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Three Companies, Three Philosophies

We're well and truly in the next generation of console gaming now, and it's the first where Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are doing things markedly differently.

This article first appeared on USgamer, a partner publication of VG247. Some content, such as this article, has been migrated to VG247 for posterity after USgamer's closure - but it has not been edited or further vetted by the VG247 team.

The new generation of games consoles is almost upon us. It's always an exciting time when this happens, as we get to drool over new hardware, speculate about the sort of experiences we'll be having in a few years time and, occasionally, mock companies for getting things so very, very wrong. In the latter instance, we're sometimes proven wrong a few years down the line, of course -- witness the position Sony and the PlayStation 3 are in now, for example, and compare that to the (arguably deserved) cynicism when the system was first announced -- but in others, one slip-up can mean the beginning of the end for a platform manufacturer. Just ask Sega.

This particular new generation is very interesting, though, because Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are all diverging from one another, with each pursuing the future in the manner it believes is best. In past generations, there has been relatively little to choose between the platforms on the market -- although one could argue that Nintendo has been going its own way for quite some time now -- but with this upcoming eighth generation of games consoles, there's more to distinguish the Big Three than ever before.

Let's take a look at these varying philosophies and muse on what the future might hold for each.

Microsoft Knows Best

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Microsoft's stance with the Xbox One is very clear: they believe they know what's best for consumers, and are unwilling to move or be moved on this. This carries both positives and negatives.

Microsoft's stance with the Xbox One is very clear: they believe they know what's best for consumers, and are unwilling to move or be moved on this.

On the positive front, Microsoft sticking resolutely to its guns with regard to things like constant connectivity, cloud computing and the concept of a games console as an all-in-one entertainment center might just cause people to think about consumer electronics a little differently. Taking advantage of these features has the potential to be really cool, but it remains to be seen if developers can take advantage to a degree that makes them worthwhile additions to the system. Things like Forza's cloud-based Drivatar are a good start, stupid name aside, as they allow console games to take advantage of mechanics that massively-multiplayer and social games have been doing for a long time -- things like the game continuing to evolve even when you're not actively playing it.

On the flip side, though, I'm not sure the infrastructure is in place to make the grand vision for Xbox One a reality. The once-every-24-hours check-in thing completely eliminates the ability for those without a stable Internet connection -- such as those in the military -- to make use of the system, and the restrictions on used games are making a lot of consumers very angry indeed. Had Microsoft taken the bold step of going all-digital on the new system, the used games thing would be less of a problem, as there would be no physical product that becomes useless after the servers go down. As it stands, however, it seems like restriction for restriction's sake -- though it remains to be seen if publishers are willing to risk the ire of customers. EA is considering its stance very carefully; other publishers have refused to comment thus far.

Will titles like Forza 5 making use of the cloud be enough to justify the apparent inconveniences of Xbox One's new way of doing things?

There are bigger concerns with the Xbox One, however. Notably, the very limited list of countries in which the damn thing will even work at launch. That's right, even if you import a box, it'll only work if you're actually in one of the countries listed on Microsoft's FAQ. Hilariously (or tragically; I can't quite work out which) Poland, home of The Witcher 3 developers CD Projekt Red, is not on that list -- a fact which they found rather disappointing, particularly as it appears from their reaction to Game Informer that they found out at the same time as the general public.

Microsoft's arrogance is also worrying, and has whiffs of Sony during the PS2 to PS3 transition period. Perhaps the most cloying example of this arrogance comes in Don Mattrick's recent comment to Gametrailers that "[Microsoft has] a product for people who aren't able to get some sort of connectivity -- it's called Xbox 360." That's right, folks; if you don't have reliable connectivity, Microsoft doesn't want you in the next generation.

It's honestly hard to tell what impact -- if any -- the negativity surrounding the Xbox One will have on its sales. At present, a lot of hardcore gamers are making their dissatisfaction with the new system known, but this doesn't mean that members of the general public who don't keep up to date with issues like this will follow suit -- or even be aware of the issues. Communities such as NeoGAF are attempting to organize campaigns to educate consumers and encourage a boycott of the machine, but it remains to be seen if these will amount to anything.

Sony: Doing Things the Way It's Always Done

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It speaks volumes about the sentiment towards Xbox One that Sony simply came out on stage, effectively said "we're doing things (almost) the same as we always have" and got cheers and applause for it. Indeed, the only real difference from the PS3 as it is now is that in the future, you'll require a PlayStation Plus account to play multiplayer online games, much as you now require an Xbox Live Gold membership on Microsoft's system.

Sony sent a powerful message, and one that they rubbed into Microsoft's face somewhat.

Microsoft handed Sony an open goal when it announced its policies. Sony didn't have to take it, of course, and it would have been naïve to assume that they were going to avoid going down the same path as Microsoft. If both Sony and Microsoft had imposed similar restrictions on their new consoles, there wouldn't have been much to choose between them, after all, and consumers would have effectively had to either deal with it or simply skip the whole console generation. As big a game as some people talk online, all it takes sometimes is one "system seller" game to cause someone's resolve to crumble and for them to abandon their principles in favor of instant gratification.

