Welcome to Hangin’ on my Mind, written by me, Hang. Yes that’s my real name. This is one of a series of editorials where I get to express my viewpoints about, well…anything. Just bear in mind that statements aired within this article are solely my opinions and do not necessarily reflect those of MyGamer.com, its staff members, or any other videogame organization. So, here’s my two cents:
E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo, is just around the corner and almost every global gamer is drooling this particular year thanks to the expected next-generation consoles from Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo.
I think it is safe to say that, considering worldwide sales and its advanced release jump on the competition, the PS2 has dominated the hardware field, with unofficial numbers boasting over 80 million consoles sold. Next on the list comes the Xbox, which entered the market under much skepticism but ultimately proved that Microsoft is a serious console contender. Then, bringing up the rear are the one-time videogame giants, Nintendo, arriving at a close third.
However, when considering the incoming wave of next-generation consoles, all parties are pretty much starting from ground zero again. So the big question is: how are these companies positioning themselves to become the new console leader, and what has each done right, done wrong, and need to do in order to secure that coveted first place? Here’s a breakdown of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Let’s start with The Good: Microsoft
Despite a relatively unimpressive keynote speech by J. Allard at this year’s GDC (Game Developers Conference) in March and a fairly unoriginal message for the next-generation systems (see: HD Era), Microsoft has done everything right in terms of marketing and positioning. Firstly, they have focused on their main market weakness: Japan. The biggest complaints about the Xbox from Japanese consumers arose through the design itself. “It’s too big and bulky,” they chided while stroking their ergonomically friendly PS2s. You can bet that Microsoft listened and learned in order to create a smaller, sexier looking console for the emergence of the Xbox 360.
Another big early win for Microsoft was to sign up some big name Japanese game designers to the new system. Former president of Square and producer/director for the early Final Fantasy games, Hironobu Sakaguchi, has signed his development studio, Mistwalker, to develop two new RPGs for Microsoft’s next console. Add other Japanese development studios such as Game Republic and Q Entertainment and Microsoft has gained considerable support from the Japanese gaming community. Game studios are not the only partnerships Microsoft have created, however. They have also recently teamed up with Sony’s rival, Samsung, in order to bring over 25,000 HDTVs to retail stores around the world in order to showcase the new console’s high definition capabilities.
Microsoft has definitely put itself in a good market position to have a quality lineup during its rumored fall launch. Some reports have actually stated the Xbox 360’s launch lineup will be one of the best ever seen for a console, coming in waves of 10-15 games every few weeks. However, none of this compares to Microsoft’s outstanding marketing campaign. Ourcolony.net has ‘leaked’ images of the Xbox 360 and its games, creating a frantic buzz concerning the console. Of course the unofficially leaked images of the console itself didn’t hurt interest either. Combine this with screenshots of next-generation games and the new next-gen Madden commercial shown during 2005’s NFL Draft, and you’ve got everyone talking.
Sounds good, but I haven’t yet revealed Microsoft’s best marketing move: the unveiling of Xbox 360 on MTV on Thursday May 12th, at 9:30pm EST—and various other times globally. While this move may upset some members of the media, Microsoft will be showing their product straight to its target audience around the world. Everyone will get a chance to see the Xbox 360—not just those industry members privileged enough to attend E3. Microsoft has really done a fine job when it comes to spreading the word for the Xbox 360. To top it off, they’re is going back to their weakest region, Japan, with a secret unveiling of the console for members of the Japanese press following the MTV debut.
With all these great moves Microsoft is definitely in a strong position for a possible dethronement of Sony as the console leader. But what, if anything, have they done wrong with Xbox 360? Well there are only two instances I can think of, and only time will tell if they truly are bad moves. First is launching Xbox 360 this Fall, as rumored. There has always been associated risk in being the first console released to market—remember the Sega Dreamcast? On the other hand, hitting retail a year earlier than both Sony and Nintendo certainly helped propel the domination of the PS2. The second risk is the rumored price point, $300USD for the standard console making up about 20% of the stock, and $400USD for a unit with a hard drive and WebTV functionality to make up the remaining 80%. $300 has typically been the maximum gamers have been prepared to spend for a brand new console, and pushing that price to $400 could alienate those outside of hardcore Xbox loyalists. Look at the PSP with its somewhat disappointing US sales due to a very high $250USD compared to Nintendo’s DS at $150USD.
