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Xbox 360 console on Paul Gale Network

On November 22nd, 2005 Microsoft released the Xbox 360 in United States (to follow the next month in other territories), becoming the company’s second video game console.

PlayStation 3 console on Paul Gale Network

On November 17th, 2006 Sony debuted their third home console in the US, 6 days after Japan’s launch and 4 months before Europe’s.

Wii console on Paul Gale Network

On November 19th, 2006 Nintendo released the Wii in North America and this 5th home console for the company was in the hands of every major territory by December 8th (the closest to a simultaneous world wide system launch, ever).

Enter the seventh video game console war and one of the most interesting battles we’ve ever seen. Up until now in this industry, whether we’ve had two systems duking it out or three, each system more or less brought the same philosophy behind it to the table. Between Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, you had two machines that were both about just gaming. As “crazy” as it got before this gen was perhaps PS2 and Xbox allowing you to play DVD’s, with GameCube being just a video game machine. What we’re about to explore is a completely different battle…in fact, a much more sophisticated one.

Things started off this time around with the Xbox 360. After Microsoft introduced its brand to the video game market with Xbox, though the console cost the company a good $4 billion in losses in its four year cycle, it was worth it because it showed gamers that they have another solid option to go with that’s not Nintendo or Sony. Xbox 360 wouldn’t debut with a killer app, but games like Perfect Dark Zero at launch showed early signs that first person shooters and mature themed games would have a welcomed home.

The Xbox 360 itself also showed us that gaming machines have truly evolved into multi-media devices. With future plans of an HD DVD Player (that ultimately didn’t work), a smooth and constantly evolving home screen with multiple channels, and the ability to connect with other devices such as your own PC, it was clear that this industry has finally grown up.

On the Sony side of the battle, many thought it was inevitable for the PlayStation 3 to completely dominate the competition as its two predecessors had a 10 year stranglehold on the industry. Things didn’t go as well as Sony had planned, however. Certain bigwigs in the company early on made some pretty negative comments towards their own audience about how they should just suck it up and plop down the $600 it cost for a PS3 a launch because it was a steal having a Bluray player and that powerful of a machine in one. Well what that did for Sony at launch was see more people waiting in line at midnight for a release to later sell on eBay for a big profit, than actually enjoy the machine for its games.

Some mistakes aside, the brightest and most costly move that Sony made, was the inclusion of the Bluray player, because when that technology beat out the HD DVD format to become the next official premiere format for movies in early 2007, having a PS3 all of a sudden became a whole lot more valuable. Sony said the machine would be future proof and they were right in a sense, though fortunately for them they axed their horribly designed boomerang controller prototype and went simply with a slightly evolved take on Dual Shock controller they’ve been using for 10 years.

Nintendo really had the most to lose this time around, and I don’t mean going from #1 to #3 (no, that happened already), I mean that if the company did not reclaim their #1 spot with Wii, they would possibly never see that number again in the home console market or even just stick to handheld gaming. See a company “can” be #3…that’s ok for a generation (typically 5 years), but if that name is associated with third place for more than two generations, it would be awfully difficult to climb back up the ladder and reclaim the throne. Nintendo was up 2: NES/SNES and down 2: N64/GCN, so Wii simply had to win for them to stay in the game. Their approach to doing this was genius, though with its own set of flaws at the same time.

From the early days of calling Nintendo’s next system “Revolution”, we didn’t know what to expect. Just how was Nintendo going to change the industry? When we saw the “Rev-mote” and saw its simplicity, but discovered that it will introduce motion controls to us, our attention was caught. And finally, when the name “Wii” was revealed, just about every person on the planet couldn’t help but simultaneously drop their jaw, scratch their head, and think funny thoughts. Nintendo did deliver a very intelligent one-two punch on day one, however by releasing a hardcore game in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and packaging in with every Wii outside of Japan, the REAL success story: Wii Sports.

Back in Xbox 360 land, one of the things that really helped Microsoft do so much better this time around was debuting one year before the competition. Like how the PS2 arrived a year before Xbox/GCN, by the Xbox 360 following this strategy, it was up several million units on Sony and Nintendo before their machines even hit stores. With sales as of this writing reaching 58 million world wide, Xbox 360’s 6 years on the market have been far kinder to Microsoft than Xbox’s 4 years and sales of only 24 million units. You’d think that they should be #1 for this gen, but there are more pieces of the puzzle to still discuss. One thing that Microsoft really had over Sony for the first couple of years was the better versions of high profile multiplatform games. Part of this was in thanks to the Xbox 360 having a more developer friendly architecture than PS3 and the other came right back to Microsoft launching earlier and developers being more comfortable with it. Games were basically being made for Xbox 360 and then being ported to PS3. What would have helped Microsoft more though, would have been committing to a Bluray external drive (or even an internal one) from the start. See, as the last several years would play out, the gap would begin to narrow between Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and had the former had one of its competitor’s biggest selling points, I think they’d be ahead by a lot more. But trying to match Nintendo’s runaway success with Wii would be impossible.

