As an avid gamer it is always an exciting time when a new gaming console is about to launch. For many the question they have to ask is which console to get, an Xbox One, a PS4, or perhaps an Nintendo Wii U. Console gamers are an entirely different breed than PC gamers so I will skip the lecture on why I prefer one over the other and instead focus on what has me excited about this next generation, what has me worried about it, and discuss what I would like from this generation.
I will break them down one by one.
I know most people are counting on Microsoft to repeat their previous success because frankly up till now Microsoft has been pretty consistent. The problem is Xbox One is not targeting the core gamer, it is instead going after an entirely different branch of the gaming segment, the sports fanatic. Microsoft has gone out of their way to talk about how Xbox One will be integrated with various Professional Sports services, their commercials and features they are touting are all focused on how sports will be the center focus of the machine. They will also rely heavily on TV services, in other words they want the Xbox One to be integrated with your Cable Box/DVR like no other device previously. There is a problem with this approach. The TV integration would make sense except for that fact that we already have Internet TV’s and just about every single DVD/Blu Ray player on the market as well as Roku, GoogleTV, Apple TV, Western Digital, etc, all these devices do the same thing, some more some less. Now sure the Xbox One will *ALSO* play video games but for some reason Microsoft is not really making that the central focus instead it is sort of a given, like an afterthought. Sure the machine will have games and post launch but if the market they are chasing is less gaming oriented and focused more on the TV integration and Sports services then they could have a problem, the core gamers might not follow suit and if that happens they could end up with a gaming system that doesn’t sell games but instead sells services. The very fact that Microsoft is relying heavily on cloud computing to offload some of the Xbox One’s features tells me that they are moving away from a dedicated gaming platform and more towards a multimedia machine that just happens to also play games.
In addition to all the above mentioned there is one really troubling problem with Xbox One, Kinect. Now the Xbox 360 Kinect was a travesty, some would say it was nothing but knee jerk reaction to Nintendo’s success with their Motion Controller. Others think it was just a matter of time. Either way Kinect was always optional and as such many people opted to avoid it. But the Xbox One will come with and require the technology in order to run the new machine. The new features of Kinect like it being able to tell when you get up and leave the room, being able to talk to the console and have it turn itself off and on is a but troubling to me. Some think it is a natural progression of technology but based on Siri and other voice activated computing services I think it is becoming clear that consumers regard these things as novelties that quickly wear off, or more often as an inconvenience. But the real problem is that forcing Kinect on gamers means that if you have no interest in the device and what it offers, that makes it harder to even consider buying the Xbox One.
Now what is there about Xbox One that would get me excited? For starters the whole idea of cloud gaming is exciting because it means that if, and a big if, Microsoft can invest in the right technology they can make it so the Xbox is just the streaming device and that all the heavy computing is done at a warehouse somewhere and this would force Microsoft to partner with Telecom companies to invest in expanding their broadband services and upgrading their lines, something that I believe would really benefit everyone. Also there is the idea that once cloud gaming takes off, that hardware costs will decrease dramatically and console gaming will become more enticing in the future.
There is no doubt that Microsoft takes their gaming division seriously but I am worried they have lost sight of who their core audience is and they might be making a mistake they can’t recover from. Nintendo went out of their way to reach an audience that is alien to their traditional core and now they are trying to get their core back they are in a bigger mess than ever. Microsoft could end up in far worse shape because Apple, Samsung, and Google are all chipping away at the division where Microsoft really makes their money and that could spell disaster for the entire company and all of their partners who are relying on them.
Of all the gaming consoles out there this is the easiest one to get excited about, Sony has the longest track record of being consistent, to date they have yet to release a console failed to reach their core audience. Playstation shattered all expectations and turned the entire gaming word upside down. Playstation 2 continued to break records and raised the bar. PS3 had a rocky start but in the end they were able to get their act together. Needless to say even though PS3 had a slow start in the hardware side, it has never been lacking in software. This is where Microsoft really has to worry, traditionally Xbox has been plagued by the very fact that a good majority of their must have titles were also available on PC’s and PC gamers continued to be troublesome to Microsoft. This was not the case for Sony, whose first and second party titles remain exclusive to their console, which can not be said for Xbox. True there are plenty of exclusives for Xbox but nowhere near the quality and quantity of Playstation. Brands like Ratchet and Clank, Grand Turismo, WipeOut, God of War, to name a few, have all had a strong place on Playstation consoles.