Overall, it’s likely that Microsoft is making the right moves. They are spreading the word effectively, creating media and consumer buzz, and clearly positioning themselves for an extremely strong launch. However, I don’t think the Xbox 360’s launch will prove quite as spectacular as Microsoft hope. Many gamers will undoubtedly hold out for the PS3, and the Xbox 360’s high price point may well be a turn off, but when Sony’s PS3 and Nintendo’s Revolution do come around, they will already have quite some catching up to do.
Next comes The Bad: Sony
I’m sure many Sony purists are already in an uproar over the placement, but keep in mind this is an assessment of Sony’s present strategy, and thus far that strategy amounts to nothing, nil, zip, nada. There has been virtually no marketing campaign, press release material, or any kind of buzz surrounding the PS3. Sony is definitely playing it quiet, riding on the success of its PS2. In a sense their strategy smacks of Nintendo.
Like Nintendo, Sony is being extremely cagey about their impending hardware. All we so far know is that they will be using their Cell chipset, which will eventually be rolled out on all Sony products. And, like Nintendo, Sony is expected to be last to market for the next-generation consoles. The earliest the PS3 will likely see release is Spring 2006, with a more probable release for the Fall of 2006. Lastly, like Nintendo, Sony is placing considerable faith in their name alone, seemingly set in the belief they are already in a position to lead the next console wave—just because they are Sony. While there is certainly commercial historic truth backing this attitude (no one can deny the global impact of the PlayStation and PS2), it will, I fear, only take them so far in the present climate.
The only other official announcement regarding the PS3, other than the use of the Cell chip, was that it would use Blu-Ray discs. At the time, Sony’s implementation of Blu-Ray DVD players into gamers’ homes, thereby pushing the public to use Blu-Ray as the new high definition DVD standard versus their HD-DVD counterpart, was a great move. However, recent reports state there are current negotiations between the two parties to create a single standard, ending the looming DVD war before it even begins.
The big question is how will this affect the PS3? Will Sony continue to use their Blu-Ray standard knowing it will eliminate the PS3 as a next-generation DVD player? Or will they switch to the new standard, which will still need to be developed, potentially pushing back their release date? Both options could prove fatal for Sony. Without integrating the next-generation DVD capabilities they lose the edge that helped the PS2 win such dominance and, with a later release date, Microsoft and Nintendo will build a substantial lead—surely one almost impossible to recover.
So what does Sony need to do to avoid defeat? They need to show off the PS3 at the upcoming E3. It need not be playable, and any unveiling most likely won’t be, but most of the system’s attributes and features need to be spotlighted in order to jade any shine emanating from the Xbox 360. Everything we would expect the PS3 to have must be there: wireless controllers, built in Wi-fi, backward compatibility, and High Definition to name but a few. No one is expecting any major surprises, but Sony really has to provide us with a reason to buy a PS3 over an Xbox 360; having graphics on par with that of Microsoft’s console isn’t going to be enough. A plethora of game clips will probably be shown at their pre-conference and they certainly need to show superior graphics.
Overall, Sony might not have done anything wrong thus far, but they haven’t done anything right, either. As stated earlier, riding on previous success with the PS2 will only carry Sony so far in this race, and E3 is the right time for them to play their cards and publicly show why the PS3 will be better than Xbox 360. Or, if anything, to at least steal some thunder from Microsoft to help reduce the damage an early Xbox 360 release may cause. It’s up to Sony to steal the show if they want it—or if they can.
