteed broadband online speeds (since the Xbox would not support a dial-up modem).  The price to gamers was $50US per year, and the gamers happily paid it as they were getting more than just online play.  They were getting access to patches, and also for the first time on a console, downloadable content in the form of new levels, multiplayer maps, and skins.  All that could be downloaded either for no extra fee or a premium price.  It was so revolutionary, Sony and Nintendo never had a response to the service for the length of the generation.  The closest that generation had to it was Sega’s Dreamcast modem, but it was limited to dial up speeds (which were abysmal) had no integrated voice chat, games could not be patched, and without a hard drive DLC was impossible.

Being first out of the gate was still doing well for Sony, who finally started selling online adpaters for the Playstation 2 with both a dial up modem and network card.  All new PS2s started coming with the adapters at no extra cost, but the units by themselves were not really being bought by the people who already had PS2s.  Also the PS2’s Hard Drive released in the form of Final Fantasy XI, the newest Final Fantasy game, which required a persistent online connection and a monthly fee to play.  At $100 extra dollars and not many interested in playing this game, the Hard Drives mostly just collected dust, especially since Final Fantasy XI was already on the PC, which was much better suited to playing MMORPGs than the PS2 was.  They did become extremely popular to homebrew users however, who used the Hard Drives to back up their games and play them without the use of discs, not something Sony was hoping for.  The PS2s were still selling extremely well though, as it had the largest catalog of any of the other consoles and a lot of third party exclusives, like Grand Theft Auto 3 and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

The GameCube was still not doing well.  It wouldn’t be until later in the console’s lifespan when first party titles like Metroid Prime and a price drop would bring the GameCube back from obscurity.  Later releases like Mario Kart: Double Dash and Super Smash Bros: Melee would eventually become the killer apps for the console, but it was too late, the GameCube just did not sell the units Nintendo needed.  They would offer network and dial-up modem adapters for the GameCube, but without a killer app to support either, both just collected dust on retail shelves.  The few gamers who did buy them probably never used them.

While the PS2 was considered the clear winner of that generation of the console wars, Microsoft, a relative newcomer to the block was able to hold their own against the power of Sony.  The launch of Xbox Live could also take the crown as the most groundbreaking achievement in the history of consoles.  Finally there was a unified broadband multiplayer service, something that the PC didn’t even have, and it was costing gamers $50US a year, which they were happily paying.

However, the most disheartening news was Nintendo’s GameCube was a tremendous disappointment.  Unable to sell the amount of GameCube  units they needed, it was a major black eye for Nintendo, which to many was still considered the finest game studio in the world.  It was also a financial bust for them, as they still made a loss on every GameCube sold.

This was also the finest generation Sony would have.  Their decision to launch with a DVD player gave them early sales.  They also had a healthy release of extremely successful games like Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (the most anticipated PS2 game at launch), a huge exclusive third party support (Grand Theft Auto 3 launched on PS2 first and was a major system seller), and great first party exclusives like God of War.  Because of all of this, the PS2 is still considered to this day the most successful console of all time.

With Sega out for the count, the next generation of the console war would be fought by only Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft, and that story will be coming next time.

Console War – IV Part I October 10, 2010

Posted by Maniac in Console War, Histories.
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It all started with Sega.  After the abysmal failure of the Sega Saturn, Sega, now under new management in the US, made the intelligent decision to fix every problem the Saturn had with their next console, the Dreamcast.  They developed not just a high-powered graphics chip and CPU, but the developer tools to build games for the system made development easier, and allowed the designers to focus on quality.  It also had a built in 56k modem, which was standard on most PCs of the day, but unused in most consoles.  Multiplayer gaming since the days of Doom and Quake on the PC were becoming one huge thing that PCs were holding over consoles, and Sega US knew it.  To truly revolutionize, they needed online multiplayer support and that meant including a modem.  One thing it would not have would be DVD support.  A new physical medium on the block, it was literally the best format at the time for home media viewing, blowing away VHS and Laserdisc in quality. It also offered a larger storage capacity for games.  However, the technology would just be too expensive to include in the console at launch and had to be left out.  A slightly larger capacity CD-ROM would be used for physical media, and at the time, it would be enough.

Sega launched the Dreamcast with a high price point and one of the best launch lineups in gaming history.  They also had one of the biggest advertising campaigns ever. As the first console of the new generation and graphics that made all the current generation of games just look stale in comparison, the Dreamcast sold out its initial shipment almost immediately, and became the must own item of Christmas 1999.