As I mentioned earlier, Nintendo really had the most to lose if their “3 DVD case thick” white box with a very different control setup did not work. Big N knew that they had to think bold and try to reinvent the wheel, however, because with each system of theirs: NES to SNES to N64 to GCN, despite all selling in the 10’s of millions, each sold less than its predecessor. The market was getting more competitive and Nintendo couldn’t just rely on Mario and gang with some third party support to face all of what PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 had. This is why Nintendo went the route of motion controlled gaming, as it was their idea that 1) the primary feeling of a Wii Remote in your hand would be immediately understood by anyone who has ever held a flashlight or TV remote and 2) anyone can understand movement, whereas it takes a lot more finger precision and memory to operate an 8 buttoned controller. The inclusion of Wii Sports was Nintendo’s best idea ever, as it became THE reason to own a Wii for millions of people. Yes, people: grandparents, children in hospitals, disabled war veterans, the “once upon a time I use to play Nintendo crowd”, etc. News of Wii being fun spread like wildfire (it’s now pushing 90 million units world wide) and in fact from its launch until early 2009 it was shockingly, constantly sold out. Things only got better for Nintendo when they released Wii Fit in April, 2008 (December ’07 in Japan). It was for Wii what Brain Age was for DS: a tool to get people to buy a video game system for reasons beyond just gaming. With all of this good, also comes some bad. For one, after a couple of years, it became more and more clear that the weaker horsepower of Wii could just not keep up with the big boys. In time, Nintendo fans would miss out on entire series like Assassin’s Creed, BioShock, Mass Effect, Grand Theft Auto, Batman, Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Final Fantasy, and sadly…a list that keeps on going. Missing the online boat and requiring people to exchange Friend Codes also did not help. But speaking of help, Wii got some from an unlikely source…

Sony helped Nintendo. What? Yes, in the beginning of this 7th generation, Microsoft said that gamers shouldn’t invest in a PS3 because it’s an overpriced/not as well designed version of their own system and that they instead should buy a Wii in addition to their Xbox 360. Well, Sony turned around when the PS3 came out and said that their new home console will be the premiere machine to own as it’s more powerful, more capable, and more future proof with its Bluray player than the now “old” Xbox 360, so if anything…buy a Wii. Ah Sony, that wasn’t the best thing to say because people did buy a Wii. The generation went like this: people bought an Xbox 360 and Wii or a PlayStation 3 and Wii. Not as many bought the two HD platforms as they offered a lot of similar content. But where Sony goofed on a few cocky comments in the early goings, they began to make up for by eventually releasing high profile, critically acclaimed games that were truly exclusive to their platform. In time we’d see new ip’s like Uncharted, LittleBigPlanet, and Heavy Rain really shine, as well as sequels to popular series including Resistance, KillZone, Gran Turismo, God of War, and Metal Gear Solid that distinguished PS3 from its competition. All of this might have helped PS3 reach nearly 55 million units in sales around the world, topping Xbox 360 in both Europe and Japan, but no one is perfect and their next move wasn’t the best: PlayStation Move. It looked bad for the company that mocked Nintendo’s motion control philosophy to come out with their own version to try to capitalize on the new market that Nintendo created, 4 years later. Be it as it may, nearly 18% of all PS3 owners (about 10 million) now own PS Move, so though not noble of the company, it wasn’t exactly a failure.

Sony’s not the only one guilty of trying to impose on Nintendo’s success, because Microsoft released the Kinect (also four years later) and it has since sold close to 12 million units. People in the industry and in the gaming community at large, typically give Microsoft more props for Kinect than they do to Sony for Move, but not even could Microsoft completely steal the Wii Sports market. Then again, they didn’t really have to because they had a really comfortable spot, and still do, with the hardcore market: Gears of War Trilogy, Fable, Forza, Halo, and Alan Wake to name a few exclusives and almost always the best selling multiplatform games: Call of Duty, Madden, WWE, UFC, and so on. I’d top off Xbox 360 as having more pros than cons, with the inclusion of a paid online service, because though it sucks to plop the money down, it does make for a better online community and a remodeled console that includes wifi out of the box and doesn’t cough cough…give you a Red Ring of Death that totally bricks the system (which in itself was indeed a major con, but was ultimately handled well by Microsoft).

