After Microsoft unveiled the final details of their new console, the Xbox One, we finally had all the main players on the field — Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft. It’s only natural then to compare the upcoming systems and see what insights we have in this upcoming generation of consoles. I may be a little late to the party on this one, as some have decided debate the worth of the coming generation long before this, but may as well throw our two cents in anyway…
The Wii U
Assessment: The Wii U is the gaming console gamers wanted… about 7 years ago.
The only new generation console on the market right now, the Wii U has a pretty long road ahead of it. In terms of hardware, the Wii U is a lightweight, with more juice under the hood than last generation consoles, but nothing quite in the same league of it’s upcoming two competitors. We’re already aware it lacks to the capability to handle the Frostbite 3 engine or the Unreal 4 engine, which games going forward will likely adopt, giving the Wii U fewer third parties to rely upon.
Aside from that, the Wii U is a somewhat confused system. While trying to paint itself as the hard-core gamer’s Wii, it hasn’t completely done away with the gimmicks of the previous generation. The ability to stream games to the new Wii U GamePad makes gaming more versatile. However, the inclusion of various social media aspects, and effectively making the new controller a miniature tablet, introduces new-age gimmickery again. It’s difficult to know where the Wii U will go, because it doesn’t really seem to know what it is itself yet.
The biggest issue the Wii U has at the moment though, is it’s potential shelf-life. Starting ahead of the competition gave Nintendo time to build a strong library of games to help it hold onto a fan-base when the competition arises. The Wii U, however, has been squandering that advantage. Most of the strong titles for the system have been re-releases of older titles, and the unique titles for it can be counted on one hand (Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, ZombiiU, Lego City Undercover). It’s eShop has some titles of interest as well, however, limited sharing of former Wii Shop purchases leads former Wii customers to unwanted frustration. In this case, the Wii U poses more of an inconvenience to it’s former users than a boon. Nevertheless, the Wii U stands as the only “next-gen system” touting backward compatibility with it’s previous incarnation, which is one it’s few saving graces.
The light at the end of the tunnel for Nintendo is it’s upcoming 1st party titles. While we have only an inkling of the titles coming out (Pikmin 3, Legend of Zelda, and Smash Brothers), first-party titles are usually the saviors of Nintendo systems in most cases. This was true of the 3DS, as it turned around once the titles started rolling in, and it looks as though that will continue to be the case.The only problem is, will reinforcements come in time to save the Wii U?
Prediction: Nintendo’s future looks bleak, and Nintendo will need software to survive the next 18 months through their competitors’ respective launches. Afterward, the company will need to make a dramatic shift (much as it did with the original Wii) to stay relevant in the marketplace.
Assessment: The Playstation 4 is the console for developers, and wants to be the gamer’s default option otherwise.
The Playstation 4 is a stronger competitor right out the gate. Announced late February, the PS4 on the surface has about everything a gamer would want in a system and then some. Without going into a great amount of detail, the PS4’s hardware is built like a mid to high end computer allowing for more flexibility, and making it easier on developers to work with it. It also stands to be a significant upgrade from it’s precursor the PS3. Features include a Blu-Ray player, motion sensitive equipment a la the Move from last generation, and a controller with an added touchpad.
There are a few things that stand to harm the Playstation’s performance in the gaming market however — and many of them sound eerily familiar. PS4 will also include a number of social features, including but not limited to the share button. This button is designed to allow sharing videos of gaming sessions. However, there is no word as to how this will work, or how much control users will have over their shared content with this feature. Also, the PS4 will allow some games to be played using the Vita as a second screen, which while creative, makes me rather wary. Depending on the cost of the PS4 itself, consumers could be looking at a very expensive package if they want the PS4 to do everything it’s competitor, the Wii U, is doing.
The biggest hurdle for PS4, however, will still come from the games. Last generation PS3 had a slow start on this end. While Sony is adamant that this won’t be the case again, we have only seen Kill Zone, Infamous, and a few other projects coming exclusively to the system. Since the leap in fidelity from the PS3 to the PS4 is not nearly as significant as other generations (see PS2 to PS3, or PSX to PS2), it will be difficult to sell to consumers that games on other systems will be significantly better on the PS4 hardware. Add to this the fact that the system will not be backward compatible with the PS3, old PS3 players will reluctant to trade up this cycle.
