With the upcoming releases of both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 later this November, it is apparent that Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are reigniting the flames of the longstanding “Console Wars.” With all three video game consoles finally being placed on the market together, we can now better examine some of their strengths and weaknesses heading into the holiday season.
Firstly, we should briefly take a look at what the Console Wars mean from the perspective of the video game companies that participate within them. The proposed central idea encompassing such a concept as a “Console War” is that one system is relatively better than the rest, with an individual having to choose to purchase the better console based upon the titles available for it and its technical qualities. While most consumers simply purchase consoles based upon their own preferences, it does not take away from the fact that many video game companies want to develop a sense of brand loyalty within consumers, all in the hopes of having their respective console be viewed as uniquely different from the remainder. But what does each console offer? What makes them different? How will these differences potentially impact their success during this holiday season?
The Wii U: Getting a head start
Let’s start with Nintendo. Having secured their foot in the console market a year before Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo had delivered a very distinct console with its Wii U GamePad–and embedded touchscreen controller–and its selection of titles. Looking at the history behind the development of the Wii U GamePad, Nintendo wanted to personalize the game playing experience by allowing gamers to have their own screen, with the gamepad also being realized as a social outlet for gamers to stay connected without having to be physically in front of a television. Nintendo also saw the need to modernize through their latest console as well, with the inclusion of greater HD capabilities and an expanded network interface all to accommodate precedents established by their competitors.
With the considerable success of the Wii with that of a more casual audience, Nintendo significantly amplified their attempts at bringing back their audience of core gamers with the Wii U. With first party launch titles such as Nintendo Land and New Super Mario Bros. U leading the way, Nintendo had signified that the Wii U was a console not only directed at a casual audience, but also directed to longtime fans of the company by returning to the mechanics of many past Nintendo titles in Nintendo Land and bringing back a sense of nostalgia. Also, with titles such as Game & Wario, LEGO City Undercover, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Rayman Legends, Pikmin 3, and the recently released The Wonderful 101, Nintendo is starting to garner some traction in terms of being a contender this holiday season.
To further this suggestion, the recent bundling of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD with that of a Wii U price drop has been met with immense success. It seems that Nintendo’s attempt to duplicate the success they had with The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D and an accompanying price drop for the Nintendo 3DS several years ago has significantly paid off in regards to Wii U sales, boosting them roughly 31% in North America alone.
Taking a closer look at Ocarina of Time 3D and the Nintendo 3DS though, one can see that the Wii U and Wind Waker HD are in a somewhat more challenging environment than their predecessors. While having a relatively healthy release of titles already available, the Wii U will have to compete against the releases of both the Playstation 4 and Xbox One a mere week away from each other, a move which may ultimately affect its sales performance this holiday season. With such titles as Mario & Sonic at Soichi 2014 Olympic Winter Games and Wii Fit U making their way onto the console before the end of the year, it may still prove to be difficult for Nintendo to lead the way as they did the Wii. We also have to consider that immensely popular titles such as Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart will not be released for the system until 2014, thus missing the holiday season entirely. Still, the Wii U’s strong selection of titles and low console pricing– coming in at a retail price of $299.99 and $100 less than its closest competitor–may prove to be effective during a slow American economy, making it an affordable purchase that has already established itself as a tried and tested system.
The Xbox One: A complicated announcement but promising future
Moving towards Microsoft, the Xbox One had initially started on somewhat shaky ground when it was first announced. Despite these woes, Microsoft is attempting to reinvigorate and more seriously focus upon the abilities of the Kinect, its new SmartGlass platform, and its implementation of cloud gaming with its latest console. The cloud will essentially allow any user to log into any Xbox One to access their personal profile, saved games, achievements, and content, with Microsoft further promoting the use of cloud processing through their console. As for SmartGlass, it will allow for a much more streamlined and interactive experience for the user, elevating the interaction with their games, movies, sports, and music, providing an ease of navigation between all of them. And finally with the Kinect, it will be a much more improved offering than its predecessor on the Xbox 360, with new technical abilities such as 1080p recording and being able to recognize up to six different people in a room. Microsoft has even stated that the Kinect will not be required to operate the Xbox One, a decision later made to address potential privacy concerns by consumers when the console was initially announced.
One crucial issue that Microsoft will have to contend with this holiday season is its higher price. Coming in at a retail price of $499.99, the PlayStation 4 and Wii U are both relatively lower on the pricing scale, which places Microsoft in the position of being the most expensive video game console available this holiday season. But the popularity of such franchises as Call of Duty and Battlefield on the Xbox 360 over the PlayStation 3 should provide a boost in Xbox One sales in the form of consumers wanting to play those titles on it. With new games such as Call of Duty: Ghosts and Battlefield 4 being launch titles on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, it will be interesting to see if Microsoft does in fact earn more sales of those titles than Sony. Also, one should consider established franchises such as Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsport 5, Killer Instinct, and new IPs like Ryse: Son of Rome as titles directed towards a more mature audience. With impressive launch window titles such as the timed exclusive Titanfall being released on the Xbox One before the PC and Xbox 360, Microsoft may overcome all of their self-imposed obstacles and do well in the next generation.
The Playstation 4: Tackling their competitors head on
Finally we arrive at the PlayStation 4, a system that has received a lot of positive public feedback thus far–primarily from how Sony has differentiated their console from the Xbox One. Sony has decided to tackle Xbox One’s announcement issues head on, even going as far as comically contrasting the PlayStation 4’s ability to share games differently than the Xbox One with its now famous YouTube video. With its partnership with Gaikai, a cloud-based service, Sony hopes for instant streaming demos, remote play on the Playstation Vita, video sharing, and social gaming such as streaming live gameplay, all through the ability of the Gaikai service on the PlayStation 4. With launch titles such as Killzone Shadow Fall, Knack, the timed release Warframe, and the cross-buy titles such as Flower, flOw, and Escape Plan, the console will have plenty of titles for potential consumers to play on or near its launch. With a retail offering of $399.99, it also sits right between the Wii U and Xbox One in terms of pricing.
Several potential problems could arise for Sony with the launch of the PlayStation 4 though. For one, Microsoft has considerably more money to play around with in terms of advertisement. Microsoft can certainly influence potential uninformed buyers to purchase an Xbox One through advertising alone, primarily through flooding the television with a plethora of ads as we enter the holiday season. Secondly, at least in regards to American consumers, the massive popularity of the FPS genre on the Xbox 360 may well transfer over to the Xbox One, perhaps even hurting overall launch sales of the PlayStation 4 and taking a chunk away from potential Wii U sales as well. Lastly, a lack of first-party support may hinder Sony’s ultimate potential with the PlayStation 4 in the long run, with many one time Sony exclusive developers such as Konami and Square Enix continuing down the path of releasing mulitplatform titles. It may not exactly hurt its launch, but Sony will have to keep a keen eye on attracting new and appeasing old developers in the future.
What will the future hold for this holiday season?
So what will happen during this holiday season in regards to how well the Wii U, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 will perform? We can only speculate given the strengths and weaknesses of each company and their respective console, but there are many variables that could potentially arise such as console-specific technical issues (overheating, software errors, etc.) or titles simply being pushed back, all which could prove to be detrimental to any of the three consoles. But the true, more genuine question still remains: what system(s) do you plan on buying this holiday season?