Unlike Microsoft, Sony has never been ambiguous about who their audience is, they are targeting gamers, people who live for gaming. Microsoft wants people who game, but not make gaming their life, Sony wants people who live to game and happen to also use their machines for other stuff. By making their machine a games console first and an entertainment machine second, Sony has always been able to show their core audience that they mean business. Also compare the amount of digital titles on Sony’s store to Microsofts and it becomes clear where the game developers want to put their titles. Playstation is hands down the most recognizable brand to core gamers and right now Sony is doing everything they can to show that PS4 will be faster, stronger, and better in every way than PS3 and they are doing it at an affordable price, which was the real reason PS3 was slow to take off. When it comes down to it gamers buy a games machine for the games, and right now both big consoles have their share of supports from the gaming industry, so that won’t be a major issue up front. However third party companies do need incentives to publish on a game console and I think Sony is looking to be the strongest contender for third party support whereas Microsoft looks like they could be in a position to fall behind.
What else can I say, Sony will continue to bring their back catalog of games from PS1, PS2, and now PS3 to their next gen console in digital form. The other difference between MS and Sony is that Sony has been in the game longer, in fact they go way back to the NES days. Sony has also been far better at attracting Japanese companies to their system and while Japanese companies have been struggling lately, they are regrouping and above all there are some really strong franchises coming from Japan that trump all other regions combined. Sega might not be as strong as they used to but they are buying up companies left and right, strengthening their catalog and giving them more options all the time. Capcom, Konomi, Taito, SNK, Square-Enix, these Japanese giants continue to prove their relevance and it is only a matter of time before they find their stride and return to the top. As for technology, the PS4 is basically doing the same stuff as Xbox One but without the Kinect. They will both offer similar features, the PS4 is slightly more powerful but that has never been a deciding factor for console gamers and isn’t likely to be now. What gets me most excited about PS4 is Sony has the desire to make their console the best it can be, they need it more than Microsoft. Sony is bleeding money and although they have begun to stabilize they are still in danger and PS4 is their golden goose, they are betting the entire farm on it being their return to glory and quite frankly they have the money to make it work. What that means is they need it more, so they will fight harder to attract the dedicated gamer and that bodes well for the gamers who will reap the benefits of a reinvigorated Sony willing to fight for their top spot.
Nintendo Wii U
Nintendo is in the worst position of all three, their console has already been on the market for a year, it has had an identity crisis trying to distance itself from the first Wii, and unlike Sony and MS, they no longer have a core audience to draw upon. See Nintendo has been in a slump over the last few years, they sort of drift along on nostalgia and a group of dedicated loyalists but as time has gone they have further alienated their core fans and have been shrinking their core user base for going on two decades now. They are in a unique position also because unlike MS and Sony who are corporate behemoths, Nintendo is still a relatively small company by global standards, they have three main divisions, their handheld division which as been under constant fire from Tablets, Smartphones, and other hand held devices, their Console division which has been in a troubled mess since the N64, they had a couple of good years with Wii but that was something on an anomaly as they were reaching an entirely different audience than their traditional gamer. Their third division which is their most profitable is their Pokemon division which is a little complicated but it is their only outside source of income unlike Sony and MS who have many.
The thing is, Nintendo has been around for so long that Nostalgia is their best asset. How many times do you see a commercial for the latest Mario game and instantly go back to your childhood and remember the first time you saved that princess from her tower? Unlike Microsoft who has been mainly the Halo machine, and Sony who has had a few strong franchises come and go, Nintendo has forgotten more franchises they the other two combined could ever hope to have. Nintendo has been the number one supporter of their game platforms since the earliest days and that is their biggest strength and their biggest weakness at the same time. Third party companies despise Nintendo because if they put their game on Nintendo’s machine it is not likely to sell with a Nintendo game sitting on the same shelf. For decades you would see third party games get discounted month after month while the same game that launched on the Nintendo machine, the Mario or Zelda, would sit there for years at full price, get discontinued and then immediatley become a best selling collectors item. Nintendo has always been in a great position in that people but their machine to play THEIR games, not Capcom, not Midway, not Square, but Nintendo. Sony can’t say that people buy Playstation for the varied experiences, they buy Xbox for the online features and community, but if you combined all of the best selling games on MS and Sony you wouldn’t even have half of what Nintendo can sell. Let us not forget that their handheld division is still their main money maker and isn’t going away any time soon. So what is the deal with Wii U then? Well put it bluntly it has no games, or rather it has no compelling games that you either can’t get elsewhere or can’t live without. Right now the Wii U is getting better, with the new Sonic, Mario 3D World, and Donkey Kong Country coming out, but up till now they system has been plagued by a serious lack of games. Not to mention the consumer confusion over the name, not knowing if it is a new console or an accessory for the regular Wii.
