2014 Gaming: The Console War from Origins to the Future
It has been a very exciting, albeit controversial, year for gamers. With the release of the Playstation 4 (PS4) and the Xbox One at the end of 2013, gamers the world over have started to make the transition into a new-found world of gaming. With the heavy-hitting competition that the next gen consoles bring Nintendo has shown the world that it is very capable of returning to the spotlight. Yet, where did the major players get their start in the gaming industry? And where are they destined to end up with the direction the gaming industry is headed?
The general populace may only have a vague understanding of where, and why these companies got their start. There may even be a lack of understanding for why certain generations of consoles do better than others. While there are many other companies worth exploring in regards to gaming origins, as well as many other platforms to game, this article will primarily focus upon home-consoles as opposed to handhelds or PC gaming experiences.
Part I: Sony
Sony’s Playstation console had its 20th anniversary on December 3rd. In the past 20 years, it has all but dominated the gaming world with its innovative games and more versatile content. The Playstation is ultimately responsible for making games accessible to an adult audience. According to Aleks Krotoski, “PlayStation introduced the idea that gaming can be for grown-ups” (Twist). While the arcade generation opened its doors to youth audiences, Playstation created games for more mature audiences. The company’s success has boasted a vast fan-base of young and adult gamers alike and moved the world into a generation in which gaming was for more than just children. Sony successfully popularized console gaming and has a strong grip on the gaming market over-all. It’s no wonder that -- despite its financial failures with the Playstation 3 -- Sony is still going strong as the head of the gaming market.
Sony joined the gaming market thanks to Sega’s failure with the 32X system. Without Sega as a lead competitor, and with Nintendo’s new system not to come out for another year, Sony seized the opportunity to establish itself in the gaming market. The original Sony Playstation introduced new ideas to gaming systems, and improved what the market already had to offer. For the system itself, its compact size made it a welcome part in the family living room, and the use of a memory card system made possibilities virtually endless for gamers. Without an in-console or in-game save, anyone could bring their game and memory card to a friend’s house so long as they had a Playstation available. As for the graphic capabilities, Sony foresaw gaming moving into 3D graphics as opposed to flat sprites and their most popular games have implemented 3D graphics for the PS One system Its remote implemented handle-bar grips and four shoulder buttons for more possibilities in its games as well as comfort.
What made the original Playstation most popular however was more than just its elegant design, graphic capabilities, and its easy to handle remote control. From the beginning, Sony boasted impressive titles that implemented its 3D graphics, like Ridge Racer and Battle Arena Toshinden.
Sony was able to boast a strong line-up of games and exclusives to its system. Game-changers like Resident Evil, Metal Gear Solid, Tomb Raider, Tekken, Crash Bandicoot, Twisted Metal, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, and Dance Dance Revolution all appealed to a large variety of people and presented opportunities for everyone to try a gaming experience that appealed to their own interests. Sony also dominated the JRPG market with games like Suikoden I, Legend of Dragoon, Final Fantasy VII, and even more titles.
Each of these games, combined with the innovative -- for its time -- system, secured Sony’s place at the head of the market. Their follow-up with the Playstation 2 was even more successful than their first system despite the new-found competition found in the release of Microsoft’s Xbox. However, with this renowned success, Sony grew overconfident and made terrible mistakes upon the release of their third home console: the PS3.
While the system itself was generally decent, its library was a clear representation of something that could be put off. Its most iconic exclusives (Metal Gear Solid, God of War, etc.) were not readily available upon its release in 2006. The appeal of having a system that doubled as a Blu Ray player was also not a good enough reason for purchasing the PS3 because -- at the time -- anyone that wanted a Blu Ray player merely purchased one. The backwards compatibility on the original PS3 systems were appealing, but -- once again -- why bother when most gamers were still quite fond of their PS2’s? Without any worthwhile games to buy for years to come, and without any other appealing features, the PS3 had some of the absolute worst sales to date. The combination of a Blu Ray Player, PSN, and HD games lead Sony to believe a launch price of $599 was an appropriate price for their system. They trusted that fan loyalty would help them conquer the 360 and the Wii in the market, but sadly it was what ultimately lost them a lot of their credibility.