Prediction: Sony is in the best position of all the main competitors, having versatility and aspects of both competitors, while not being immediately distasteful to the gaming community at large. I don’t think that this will be the best selling of the consoles overall, but it will likely be able to sell consistently.
Assessment: This is the console publishers want.
Announced May 21st, the last of the Big Three is the Xbox One. Much like the Playstation 4, the Xbox One is built like a mid range PC, though with more custom built parts. This may be an attempt to emulate it’s old rival Apple, creating devices that cannot be easily emulated elsewhere. The sleek design of the device itself seems to support that idea as well.
The One borrows from the TVii idea the Wii U is supporting, as well as combining the social media emphasis Microsoft and Sony have already been toying with, to create, essentially, a super media center. The Kinect camera and voice recognition will allow hands free access to all content you could want access to in your living room, even allowing access to more than one at once. While the capability of doing this given it’s specs is questionable to some degree, it’s a ambitious and intriguing concept. As a piece of technology, the Xbox One is quite fascinating, and stands to become more so going forward.
It seems however, as a gaming console, it may be less so. Microsoft attempted to avoid the issues, but it turns out early rumors of anti-used game technology and internet requirements were not entirely untrue. The system will require installation of games, and will tie them to your account. While it’s unclear how this system will work yet, hassle and fees associated with used games and lack of internet connectivity are inevitable. The Xbox One also does not have any hardware backward compatibility, though they have not said whether they will feature old Xbox 360 titles as downloadable games for the new system or not.
Microsoft has said that there will be 15 new exclusive titles for the platform, but it remains to be seen if these will be worth signing an agreement against the second-hand gaming market.
Prediction: In spite of my reservations, I can see this system being the greatest success of this generation, but not to gamers. The majority of the sales from this system will inevitably come from it’s draw as a media hub. Because it provides a unique experience, it’s major draw will be as a piece of technology as opposed to a gaming system, which will lead to strong sales. This happened in Generations 6 and 7, it’ll happen again in 8. This all comes with the caveat that it works as demonstrated and comes at a reasonable price point.
Assessment: Too much filling makes a pie a pudding.
Unlike previous generations, however, there are a number of new consoles coming into play that may turn the tide of this generation. Much like the beginning of the fifth generation, new ideas and new potential competitors are beginning to seep in.
The first is the variety of ‘Steam boxes’ coming to the market. These are consoles made by a variety of manufacturers, designed to use a connection to Valve’s Steam service for it’s library. While one has already been released, it’s $999 price point makes it less likely to attract a large following. Still, rumor states there is a more official one coming from Valve later this year or early next. With a large library of games already on Steam, a larger number still to come, and little worry for developers to build for unknown hardware requirements, the new Steam boxes are likely the next evolutionary step in console/pc gaming devices.
Another is the crowd-funded project, the Ouya. The physically smallest of the consoles mentioned, and likely the cheapest, the Ouya is an Android based media center with the ability to stream games from a central server. Much like a Steam box, this is a system that must always be online, but it’s so small and reasonably priced ($99), it would be hard for a gamer with cash to spend to pass it up. It’s also built around a store type feature similar to the iOS app store or Steam, making it easy on developers also. The major flaws are early reports of laggy controllers, and a lack of software for early adopters of the system. It’s official release is in June.
Lastly, while not much of a console itself, the variety of iOS, Android, and Windows mobile devices have already started to hurt other handhelds such as the 3DS and Vita this past generation, and stand to continue to do so well into the next. Though still suffering from issues of proper recognition, the major game competitors are very clearly eyeing this market closely as the “console wars” continue.
Prediction: If the price of the PS4 or Xbox One is too ridiculous for the average consumer, the Ouya and iOS devices stand to gain more clout. Steam boxes will be reasonably successful as they still fit perfectly in a world where either the console market struggles or the PC gaming market does.
The results this coming generation are far from being determined. Eventually, it will all be about who can provide the best games, the best service, and the best experiences to the masses. With everything the gaming industry is setting out to do, and the new alternatives becoming available, there is no doubt, this is an unusual time to be a gamer.