By Sage Ashford
This article took me some time to figure out how to tackle properly, and I still don’t quite feel like I’ve got the perfect handle on it, so forgive me if anything seems off. It’s unfortunate, but I think that in this instant gratification era we live in, people are all too quick to state their opinion one way or another on subjects that they really don’t have all the facts on. So it is with the subject of the future of console gaming.
To game enthusiasts, whether they be video game critics and “journalists” that work for video game websites and magazines, or fans who simply enjoy gaming as a medium, many of us are looking upon this latest set of consoles as “the last generation”. Oh admittedly, no one can seem to agree just exactly what will strike the killing blow–will it be PC, with Steam, MMOs , MOBAs and social gaming all working together to take back the crown to a platform that once languished for decades as a niche market? Or perhaps the young gun, mobile gaming will simply leech so many casual gamers off from consoles they’ll be as niche as PC gaming once was?
Possibly even the dangers of AAA gaming will simply cause the market to collapse in on itself as people believed would happen to comics in the 90’s. The only thing that can seemingly be agreed on is that with the launch of the Playstation 4 and the Xbox One, the end of a type of gaming that’s lasted over four decades is close.
Only…the evidence doesn’t quite bear that out. Certainly, while Nintendo’s Wii U may be having more than “a little” trouble catching the attention of the public, Sony’s Playstation 4 and to a lesser extent Microsoft’s Xbox One don’t appear to be having any trouble at all. In fact, the Playstation 4 has officially had the largest console launch in history. And with six million consoles sold at the beginning of March, it’s rumored that Sony has raised their sales forecast after already setting (and shattering) a goal of five million that looked incredulous to many doomsayers.
So that’s it, then. Consoles are saved, right? Not so fast. There are still some fairly valid points being made about video game sales now, compared to the launch of the last generation. As the saying goes, “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t”: In January 2007 there were almost two million consoles sold compared to just barely 700,000 sold this past January. That’s an staggering difference, and considering that the economy isn’t nearly in the shape it was seven years ago, and that “next-gen” consoles are actually cheaper now than they were then, these figures are certainly something to be concerned about.
So then, are consoles (as I said in my title) doooomed? Well, perhaps not. While numbers can only ever tell the truth, the conclusions we draw from those numbers are another matter entirely. What those numbers DON’T explain is that in 2007 we weren’t coming out of the longest console generation ever. The numbers for last-gen systems don’t have any chance at being as high because the market is more saturated. They also don’t explain how seven years ago, anyone could walk into their local Wal-Mart/EB Games/GameStop and walk out with a shiny new PS2 or a GameCube for $99.99, while Nintendo has already discontinued the Wii and the expensive Cell processor inside of the PS3 means we may never see a Playstation 3 for less than $200. (Already they’re having to resort to cheap gimmicks like taking the hard drive out and using flash memory, and they still can’t get the price lower than $250. And those numbers certainly don’t explain the cultural phenomenon the Wii was in 2007. The PS4 is popular but there’s really no comparison to be had with a system that had people’s grandmothers playing video games.
And then there’s one solitary fact that everyone’s pointing out, but refusing to discuss why: technically, only Sony’s doing well. Well, there’s a good reason for that; Sony’s the only company that seems to be doing what it takes to win. Let’s take a second and examine the other two consoles and the decisions that have led them to this point.
We’ll start with Microsoft. At the start of the last generation, Microsoft quickly took the crown from its previous owner, Sony. With the Xbox 360 priced far cheaper, out on the market an entire year before Sony’s machine, and with online and networking features that fans could only dream of on consoles before that point, Microsoft had rightfully won the gaming faithful’s hearts. But it seems like since the announcement of the Xbox One, Microsoft has been following “The Official Handbook of How to Piss off Faithful Consumers”.
With their initial announcement that all games would require online “check-ins” every 24 hours, and that there were “rules” on who gamers could and couldn’t lend physical copies of games to, Microsoft’s road to next-gen started out a bumpy one. And when they announced their system at a pricey $499.99, that road only got worse. Even the “Xbox 180“, though it came not long after E3, was far too late in the eyes of public opinion. Post-release, the Xbox One’s main problem has been that despite its higher price tag, it appears to be graphically inferior to the Playstation 4, which is why if you follow gaming news you’ve probably heard more about “1080p resolution” and “FPS (frames per second)” than you ever cared to in your life. All-in-all, to call Microsoft’s position “unenviable” is euphemistic at best. Their comparatively lower sales are what happen when you piss off the gaming equivalent of swing voters and are only left with hard-line supporters.
Still, arguably Microsoft is in a greater position than Nintendo. Having launched the successor to the massively popular, nigh-on cultural sensation to the Wii in the “Wii U”, Nintendo has had nothing but trouble almost since day one. The system is far underpowered compared to its predecessor, one of a number of factors that’s led to a lack of third-party games. This problem leaves console owners with month-long droughts with nothing to play, and a weak variety in terms of a game library (so many of their titles are platformers). Add that on to an unnecessarily high price tag for the power it’s packing under the hood, and a massive branding issue that comes from creating a system that looks much too similar to your last and giving it a similar name without a proper ad campaign that leads casuals into thinking the Wii U is merely an add-on to your older console…it’s really no wonder Sony surpassed the Wii U’s 16 month sales in roughly a fourth of that time.
Put simply, Sony’s the one company that didn’t make any major mistakes in the launching of it’s system. It’s priced competitively, it’s boasting a large library to come over the next year in both downloadable and retail titles, and it’s the most powerful console on the market. It’s selling well because, like I said: Sony seems to want to win. But does that necessarily mean that if Microsoft and Nintendo got themselves together they would sell as well as Sony? Well, there’s the million dollar question. And the honest answer is: I don’t know.
I don’t, and no one else does, either. What people are doing when they claim consoles are fine or that they’re “dooooomed” is attempting to look between five and six years into the future, and they’re all going to fail because if anyone REALLY knew how to do that, they’d use the ability for far more important things than video games or game-related discussion. There are countless factors involved in the final fate of consoles, and in the end all I can say now is that currently consoles are alive and well.
If anything, if you’re looking for the final thing that puts the nail in consoles, it will be the fact that Sony is currently embracing a way for gamers to stream games off servers and play them on any device they own, from televisions to tablets. The future very well may end up being platform agnostic, but even that I can’t say for certain. But then, even that isn’t something I’d stake anything solid on. Perhaps for now it might be best to enjoy the fact that we have a trio of new consoles on the market, and a new generation of video games to look forward to?
Sage Ashford is a college kid with far more hobbies than he has free time. You can find him on Twitter @SageShinigami, but also at his own blog Jumping in Headfirst (http://sageshini.blogspot.com), talking comics, anime, music and more.