What worries me most about Wii U is that it is underpowered compared to the other two and unlike Wii which had a brand new casual gamer market to draw on, Wii U is looking to recapture their core audience, problem their core audience was leaving them in droves even when they were making powerful consoles that could compete head to head with the big boys and they still lost ground. Now that making under powered machines is becoming a habit for them this has the hard core gamer worried because it means that even if sales do increase, third parties will still have to wrestle with putting their game on a machine that requires a tremendous amount of retooling to get it to work. PS4 and Xbox One are different in key areas but underneath it all they are basically the same, Wii U is entirely different, it has a weaker chip set, a smaller internal memory, considerably less RAM, and a controller that is as different as night and day. Sure it worked with Wii because motion controls were so intuitive and natural that anyone, including grandmas, could pick it up and play. With Wii U that is not the case, it utilizes a tablet style touch screen controller that is a cross between an iPad and a traditional game pad. Sure this means new and innovative gameplay features are possible, but it also means that game developers have to find interesting and innovative ways to make use of it, and gamers have to come to terms that a tablet is not the same as a remote. Not to worry as they still have remotes for the Wii U but that also complicates things, companies now have to decide to tailor their game to use the Gamepad, the traditional Pro controller, or the Remote, this is even more confusing than all those options the first Wii had. What is worse is devs might not be willing to make that investment on a console that doesn’t have the sales like the Wii did. And if it was a success so what, you just end up with and endless flow of party games, casual games, and other shovelware that would be better suited for the Android or iOS market.
What does excite me for Nintendo Wii U is what excited me for their past consoles, well prior to GameCube, and that is the new Super Mario game. Super Mario 3D World looks to be the most fun Mario game I have seen in years. I hated Sunshine, I wanted to like it, I tried to like it, but in the end it just wasn’t a Mario game to me. I never played Galaxy as by the time it came out I had already relegated my Wii to the party machine my parents played more than I did. If not for Virtual Console my Wii would have been collecting dust after the first couple of months. Now will Wii U I am no longer excited for Virtual Console because times have changed, and frankly I have purchase Super Mario Bros, original NES Zelda, and Donkey Kong classic from Nintendo more time than I care to admit, I am NOT going to shell out more money just to play those old games once again on another machine. What does that leave me with? Well Mario 3D World doesn’t look anything like Sunshine and whats even better is it looks like it is trying to reach the core gamer, which is who I am.
But are those three games enough to entice me to invest once again in a Nintendo console that I KNOW will lack certain third party titles I am pretty sure I will want to play? Games that I also know will NOT be coming to PC? Well the short answer is no, those three games are not enough. There are more games on the way but as of right now it is to be seen if those games will even make a difference or who knows they might end up getting canceled or pushed back to their next console, or even go multiplatform as Nintendo transitions into a third party like Atari and Sega did. Truth be told I am honestly worried for Nintendo and I would consider myself a fan, not a “fanboy” but a loyalist nonetheless. So for me I am realistically unsure if they can come back. I think Microsoft will either sell off their game division or they will morph into something core gamers run from, I think PS4 will sell strong numbers at first and then should start to level off as competition from tablets gets stronger, but Nintendo I am genuinely worried about, what could happen to them. Will I but a Wii U, PS4 or Xbox One?
If I had the money I would gladly pick up a PS4 in a heartbeat, I would get a Wii U once it has more than five games I want to play, right now it has three and that is not enough. I will never get an Xbox One period because some of the stuff MS is doing has me really worried. Plus I never owned an Xbox before, the first or the second so I have no desire to pick up the newest one. BUT I have owned every Playstation to date, and every Nintendo console to date so it is a safe bet that at some point in time I am going to get one, the other, or both, eventually. Right now I am leaning towards PS4 because it has features and a strong line up of games in the pipeline plus Sony is showing a strong hand at the moment. I might change my mind and get a Wii U if it has strong holiday sales that can lead to more games in the coming months because let me be honest I want to play that new Mario, I love Mario games in fact as a gamer I love Nintendo because they are the best at making video games, not so much interactive movies and sports simulations like their competitors. But Sony also has a knack for putting up a good fight and well Capcom makes some games I can’t do without that haven’t been strong on Nintendo consoles for years, same with Square and other Japanese games so for me, it usually is a two for, PS and Nintendo. The days of just getting the Nintendo machine and being happy are long gone.
In the end it doesn’t matter much to the rest of the world, each person will buy or not buy the machine of their choice for whatever their reasons are. As for me, I am in wait and see mode at this point but as a gamer I am tempted to get into the next gen at some point or another. Right now I will continue to enjoy the hell out of my PS3 which is nothing but awesome but eventually I will feel the need to get into the next gen and when that time comes I am going to have to make a tough call.