Last but not least, The Ugly: Nintendo
Why is Nintendo the ugly and not the bad? Because, quite frankly, we don’t know what the hell they are planning and rumors are running amok. Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata spoke at the GDC (Game Developers Conference) in March, the day after J. Allard spoke for Microsoft, and in his keynote speech, Iwata briefly touched on some of the features on Nintendo’s next console—currently codenamed Revolution. This keynote, in addition to other little briefs from Iwata, Perry Kaplan, and Reggie Fils-Aime (all senior members of Nintendo) has put much of the public in a frenzy to answer the biggest question: what makes the Revolution so revolutionary?
So what do we know? Iwata announced that the Revolution has partnered with ATI to create their graphics chip, codenamed ‘Hollywood’, and IBM to create the CPU, codenamed ‘Broadway’. The other two notable announcements were that Revolution would be backward compatible and have built-in Wi-Fi. While these announcements don’t reveal anything especially interesting about Nintendo’s next-generation console, they helped Nintendo steal the show at GDC.
Since then Nintendo, and more specifically the Revolution, have been shrouded in secrecy and much hyped by fanatics. The truth is that no one but Nintendo, and those parties Nintendo trust, really know what the Revolution will be. Rumors have even been circulating that Nintendo would forgo unveiling the Revolution at E3 in fear that competitors would steal and incorporate their ideas. If Nintendo wants to steal any limelight from either Sony or Microsoft at this year’s E3, they better have plans to show and talk about their next-generation console in some fashion—and I’m sure they have plans to do so.
The biggest secrets concerning Nintendo’s Revolution exist through its new, and widely praised, interface. Some of the more popular rumors concerning the controller are that it will be wireless, have gyroscopic controls for movement, and integrate some form of touch-screen capability. All of these technologies have been experimented with by Nintendo before, through tilt-sensitive controls on the Game Boy, wireless controllers with the Wavebird, and an integrated touchscreen on their new handheld DS. If and how these technologies will be used is said to be Nintendo’s ‘revolutionary’ interface.
The latest rumor to hit the Internet, however, isn’t about the Revolution’s controller, but rather its display. The highly feasible, but also very risky, technology of stereoscopic 3D in videogames would certainly change the way we play games. But the biggest question is will it work? We all know what happened the last time Nintendo tried to produce a 3D console—ahem—Virtual Boy? The technology in this field has progressed leaps and bounds, however, and I was fortunate enough to receive a taste of that at CES (Consumer Electronic Show) last January. If done properly, and if the rumor proves to be true, Nintendo could definitely lead the way toward a revolutionary gaming experience.
Everything I mentioned would be great—if accurate—but, as stated before, only those details announced at GDC are confirmed and the rest remain as rumors. Unlike Microsoft, it is unlikely that Nintendo will show their full hand at E3. They are way too uptight about competitors stealing their ideas, but it would be a wise decision to unveil some element of Revolution in order to prove they are still a viable contender. It’s kind of sad that some sources have already dismissed Nintendo before the emergence of its next generation console. But, admittedly, Nintendo needs to show something to get developers and publishers excited about Nintendo again. Showing nothing at all would be the worst possible move and further promote the idea that no one should develop games for their hardware. At the very least, we should expect a highlight reel of Revolution games in production to illustrate that the console can compete technologically with the Xbox 360 and PS3. The more they show, the better off they will be.
Overall, Nintendo has played the next-generation game poorly. They opened well by providing certain details at GDC, but have been silent since. This has allowed uncontrolled rumors and speculation to run wild. Of course, this could be a good and a bad thing. On the good side, there’s a lot of talk and buzz about the Revolution. Nintendo’s console is winning several polls on the Internet, which claim it’s the console most gamers want to see. Gamers want to know about Revolution, that’s a good thing. On the bad side, however, rumors are rampant and perhaps hyping the system up to something it couldn’t possibly provide gamers, which may be setting it, and us, up for a huge let down.
So there you have it, my pre-E3 assessment of the next-generation consoles: Xbox 360 is poised to slip into the next-generation driver’s seat, whereas the PS3 is taut and poised beside it and all but ready to kick Microsoft out the door and grab the wheel—if they want and are able. And, in the back seat, Nintendo are wistfully staring out the window while trying to decide whether to tell us what the big Revolution is all about…