Fortunately, that didn't happen, and it paid off bigtime in Sony's favor; following Sony's press conference, a significant number of people on social media noted that they had preordered a PS4 purely on the basis of what they had heard on stage. Sony sent a powerful message, and one that they rubbed into Microsoft's face somewhat with the wonderfully cheeky "instructional video" above.

Planetside 2 on PC (and coming to PS4) shows that Sony has a good understanding of new business models such as free-to-play, too; Microsoft's response was to provide Killer Instinct with one character.

Aside from the nature of the console's policies, Sony providing a platform for independent developers to self-publish also makes a strong statement. Microsoft claims to be supporting indies, but the game they chose to demonstrate this in its E3 press conference was Minecraft, a game which has proven astronomically popular on both PC and console, and as such one which doesn't really need any help. Even creator Notch noted on Twitter that he's "not sure if we're the type of indies that require support. [Microsoft] could do SO much more."

Indie self-publishing is something that Microsoft tried this generation with the Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace, but this was largely a wash due to the fact that it was consistently buried beneath several layers of menus. Consequently, it never had the visibility of other elements on the 360's dashboard. Sony will have to take care to ensure that independently-developed games are given a fair chance to get noticed, however it chooses to implement self-publishing. Given the number of excellent indie titles that already come to PS3 in preference to 360, though, it's clear that there are a lot of developers who put more faith in Sony than Microsoft.

There are still some concerns over Sony's next generation, though. What happens to all our PSN downloads on PS3? They won't be compatible with PS4, so how long will they continue to be available for? How does the Gaikai-based virtual backwards compatibility work? Hopefully we'll get some clearer answers to all these questions soon.

Nintendo: Game Ownership Policy Should Be "Like a Toy Company"

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The above quote comes direct from Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto, who had this to say to our sister site Eurogamer:

"As a consumer, you want to be able to keep those things for a long time, and have those things from your youth that you can go back to and experience again."

Shigeru Miyamoto

"What's really important is viewing Nintendo almost like a toy company where we're making these things for people to play with," he said. "As a consumer, you want to be able to keep those things for a long time and have those things from your youth that you can go back to and experience again.

"I really want to retain that product nature of the games that we create so that people can do that and have that experience. To me that's something that's very important about entertainment itself. So from the approach of continuing to create things that are entertaining for people, that's an important direction for me that I want to maintain."

These are positive-sounding words from Miyamoto-san. It sounds like he "gets it" -- that people will, in many cases, want to return to games of previous generations and play them again, maybe ten, twenty, thirty years down the line. And it's true; I still play PlayStation 2 games regularly, and have even been known to get out my yellowing Super NES on occasion. It would be a huge shame if games from the upcoming generation will be "disposable"; that they will simply cease to be after the generation has passed and the servers have been turned off. This is looking like a risk with Xbox One; less so with PlayStation 4 at present.

But Nintendo still has a degree of work to do on this front. The company's lack of a comprehensive user account system that migrates between consoles is a problem -- if you lose your 3DS or your Wii U breaks, for example, you have to either re-purchase all the games you've bought from the respective platforms' eShops, or be prepared for a battle of wits with Nintendo to convince them that yes, they should really allow you to access the things that you paid for.

Wind Waker's beautiful visuals are a great example of the "timeless" nature of many Nintendo titles.

Miyamoto's choice of the words "toy company" is telling, too, and that philosophy very much comes across in the first-party games that Nintendo puts out on a regular basis. Very few of them are what you would call "serious"; very few of them are aspiring to be great works of digital art. They are unabashedly simply games -- things to play and enjoy, either alone or with friends -- but this has the fortunate side-effect that they will remain relevant for many years to come. There's a reason people still play and enjoy Super Mario Bros. 1, after all; it's still a great game. The same can be said for many other titles throughout Nintendo's past -- the graphics and sound may have improved over time, but the entertainment value has, in most cases, remained fairly consistent.

Nintendo's philosophy is very much to go its own way and pretty much completely ignore what Sony and Microsoft are doing. This is actually a fairly wise approach, as stepping into the ring with those two heavyweights without the backing of third-party developers and publishers will see Nintendo given a bloody nose very quickly. Occupying their position from outside the main battlefield, however, Nintendo can continue with business as usual, and likely continue to enjoy a healthy degree of success; in the current generation, it just needs to ensure that its messaging is on-point, because there are still people who are unclear on what the Wii U is or how it distinguishes itself from the Wii.

Naysayers have been calling the Wii U a failure since launch, but I believe we're going to see the console come into its own in the coming months. Nintendo has at least one decent-looking game planned per month for the next while, and many of them look great. Looking further into the future, excellent-looking exclusives such as Bayonetta 2, The Wonderful 101 and X have the potential to sell systems by themselves -- and in the meantime, if you haven't yet played Nintendo Land with a group of friends, you're missing out on one of the most joyful aspects of the system.

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