However, something was brewing which would shake the very foundations of Sega’s plans for dominance.  With the CD-ROM storage solution, excellent hardware, and unbeatable third party support, Sony’s Playstation had been the winner of the previous console generation.  Sony’s successor to the Playstation, the Playstation 2, would launch a year after Sega’s Dreamcast, and while it wouldn’t have an amazing launch lineup like the Dreamcast did, it would have something at launch that the Dreamcast would not have, something to offer customers that would for the first time have a console trancend past just gaming unit, but make it an integral part of a new generation of home-theater technology, DVD.

The Playstation 2 shipped November 2000 and with only half the amount of consoles at launch than what was initially pre-ordered, and no must-own games at launch.  All Playstation 2s were sold before the start of the working day could even begin, and no one knew when more were coming.  At $299, the same price as a standalone DVD player, the Playstation 2 was a great value to early technology enthusiasts and gamers, two types of people who weren’t mutually exclusive.

The early launch may have helped Sega in the beginning, but it had also cost them dearly.  By not waiting for DVD to become affordable, it was not included in the Dreamcast and that was their undoing.  The release of Sony’s PS2 brought the death of the Dreamcast.  DVD was just too important to early consumers, and at Christmas 2000, a machine that did not have this functionality was passed up.  After Christmas 2000, and the clear winner of that Christmas being Sony by far, Sega threw in the towel and discontinued manufacturing Dreamcasts.  Games would still be released for a while, but third parties started switching gears to work only with Sony.  Sega, without a first party platform to develop games exclusively for, would become a software company making games for all platforms.

By March 2001, Sony could finally meet the heavy demand for the Playstation 2, which you could finally find in stores.  However, there were still two more consoles getting ready to launch, could they possibly see the same magic after the tremendous success of the launch of the PS2, or would they share Sega’s fate?

Nintendo was getting ready to release their next generation console, the GameCube, originally codenamed the Dolphin, and it would be ready to launch in the next near.  And there was a new contender in the ring, software publisher Microsoft, the most successful company in the world, and they had their own console and unlimited funds to produce it, the Xbox.

A lot of the gaming press was skeptical of Microsoft’s place in the console war, but Microsoft was not to be completely written off.  Sony was once a newcomer in the previous generation, and they were able to completely knock out Sega.   Microsoft was no stranger to games.  The Windows Operating System had been running games since it was founded, and technically Microsoft had already been a major player in the console war for years prior with the PC format.  The problem was Microsoft was and always had been a company that only made software, hardware had always been someone else’s job, and by selling software for hardware, Microsoft’s business plan had made them billions.  Now they would be making software and hardware and they had to compete with Sony and Nintendo.  However, Microsoft had an ace up their sleeve.  The success of the Xbox can all be staked on the greatest business decision Microsoft ever made, the purchase of game developer Bungie.

The Xbox was by far the most powerful console of the generation.  It had the fastest processor and the best graphics chipset.  It also had a built in hard drive, something that Sony had teased would be coming for the PS2 but would not launch with.  It also had an integrated network port which could be used for LAN play in games that supported it, something that would not launch with the other consoles either but was promised to come later.  This was just as essential to Microsoft’s business plan as the Dreamcast’s modem was to Sega.  People didn’t know it yet, but Microsoft was getting ready to launch a full broadband online gaming network which would revolutionize online play forever.

The last entry would again be Nintendo with the GameCube, but unlike the release of the Nintendo 64, people were just not waiting on the GameCube this time around.  Nintendo was really bringing nothing new to the table.  They had superior graphics to the N64, but they were still playing by the same rules.  A cartridge based game release was completely impractical (it was through most of the N64’s lifespan) but Nintendo was still going to try for a proprietary format to prevent piracy.  Instead of using a full DVD as the other companies were using, they would manufacture a smaller DVD, which would be difficult to copy.  However, this would still limit capacity per disk to less than half of what could be offered in the PS2 and Xbox, and make DVD playback impossible, the very thing that killed the Dreamcast.  But it did have a superior graphics processor than the PS2 and the exclusive software support of Nintendo’s first party, the very thing that made the N64 hold it’s own against Sony’s original Playstation.  At $199, it was priced to compete, but Nintendo would be taking a loss for every console sold.

It was now November 2001, Sega was out of the picture, and Sony’s Playstation 2 was quickly becoming the most successful product in history.  But now Nintendo and Microsoft were ready to lauch their products, hoping to take a piece out of the numbers the Playstation 2 were selling.

Would they be successful?  Stay tuned for Part 2, coming soon!