Sony’s failure stemmed from their lack of care for the most important thing a gaming console depends upon: games. The PS3 sacrificed much of the gaming experience to incorporate the Blu Ray capabilities. The implementation of the Blu Ray system caused a lot of its early games to take an extensive amount of time to load which can make gaming quite frustrating. Add this to their poor implementation of its online experience (which crashes often) and the PS3 deserved its place at third during this wave of systems.
However, Sony is quite capable of learning from its mistakes. They heard the fans’ complaints about pricing, and they knew about their issues with their online connectivity. Thus leading to the most recently released PS4 system.
Although the PS3 lost to the Xbox 360, Sony made a strong comeback in its production of the PS4. The console’s sales are much higher than the PS3’s sales, and compared to the other next-gen systems.
All told, the PS4 dominated the charts in September, selling 1,040,097 units. That means it beat the Wii U by a whopping 492%, and the Xbox One by 90%, even beating its own sales in August by almost 90%. In other words, Sony has continued its massive lead, taking the number one spot for the ninth month in a row.
With the consoles success, it would seem that Sony has an opportunity to once again dominate the market. From its simple, and elegant design, to the Dualshock 4 controller, reviews have generally raved about the new system. Naturally, the system has built up its graphic capabilities but perhaps what is most impressive is Sony’s consideration for the growing popularity of play through videos. With the implementation of the Playstation camera and the headphone jack, gamers can stream their reactions while playing. As for recording of actual game footage, the system offers a means of capturing their gameplay and seamlessly sharing their experience with Twitch or Ustream.
Like any launch console, the PS4 isn’t perfect. The software is lacking some key functionality, the DualShock 4’s more distinctive features are underutilized, and remote play is still rough around the edges. But in spite of these issues, the PS4 is an exceptionally well-crafted console. It’s impressively small and attractive design sets a new bar for the industry, and its powerful hardware offers not only stunning visuals, but higher player counts, constantly connected experiences, and larger, more detailed worlds.
In regards to its online usage, Sony is currently not charging for using the system’s online capabilities. However you must purchase a Playstation Plus card for an online multiplayer experience. The Playstation Plus subscription also offers exclusive discounts and free games for instant download per month. If the application is not game-related, the usage is entirely free without a Playstation card. Thus, using Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu Plus are readily available if you pay for their respective services.
What will ultimately make or break a system is the library it has to offer, and as of now the PS4 is severely lacking in exclusives that are worth buying. Although the system has released some excellent titles: Destiny, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, etc. Sony has made a point to release these same titles for the PS3. The demand to purchase the new system is very low. In fact, their more popular titles like the Kingdom Hearts Remix and Borderlands the Pre-Sequel have been released as PS3 exclusives. Indeed the PS4 has much to offer in its virtual library, but it is not anything that could not be similarly purchased for the PS3. If Sony wants to have any chance of staying ahead in the market it will need a more expansive, and compelling library to set it apart.
What does the PS4 have to offer in the coming years?
From the makers of such titles as DMC, Heavenly Sword, and Ninja Gaiden Sigma, Ninja Theory is developing fantastic action-adventure games with great combat mechanics. While the trailer does not say much in regards to game play, fans can at least expect a gritty story-line and a strong, female protagonist.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
The first three Uncharted games were introduced for the PS3, and the incoming fourth installment to the series is exciting to many fans. Sony seems to be following a trend with some darker titles, and Uncharted 4 is no exception.
Kingdom Hearts 3
While there has not been a release date set, Kingdom Hearts fans have been waiting for years for a third game, and the PS4 appears to be the perfect system for its official release. The potential implementation of Marvel and Star Wars characters to “close” the series is worth purchasing a PS4 for.
Along with building its game library, the PS4 will undoubtedly release software patches and updates to further improve its system capabilities. So long as it maintains its focus on the gaming experience it will surely stay ahead of the market.
