The Console Wars…

December 28, 2006

Well my first post is going to be kind of a long-winded rant… I promise future ones won’t be this bad.

This is an issue that is probably only truly interesting to a select few – the members of the nerd patrol eagerly lapping up any technological information that comes about and/or the “fanboys” looking for reassurance of some kind. In the latter case only the Nintendo fans and so-called “Xbots” will find anything to satisfy their beliefs here.

(Let it be known that I hate terms like “fanboys” and “Xbots” as they are often recklessly thrown around too easily and readily by people who don’t know what they’re talking about or who don’t even know what the words mean).

Earlier in the fall I made a prediction and it was that the console rankings would wind up looking like this: The Nintendo Wii would quickly win a solid first place, followed by the Xbox 360 with the PS3 some distance behind. I also predicted that both formats (HD-DVD and Blu-Ray) will lose, with DVD carrying on as the standard video playing format. I still hold true to my original forecasts and I think the market has so far been shaping up precisely the way I had envisioned.

Nintendo made a brilliant move with the Wii, by going in a completely new (revolutionary) direction they’ve effectively removed themselves from the competitors and offer a unique service that is a “must have” to everyone – including a great many people who otherwise aren’t interested in videogames. Even for most people sitting on a particular side of an ideaological corporate fence during the “console war” the Wii is not seen as direct competition, even the most strident fanboys will tout “PSWii” and “Wii60” (some will even use silly abbreviations such as “FTW”). Nintendo has very cleverly sidestepped the entire issue, appealed to almost all gamers, appealed to vast amounts of regular people (including women, who before weren’t keen on gaming) and comes at an amazingly affordable $249.99!

Even the name “Wii” has caught on in an unusual way… When I first heard the name I thought the Nintendo execs had taken crazy pills, stuffed themselves with pizza, dropped a few hits of LSD and then knocked each other out with throw pillows (decorated with anime girls no less). I was one of those who despised the name and thought there was no rational way it would fly – but evidently it has. It’s fairly easily slid into mainstream usage and the sexual innuendo isn’t play on all that much anymore. All across the world people are playing with their Wiis free of guilt!

Nintendo fans, Sony fans, Microsoft fans, PC gamers, and even non-gamers are enticed to pick up the Wii, and because it’s so unique, with such surprising support and at such low cost it will easily come in first place.

The real battle, the real console war, will take place between the Xbox 360 and the PS3. Microsoft has a brilliant marketing department (denoted just by the fact that they dominate the computer industry, even with an inferior operating system [Yes I’m a Mac guy, oops] ) and they made a clever play by following the PS2 example and coming out a year earlier. Now they have gained a strong foothold, had time to flesh out the graphical capabilities, built a good library, and are far more available at this critical time. The 360 has had time to evolve and grow, becoming a force to be recogned with.

Conversely the PS3 is plagued by a host of problems and issues. It has limited offerings at launch and so far the graphics of the games are trounced by the 360. It is particularly evident in multiplatform games where the PS3 very visibly lacks in texture and graphical quality. This is a temporary setback to a system that hasn’t been fleshed out yet, but consumers won’t see it that way. They will see the 360 with Gears of War and other visually impressive games and turn to see the PS3 lacking.

What hurts Sony the most is the $600 price tag, which is a huge chunk of change. This is definitely worth it to the Playstation enthusiasts who also happent to want a Blu-Ray player to boot, but a great many people don’t want the Blu-ray forced on them and Americans reject and distrust the Sony’s trojan horse tactic. Oops!

There are other concerns only gamers and technophiles worry about – the lack of an internal scaler, not all older games are backwards compatible yet, backwards compatible games do experience terrible resolution and anti-aliasing blunders (they look like jagged hell ran over them), and several others – but by and large the PS3 is suffering due to its price and a weak launch. Demand has virtually ground to a halt on these things already, with some of them becoming available in stores and sitting there for hours or days at a time. My friends and I have seen them just sitting in Costco, Target and other retail stores. I overheard a gamestop employee saying they got in 6 and it took days to sell them all. There is a fairly high return rate as ebay sellers aren’t making the killing they thought they would and are returning the consoles! There was a strong launch with people going mad over the ebay possibilities, but it seems the hardcore buyers have already dwindled…

I originally had thought that the Xbox 360 would sell strongly because people looking for PS3s (which I presumed would be completely unavailable) would instead opt for the 360, but instead the reverse is true… Many people are ignoring the PS3s (which are occasionally available) and opting for the much cheaper 360 anyway! Though the Wii is still in ridiculously high demand and fully unavailable.

So I’ve run on long enough, so to wrap up those are my predictions. We can see how it all fares in the long run, but I think so far the market has demonstrated that my assumptions will play out predictably. As for why I think both HD formats will lose, this article sums it up nicely. However I think he is expecting too much of PS3 sales and in light of recent events it seems likely that a bunch of people won’t in fact be accidentally buying blu-rays…

Anyway in my next post I’ll probably tackle something more controversial, like evolution vs. creationism. Until then. Peace.


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December 28, 2006

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