Seventh generation: mid 2000’s
The cheap and cheerful console was accompanied by a slew of killer apps that brought it into mainstream consciousness, making it the hottest holiday ticket for a couple of years running.
Microsoft came out swinging strongly in its second hardware cycle, beating Sony to release the Xbox 360 in 2005 at a significantly lower price point than the PS3. Microsoft nailed it, bulding a better and stronger Xbox Live and convincing us all that a subscription package was a thing we had to make room for in our budgets. Although it later gave up on Japan, early on the company made Easterly overtures hoping to capture some of the PS2’s fanbase, resulting in a quirky and textured library of games that grew, and grew, and grew. Huge multiplayer exclusives like Gears of War and Halo continued to pull big numbers, and at present, global unit sales are in the vicinity of 84 million.
The PS3 had a rough start: late to the party, painfully expensive, difficult to develop for without middleware or established tools, and hampered by the fledgling PSN and nightmarish stock shortages. In the months following the 2005 PS3 launch, Sony was absolutely humbled by the upstart Microsoft. To its credit, it took this on the chin, working tirelessly to turn the console’s fortunes around and, by dint of sheer effort, overcoming the Xbox 360’s stranglehold on the key North American market. Sony’s decision to back Blu-ray was a smart one, too. The console has now shifted over 80 million units worldwide and produced a catalogue of exclusives and cross-platform releases easily on par with Microsoft’s.
The PS3 also suffered in its formative years from competition with Nintendo’s Wii, which launched just months afterwards. The cheap and cheerful console was accompanied by a slew of killer apps that brought it into mainstream consciousness, making it the hottest holiday ticket for a couple of years running. It’s sold over 100 million units so far. Nintendo’s bet on appetite for SD gaming had a surprisingly long tail, but it’s run its course now, and the PS3 and Xbox 360 are still going strong, and may eventually overtake.
So who won? We know you want to say Xbox 360 but thanks to Sony’s tireless efforts the PS3 is pretty close to neck-and-neck sales wise. Until the dust settles and both platforms are retired, we can’t say for sure which of the two was ultimately more successful. What we can say is for sheer courage and massive returns, the Wii smashed the competition. Let’s save our final judgment for a few years down the track.
Bonus round: handhelds part three
Both portables have a lot to offer, but they arrived at a very different time. Most people in a position to own a portable console already own a smart device.
Both the DS and Vita were successes, so Nintendo and Sony came back for another go. Both portables have a lot to offer, but they arrived at a very different time. Most people in a position to own a portable console already own a smart device, and while these don’t offer the same experience, they’re increasingly getting better. Additionally, a whole new generation of consumers has grown up with Android and iOS, and the significantly more locked-down console environments seem limited in comparison.
The 3DS is a more powerful, Internet-focused version of the DS formula, but with stereoscopic 3D graphics to boot. It had a slow launch, but Nintendo’s rapid and humble price cut and acceleration of content really helped. The 3DS has now sold over 43 million units worldwide, which is in no way a negligible result. The latest Pokemon is just one of a number of best-selling games the system has produced, and in the lead up to the eighth generation it was the strongest-selling hardware around.
The Vita has had less luck. It’s the first portable to over twin-analog controls, and its graphics capabilities are sensational, but it hasn’t managed to capture the imagination. A long list of expected shooter properties mostly either failed to materialise or turned up as shoddy ports, and more unique offerings based on the console’s geolocation services have failed to find significant audiences. That said, the Vita is a thriving platform for indie games and more unique experiences, and Remote Play has the potential to be a killer app. Latest estimates suggest worldwide sales may be as high as 10 million.
So who won? Despite a faltering start, the 3DS is doing much better than the Vita. Both platforms are suffering from a lack of third-party support right now, though, so if the PS4 helps drive Vita sales up – and early signs suggest it will – then we could have a proper battle on our hands.
Eighth Generation: early 2010’s
We haven’t ruled the console out yet but Nintendo’s going to have to start proving that the Game Pad is as innovative as it seems to believe, and pushing games out, if the Wii U is to keep its chin above water.
Which brings us to today. Hopefully your memory serves you well enough that you don’t need a refresher on the launches of the Wii U, PS4 and Xbox One. We can’t tell you who’s going to win, but we can make a few general observations.
The Wii U, first to market but like the Wii a step behind its peers in terms of sheer power, is starting to pick up a bit thanks to Nintendo finally pushing out a bunch of great exclusives. In the interim, third-party support has utterly died, which is more than troubling. We haven’t ruled the console out yet but Nintendo’s going to have to start proving that the Game Pad is as innovative as it seems to believe, and pushing games out, if the Wii U is to keep its chin above water.
The PS4 has had the best start this generation, despite the diminished differentiation between Microsoft and Sony’s consoles. It may be the early price difference that history cites as the difference, but Sony won a lot of goodwill by standing in opposition to Microsoft’s vision, and its support for European territories does it credit while Microsoft is dragging the chain. The PS4 is winning over a lot of first time console owners, too – maybe due to its integration with social networks, or just some great marketing. It helps that it’s a sexy bit of tech.
Despite being a big black box with a clunky (but improving) UI, the Xbox One has a lot of momentum. The price cut, giving Kinect the boot, and ditching many of its unpopular policies has helped Microsoft regain lost ground in gaming consciousness, and the brand’s power over North America shouldn’t be underestimated. When Microsoft brings out its big guns in the form of properties like Halo and Gears of War we can expect the console wars to really kick off.
Now that we’ve come to the end of our history, we want to hear your predictions for the future. Put your fanboyism aside and your thinking caps on; who will come out top this time? [image]