Sony has a lot to learn from its past mistakes and its successes. The vast array of exclusives it held with its first two systems and comfortable, easy to use controllers make gaming seamless. However, their implementation of a Blu Ray player with their third system slowed down the gaming process for the PS3. The PS4 fixed a lot of the hardware problems that the PS3 had, plus the low price has put it ahead of its competition. Ultimately, it will come down to the exclusives the PS4 has to offer. Perhaps bringing back Crash Bandicoot or finally releasing a Suikoden sequel will give Sony the edge it needs.
Part II: Microsoft
While the Playstation struck the balance between adult and youth oriented games, Microsoft’s Xbox system’s initial creation catered to adults. According to former VP of Windows Sales, Joachim Kempin, the Xbox was created “to stop Sony.” Since its release date in 2001, the Xbox was an underdog in the market. It had a limited amount of exclusives to its library and had to compete with the ever-popular Playstation 2 and the Gamecube, a Nintendo console. The Xbox was the first American-made console to make it to the market since the Atari Jaguar stopped sales in 1996. The Xbox allowed Microsoft to make the kind of money that the company could never make from its PC gamers. Despite its short history in the gaming world, it has steadily made its way to the forefront of the gaming community.
Microsoft’s original Vice-President of games, Ed Fries, revealed much about Xbox’s origin in an interview for Develop. According to this interview, in 1999 Microsoft’s DirectX team sought out creating a game console that hid the Windows operating system (OS). Fries seized this idea claiming:
It was an appealing suggestion for me personally. It looked like a way for me to get my groove in the console business without having to deal with a completely different architecture, or a completely different operating system.
However, there were two development teams that sought the creation of a Microsoft console. While the DirectX team wished to implement the Windows OS into their console, the other team wanted to make a very straightforward game console. Ultimately, Bill Gates decided that the DirectX team would take on the project because they would implement the Windows OS. Using the Windows OS would have made it easier to send PC games to the system, thus providing an expanded list of exclusives for the Xbox system. Even so, the DirectX team soon discovered that they had to create a “custom operating system” to run the Xbox properly. Eventually the final design and concept for the Xbox fused the ideas of the DirectX team and the other team.
In regards to the system itself, it was decided that the original system would implement an internal hard-drive for extra storage space. The system’s controllers could support memory cards for any form of data transfer, but the ultimate winner for the original Xbox was Xbox Live. With online capabilities on a steady rise, Xbox developers decided to take a gamble on a system that had excellent (for its time) online functionality that would make it competitive in the market. Microsoft’s President of Entertainment & Devices Division had one demand for the Xbox system:
This was one of the clear demands that Robbie made, he said we were building the machine for the future, that we were going to bet on people signing up to broadband.
Clearly it was the right choice. What followed was over a decade of success for Microsoft’s console.
Despite its very limited amount of exclusives. The Xbox still managed to boast some very popular exclusives that showed Microsoft’s ability to take innovative ideas and improve upon them.
The Xbox’s great herald was the science-fiction, first-person shooter (FPS) game known as Halo. The game immerses its players into an alien world with futuristic weaponry and broad landscapes. The game’s multiplayer capabilities allowed for a more interactive gaming experience than the solo games than the Playstation was known to release. Halo was an exciting experience akin to the Nintendo 64’s (N64) Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. To many of its fans it was different, and it was different done well.
The Xbox was praised for many games, and it made clever choices in its following system to hold its own in the market.
The Xbox 360 (2005) was able to take innovation to the next level. With its initial release date on November, 2005 Microsoft was able to get a hefty lead against the PS3 and the Wii. The 360’s launch marked the product at $299 making it greatly appealing. This, on top of its more mature games and excellent online services placed the Xbox 360 at the forefront of international gaming. With the ability to play with anyone around the world at the touch of the button, and with easy communication via headset, gaming had taken an even greater step forward than it had with the original Xbox console.
However, while its initial sales were much higher than that of the PS3, the Xbox 360 eventually fell out due to its infamous, “Red Ring of Death.” The one year head start implied that the Xbox 360 was rushed in its production and its users soon discovered its hardware was undependable and unreliable. After 2-3 years of use, Xbox 360’s had a tendency to shut down and be entirely unusable. This dark day for the Xbox 360 could have been the end for Microsoft’s home console had it not been for the release of the Xbox Kinect in in 2010.