Nintendo also deserves more pros than cons for the Wii throughout these past 5 years, because where many of you probably think of the system as just a casual platform that your kid brother or grandma plays, don’t forget that it harbored many amazing titles: two 3D Mario games, two 2D Marios, two Zeldas, two Metroids (four if you count a bundle upgrade), the return of Kirby (twice over), the return of Donkey Kong, the return of Punch-Out!!, a Mario Kart, and a Smash Bros., and that’s just Nintendo’s first party efforts for the hardcore crowd. Third party-wise, you can argue that many developers were lazy with their ports, but it’s your fault if you didn’t buy gems like Monster Hunter Tri, Muramasa: The Demon Blade, No More Heroes, MadWorld, World of Goo, or Tatsunoko vs. Capcom. And to the companies out there like High Voltage Software that tried to deliver with stuff like The Conduit or UbiSoft with Red Steel, I tip my hat off to you. The system might have lost a lot of greats and not had the best online play, but it did two important things, simultaneously: prove that gaming can progress beyond a controller with buttons, thus opening our eyes to what the future may hold and bringing in new gamers to the industry that we the hardcore already love so much.

And not to sound like I’m just giving out free stickers in a classroom to all of my students or anything, but I’d even say that the PlayStation 3, despite being 3rd place (at this point), still had more pros than cons. With cocky, egotistical comments coming early on being now long forgotten by many (sorry to bring it up, but I’m being fair here), a thankfully never-released boomerang controller showing that Sony does listen to us, a much needed, slimmer PS3 debuting without the Yellow Light of Death, a decent handling of the PSN debacle, and despite Sony losing $4 billion on the system, not ceasing support and in fact making strides to deliver more, shows me that they’re not done yet.

It was a war that was truly unlike any before it. You still had fanboys and fangirls; those that preached that all you need are Nintendo’s top franchises and Wii Sports to be happy, those that said Bluray and Uncharted are the way to go, and those that say Gears and Halo or nothing. You’ve also got heated debates between the Mii camp and the avatars of PlayStation Home and Xbox 360 and who did it best. No doubt you’ve also seen rants aplenty of what’s best amongst Achievements, Trophies, and ummm, tracking the hours played in games (Wii’s closest to the aforementioned). One fanboy camp says that everyone copied Nintendo’s motion controls, Miis, sports game collections, and weight loss titles…and that Nintendo was the true pioneer of the generation. Another fanboy camp says that 1080p, internet gaming, a hard drive, and being a multi-media device > whatever Nintendo brought to the table.

Truth be told, all of the systems were necessary in my opinion and it’s probably why for the first time in ages, every platform sold incredibly well and relatively close to one another (though Wii is ahead by some 30+ million). See, without Nintendo, many of you probably wouldn’t even be gamers today and that goes way back to the 80’s. What Nintendo has done in the last 5 years, has created a new type of gamer by expanding our industry into what may now be a bunch of “noobs”, but in 10 years will be our new hardcore brothers and sisters…or in some’s case, at the very least a fun new hobby. What Sony has done is pretty much establish that the next round of 8th gen consoles will all be using some form of Bluray disc, which will be capable of holding the extreme amount of data that will come with these games. What Microsoft has done is prove the importance that new brands can still sell in a crowded place, as long as they get the proper push and are ultimately of good quality.

With that I’ll leave you with a couple of interesting “what if” scenarios:
Q) What if Wii came out with Wii Remote Plus at launch as the main controller and was a system as powerful as PS3/Xbox 360?
A) Wii would have been even further ahead (think 110 million), had precision motion gaming from the beginning, and all of those wonderful third party games that the hardcore loved…plus the new casual audience.
Q) What if Xbox 360 had a Bluray player built in or at least had a Bluray add-on instead of the HD DVD Player?
A) Xbox 360 would have really blown past PlayStation 3 and made this generation a two console race like Nintendo 64/Sony PlayStation was…leaving the PS3 to be Sega Saturn.
Q) What if PlayStation 3 came out in one sku and only for $300, while Sony’s bigwigs bit their tongue and never made arrogant statements?
A) Well, Sony would have easily lost a few billion dollars, but they’d have also wiped Xbox 360 off the map and with the larger userbase, developers would have chosen it as the lead console to develop games on.

Of course these answers are just my opinion and though those are all likely outcomes, they only represent their respective question. For instance, if all three “what ifs” did occur simultaneously and not independently, I’d have to change the answers up yet again. But anyways, I want to wish Xbox 360 a Happy 6th Anniversary and a Happy 5th Anniversary to both PlayStation 3 and Wii. I was a part of the debut of each system at their respective E3’s, I played them all in their earliest stage, and at this point in my video game industry career, having known so many people, actually got to go pretty deep into some developmental work of various types, with all three consoles, their companies attached, and even a number of 3rd parties.

This is a war that will probably last a few more years and I’m excited to see where it goes. All we know for now is that Wii U will represent Nintendo in the 8th generation console war and it will come out sometime in 2012 (I’m going with a hopeful July 29th launch). As for Xbox 3 and PlayStation 4, perhaps Fall 2013 and Fall 2014 respectively, but that’s anyone’s guess at this point.

To Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii, thanks for everything up to this point in time and may each of you continue to live healthy until your successors arrive! And even when they do come, you won’t be forgotten!

4 thoughts on “This week in gaming history (5 Years Later): Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3 vs. Wii.”
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