One console has a sharing feature that nobody wanted and unveiled with a slightly underwhelming line-up. Another console is strongly rumoured to mandate a permanent connection to the internet to play games and is likely to prevent playing used games. The third console is so underpowered that some third-party publishers have abandoned it less than six months after release.
For as excited as everybody was about this generations console wars, it sure seems to be shaping up to be a race to the bottom and a case of not survival of the fittest but survival of the least weak.
I realize I went easy on Sony’s PS4 problems because they’re making the best go of the next generation of home consoles out of the three manufacturers. Sure, the “core” gamer that are the bread and butter of the PlayStation customer base aren’t the biggest fans of the sharing and “take over” functionalities but these are all supposed to be optional. They can avoid this if they so choose so it doesn’t affect them in the slightest.
Basically, Sony is the early leader in the next console generation not by being a complete failure at making customers happy.
The Wii U and Xbox 720 (code-named “Durango”) both have problems but their issues have polarized two different groups in gaming.
Nintendo has turned off publishers with the Wii U. EA and Epic Games both took the time at GDC to say that their next-gen game engines (Unreal 4 and Frostbite 3, respectively) wouldn’t be able to run on the Wii U. Patrick Bach, Battlefield series producer, explicitly called the Wii U a “low-spec machine.”
Nintendo has this problem with the Wii, as well. They released a lower-spec console thinking that everyone who wanted “realistic graphics” would have played it on another console. That philosophy effectively cuts out third-party triple-A games which are designed to maximize the hardware of the likes of the PS3, 360 and PC.
By cutting out the standard triple-A line-up, Nintendo’s consoles need games built specifically for the consoles. That means putting out a large number of first-party (Nintendo developed) games and some third-party games designed specifically for this console. After a sluggish launch of the 3DS, Nintendo knew they had to come out of gate strong for the Wii U’s launch.
But since the Wii U launched, they haven’t answered the bell with a line-up that can sell the console. They have one noteworthy first-party game (New Super Mario Bros. U), one noteworthy third-party exclusive (ZombiU) and a bunch of ports of third-party games. If people were playing the triple-As on other systems, as Nintendo believes, there were only two games to pick up for the Wii U since launch. Talk about learning from your mistakes.
So not only has Nintendo pissed off devs and publishers by releasing a next-gen console whose hardware barely surpasses current-gen consoles, they gave gamers no reason to buy the Wii U either. If gamers aren’t buying the Wii U, devs won’t make games for it and the cycle continues until everyone gives up on it.
Meanwhile, the Xbox team almost seems to be actively working to turn gamers off their upcoming 720/NextBox/Durango/red ring console of death.
For over a year, we’ve been hearing rumours about next-gen consoles (from both Sony and Microsoft) are going to be always-online and prevent used games from being played. There was also the rumour that the PlayStation Network would become a subscription service like Xbox Live. Sony’s launch event did well to quash most of these rumours, the exception being a paid PSN subscription service.
The rumours around Microsoft’s next console running afoul of doing things that gamers hate only seem to get stronger with each passing week. Last week, the whole fight came to a head when Kotaku reported that its sources said that the 720 would be always-online and kick you off if your connection drops for three minutes, it would likely ban used games and the Kinect would be an integral part of the new system which makes the 360’s Kinect a giant failure of a beta test.
The worst part about this is that Microsoft had plenty of lead time to take into account how gamers were reacting to always-online DRM for games, the concern over effectively banning used games and the general panning of the Kinect and didn’t care about it in the slightest.
No, I take that back. The worst part isn’t that Microsoft didn’t listen to what the gamers think about all the always-online, anti-used games, pro-Kinect plans for the Xbox 720. It’s that they clearly don’t care. Microsoft Studios creative director Adam Orth tweeted that he didn’t get the “drama” around always online consoles and that we should deal with it. Microsoft issued an apology for his condescending tone but never addressed the content. In short, THEY DON’T CARE WHAT YOU THINK!
I’m seeing a growing movement among commenters on various gaming blogs suggesting that Microsoft support amongst core gamers is at an all-time low. Long-time Xbox loyalists are planning to desert the next Xbox or buying both console for only the PS4 because they disagree with Microsoft’s practices. This is the voting with your dollars that I’ve been advocating for a while now.
While Microsoft and Nintendo are trying to lose the console wars, I don’t think they’ll go out of business completely. Nintendo has this habit of having off-generations, like with the Game Cube, and coming out of it in one piece. Microsoft might cede market share to Sony among the so-called core gamer demographic, they’ll certainly keep the more casual gamer who are just into playing some sports games and shooters with friends and couldn’t care less about important issues like DRM, used games, Kinect and paying to play online.
When doom and gloomers talk about the possibility of a repeat of the great gaming crash of the 80s, I think they’re a bit like the crazy folks who say the apocalypse is coming. After looking at the state of the next generation of console, doom and gloom might not be too far off the mark.