While Nintendo’s Wii System took the first major step toward motion-control in mainstream gaming, the Xbox Kinect perfected it. This was the Xbox 360’s breakthrough to being a living room console. The Kinect made games like Dance Central more enjoyable because the players no longer had to hold an awkward remote control. Had it not been for the Kinect the Xbox would never have made it to the next generation.
Of course the exclusive titles to its library are no small feat. From its focus to first-person shooters, to its racing games, the Xbox 360’s high definition graphics drew all types of gamers to their consoles. Had it not been for the PS3’s high price, the Xbox One may never have been developed.
The Xbox One
In a way, the Xbox One is facing the same issues that the PS3 had; their initial launch had limited sales because of poor and selfish choices made by Microsoft. The company made the Kinect a mandatory part of their product sales, thus skyrocketing the price beyond what gamers were willing to pay. With the mandatory Kinect, the system ran for $499 and it was not anywhere near worth the price. It is a bit eerie how similar the mistakes are with the PS3. While the PS3 focused upon implementing a Blu Ray player with a gaming console, the Xbox One’s initial sale pitch had a multitude of issues that pulled away from the gaming console.
Microsoft is not being prideful though. Referring to E3, the gaming industry’s largest trade show, Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft’s Xbox Division, openly admitted that poor choices were made within the first year of Xbox One’s release and is changing the company’s marketing strategy.
E3 is a big time in our industry. We know that this E3 is really important for us. People are looking for ‘okay, what is this change in Xbox, and what does it mean to have a Head of Xbox that’s really focused on games?’ E3 is a great gaming show and I want to make sure that when we’re there, the fans hear us and understand why we’re there.
With a new-found direction for the Xbox One, the system’s future is much brighter. A focus on innovative games, and a well-rounded gaming experience will surely build up the Xbox One’s popularity and success.
In the coming years, Xbox One’s exclusives stay true to its content that helped skyrocket the original Xbox to fame while offering up some other goodies worth waiting for.
While it may pull away from the style that made Fable so famous, Lionhead appears to be working diligently on something entirely different. Since Fable II co-op has existed as a minor part of the game’s experience, but Fable Legends takes this feature and expands upon it. It can be played with up to five people featuring four heroes and a villain. It has a play style akin to classic table top RPGs, with heroes traversing the obstacles and challenges to reach the end villain.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Although Tomb Raider got its start on playstation, it would seem that a partnership with Microsoft will lead to the release of this game on Xbox One first. The game appears to be an exploration of Lara Croft’s PTSD. She needs to cope with her experiences on the island so she can assimilate into a normal life, but perhaps it would be too difficult for her? Still, this added dynamic to her character is sure to be worthwhile.
The next installment to the Halo franchise is absolutely gorgeous to say the least. Halo 5: Guardians was supposed to launch this past year, but clearly there is more work being done and there is nothing wrong with that. Releasing a game before it is ready leads to glitches (Assassin’s Creed Unity) and the more meticulous the makers are, the better the game will turn out.
While the Xbox One had its fair share of mistakes, Microsoft has worked around the clock to make amends. The Kinect is no longer mandatory, and the system’s price has dropped significantly over the year. The console shares a lot of the same graphic capabilities and features as the PS4, but what will ultimately decide which console wins out is exclusives.
Had it not been for the Xbox One’s high price, it may have done well against the PS4. Spencer’s decision to focus on gaming over everything else is a the silver lining to an otherwise stormy future. The Xbox had always been most popular for its smooth online game play. There is little contest of this fact, but the system’s limited game play and the poor choices Microsoft has historically made from poorly made hardware, to high prices are lessons worth learning. That being said, the Xbox One is a much better piece of hardware than the 360 and the new focus on gaming will almost certainly move it forward.
Part III: Nintendo
From long ago, Nintendo has always been about creating entertainment and surprising customers. One thing that has changed is the scale of the company and the scope of everything we do. -- Satoru Iwata
In ’83 the gaming industry suffered a major economic crash, and Nintendo took a risk by building its first home console. Nintendo got its start at the forefront of the gaming industry with the release of the original NES system in 1984. Naturally the video game market’s economic crash would have made this system difficult to sell to retailers, but Nintendo presented their original console as a toy by packaging the system with a light gun and a robot accessory. For the rest of the 80s and the early 90s anyone that thought of “video games” would immediately think of, “Nintendo.”
From its first system, Nintendo has boasted a vast, and impressive library including: Contra, Super Mario Bros., Metroid, Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, and much, much more. A vast majority of their classics are what kept Nintendo afloat and, while they generally keep with what they know in terms of games, they still make sure to create exciting systems and game play mechanics with each generation. The NES itself was set apart from previous systems with its implementation of an eight directional pad as opposed to the use of a joystick.
Nintendo’s greatest competitor in its early years was Sega. Up until the release of the Super Nintendo (SNES) in 1991, the Sega Genesis dominated the 16-bit market. It was not until the release of some lead titles (Star Fox, Donkey Kong Country, Chrono Trigger) that the SNES helped to secure Nintendo as ruler of the gaming world.
The SNES offered a vast array of games in its library. From basic platformers, to JRPGs, to racing games, there was always a little bit of something for everyone to enjoy. Even if the production teams moved their loyalties to other systems, many franchises have Nintendo to thank for their start.
Nintendo would not stay stagnant in its capabilities and innovation. They knew that to stay ahead of the game they would have to continue to produce exciting games that unified better graphics with game play mechanics. From the directional pad of the NES, to the 16 bit games of the SNES, Nintendo knew that their next system would have to be truly great.
In 1996, the N64 truly set the tone for 3D graphics in games. Although the system never shared the same amount of success as the Playstation (a trend for Nintendo since Sony joined the market), the N64 managed to completely change expectations for gaming. The N64 controller opened the door for first-person shooters to join the home-console market. Playing with the analog stick made gaming seamless and the remote was quite responsive. The N64 had the technology necessary for 3D game mechanics and were able to produce many favorites that still get reproduced for modern systems today: Star Fox 64, Super Mario 64, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Nintendo was able to take their popular stories and change the gaming experience entirely.
Released in 2001, the Gamecube was Nintendo’s fall from the spotlight in the console war. While Microsoft and Sony were catering to mature audiences and built up a library of third-party exclusives, Nintendo stuck to what it knew. They opted for small, compact cds to prevent piracy but without the ability to play DVDs as well as play games the Gamecube became even less appealing. What is most unfortunate is the Gamecube existed at a time that the FPS genre and gritty graphics were making their way up in the world. Games like Call of Duty and Devil May Cry made their way into the spotlight while more family-oriented games like Super Mario Sunshine were not quite as popular to more hardcore gamers. What ultimately allowed Nintendo to stay afloat was how cost effective the console was. Each console churned out a profit while the PS2 and the Xbox made money back with software sales.
Nintendo’s library was ridiculously small, but what it did have to offer were worth playing. From the cult favorite, Smash Bros. Melee to the FPS Metroid Prime, gamers still want to see sequels to Gamecube titles. However, with the lack of sales these games may never see sequels or remakes for the Wii U in the near future.
In recent years, Nintendo could be considered synonymous with “gimmick.” Just as they abused the stylus in the DS for games, their 2006 system, the Wii, took motion control and ran with it until there was nothing left. Their motion control concept was so popular that Sony took it and applied it as an add-on for the PS3, and Xbox perfected it with the Kinect. Still, the low price, the motion controls, and the surplus of family-friendly games, the Wii became the top pick for the living room around the world.
The Wii sacrificed the HD quality that the PS3 and Xbox 360 were praised for, in preference for a fun gaming experience, thus proving one thing: game play > graphics. At least that would have been the hope. As the first to work with motion controls, it was soon revealed that the motion controls were not quite as sensitive as they should have been. Even the “Wii-mote Plus” did little to return the Wii to the spotlight. With a few years of success, the Wii ended up becoming nothing more than a failed gimmick, Nintendo knew it had to make its move to HD.
The Wii U
The Wii U’s advertising was the first nail in the coffin for Nintendo. Despite its release date in 2012, the Wii U did not have any initial buzz going prior to its launch. If anything it seemed more like a well-kept secret that should never have existed. To the general populace, the Wii U seemed more like a gimmicky add-on to the Wii. Considering that the Wii system had plenty of ridiculous add-ons for its own system its no wonder that consumers had no interest in purchasing the Wii U with this in mind. And who could blame them, with an ad like this?
It was only very recently that the Wii U was advertised (not at all subtly) as an “entirely new technology” and system.
As a system, the Wii U has a great list of benefits that previous Nintendo consoles did not have. While it still cannot play Blu Rays or DVDs, it is much better at using other media applications than the Wii was. At the same time, their improvement upon an online gaming experience has allowed them to stand up tall next to the PS4 and the Xbox One. Their initial launch titles (Nintendo Land, ZombiU) were rather lame attempts to exploit their latest gimmick, but this habit is nothing new. Still, the Wii U has plenty of worthwhile exclusives that fans will want to play. That, atop their latest addition to Smash Bros and the implementation of the Amiibos (despite its issues) has steadily built up Nintendo’s finances from its past failures.
Nintendo knows what its fans love and, while it is heavily stemmed in tradition, it can still bring excitement to fan favorites with their innovative Wii U system.
Star Fox Wii U
With the Star Fox 64 game arguably being the best Star Fox game released. Fans have been craving a game that returns to its format. Nintendo responded with a 3DS release of the title. Although playing with both the Wii U Pad and the TV seems to complicate the game, if the transition and mechanics are meticulously made, the experience should be both seamless, and enjoyable.
Legend of Zelda Wii U
Shigeru Miyamoto announced an all new Legend of Zelda title with an all new Link. The game promises an open world exploration which completely steps away from the usual game’s formula (aside from the original Legend f Zelda of course). The trailer also shows Link (or who can be assumed to be Link) in a costume different from his classic green tunic. Still, Zelda fans are sure to be waiting with baited breath for this game to be released.
Xenoblade Chronicles X
Xenoblade Chronicles had a tragic release in America. Much like certain Amiibos, the original game was released in limited supply in America. To make matters worse, the game was only released in Gamestop stores. Thus, any copy that can be found in English generally costs around $100. Even so, this game’s sequel looks very impressive and full of even more science-fiction than the original.
With plenty of exciting games coming out for the Wii U and the proclamation that, “Yes, the Wii U is a new system” the sales should potentially go up. However, just as the Gamecube failed due to its lack of third party titles, the Wii U will need third party titles to stay competitive. As of now it does have Assassin’s Creed and Ninja Gaiden titles but the Wii U’s graphic capabilities -- despite being an HD system -- were still not powerful enough to keep up with the software demands.
The Wii U’s own “gimmick” does have its own appeal though. The ability to watch television and play your favorite home console game at the same time is excellent. The online gaming experience, unlike that of the PS4 and Xbox One is actually free, and thus makes the Wii U more cost effective in that already. Add that to their expanding number of players per system (up to 8 in Smash Bros) and the Wii U has a strong chance of being the living room console of choice.
As of now, it would seem that the PS4 will dominate the market. However, in the coming years and with Nintendo’s up-and-coming exclusives the company has a clear advantage over the other two companies. There is not much disparity between the Xbox One and the PS4 consoles because a lot of their games cross over between the two. In the end gamers will ultimately go for either what is more affordable, or what they feel most loyal to. Unless there is an exclusive title for a particular system that the gamer very much wants, that will not be enough to make a dent. Furthermore the PS4 and Xbox One are too similar in functionality. They both cater to more mature audiences, and -- while their games can have some multiplayer features -- their games are not necessarily family oriented. The Wii U is something entirely different in how it is made and played with, and the games can cater to young and old alike. If Nintendo can further develop its hardware to support HD, third-party games, then the system could go far and continue to lead the industry with new, innovative ideas.
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