The so-called console wars have just heated up with the release of Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s Playstation 3 this month. As these two new contenders enter the ring to do battle with Microsoft’s Xbox 360 the future of gaming begins to look a little hazy. Which console will ultimately emerge the victor? It’s way too early to tell right now, but there are a lot of factors playing into this 3 way rumble and some are at the very core of the way we’ll define our entertainment for years to come. Sit down, grab a cold one and read on as I take a look at the new launches, what they mean for the industry and which console I personally feel will lead the charge in 2007 and beyond.

First of all, this article is not, in anyway, indicative of how everyone here at CVG feels about the new consoles. It is simply the way I personally see things going after objectively observing how the big 3 have been handling things. As such, everything should be taken with a grain of salt. Things may or may not actually turn out as I suspect they might here. Now let’s begin with a brief overview of the systems and their strengths and/or weaknesses.

Sony PlayStation 3
We’ll jump into things here with Sony’s new machine. What does the PS3 have to offer that other systems do not? Is there any way someone can possibly justify the price point? Well, to take care of both questions with a single answer, might I bring up the built in BluRay player? Just check around and see how much your average stand alone BluRay player costs and you may start to have second thoughts about calling the PS3 overpriced. Going with BluRay as the medium for the PS3 was a gamble by Sony. This console war may ultimately be decided by the victor from another war: HD-DVD vs. BluRay. Can the two disc formats peacefully coexist in the consumer market? Only time will tell, but I’d wager that one will have to concede to the other. Although, it will be interesting to see if the Xbox360 user base and the PS3 user base will be enough to support both formats.

83408_4ps3.jpgOk, so the built in BluRay is a plus, but good deal or not, that doesn’t change the fact that you’re still going to have to shell out at least $500 for a PS3…and that’s if you want the “gimped” version. Unfortunately, there’s no way around that and that will be the biggest obstacle the PS3 has to overcome. Also, the fact that the PS3 actually down converts some video and games as opposed to up converting them is a big let down. HD technology is gaining popularity, and chances are PS3 owners are going to want that high-def experience and they’re going to be fairly upset when they find their new $600 game machine is only pumping out a depressing 480p on that $2500 television.

83408_6wii.jpgNintendo Wii
What can I say about Nintendo? They always seem to know how to bounce back. After the Gamecube’s relatively weak performance, the new Wii console and its “wiimote” are a breath of fresh air for the industry. The way I see it, this isn’t truly a three way war; it’s a two way one between Microsoft and Sony. I believe that the majority of the households with a gaming machine will have a Nintendo Wii and an Xbox360 or a PlayStation 3, not both. The Wii is different enough and innovative enough to perhaps appeal to a wider audience than Microsoft and Sony’s two gamercentric, technological showboats. Plus, the Wii has the most reasonable price sitting coolly at $250.

The downside? Well, it’s no secret that the Wii is grossly underpowered when compared to the Xbox 360 and PS3. From day one, the Wii is going to show the Gamecube’s age and while you can tout the “pretty graphics don’t make a good game” line all you want, they sure as heck don’t hurt. They also turn more heads and this console war is as much about marketing as it is anything else.

Microsoft Xbox 360
The 360 already has a firm foothold on this race as it came to market a full year before Sony and Nintendo’s machines. This means that for the last twelve months, the Xbox 360 has been able to rule the gaming world with little to no competition at all. The system is starting to hit its stride now with second generation software coming out and despite being a year old, the technology and architecture of the box are keeping it, at the very least, competitive with the PS3 and some developers are actually saying the 360 is the more capable machine. In addition to this, the Xbox Live service is still the best online service a gamer can get and may be Microsoft’s single, biggest contribution to the gaming world this side of Halo.

officialxbox360.jpgIt’s not all sunshine and rosy meadows for Microsoft though. The online services they’re putting out there now are cool of course, but will they be financially successful ventures? The ability to download movies and television shows in high def is great, but those can take literally days to complete and eat up more than a little bit of harddrive space; something the 360 is lacking to begin with. The other potential weak point is the DVD storage medium. While most game companies don’t use all the space on the disc yet, it could be a factor in the future and Sony’s BluRay discs are much better equipped to handle larger games. Again, the HD-DVD/BluRay battle could play a role here.

When it comes to system launches, things rarely go according to plan. Just take a look at Sony’s botched PS3 launch. With a ridiculously low supply of units, some stores were getting just two or three PS3’s at launch and some none at all. It’s also worth noting that probably about half of the people who bought one at launch did so only to auction it off for more than quadruple their money back. It hardly bodes well when just as many people want your product to sell it as there are those who want to use it. Then again, fetching 4 G’s on an auction means people are really eager to get their hands on it; though this is probably some parent who just wants to get one to put under the tree come Christmas day.

What else went wrong for Sony? Well, how about only one game worth playing: Insomniac’s Resistance: Fall of Man. While decent, it is hardly worth shelling out $600 for. Add to that the number of dysfunctional units, the lack of a rumble feature in the controller and sketchy-at-best backwards compatibility and it’s not hard to see why the PS3 launch was somewhat less than stellar. Sony’s cocky attitude and blatant rip offs of Nintendo and Microsoft have rubbed gamers the wrong way. Remember Sony saying that Microsoft releasing two versions of the 360 was a bad idea that would “confuse consumers?” Well, how many versions of the PS3 are now available? Two, last I checked. Also, the tilt feature of the PS3 controller was obviously an attempt to copy Nintendo’s wiimote, the problem is that the feature is nowhere near what Nintendo has accomplished.

While on the subject of botched launches, think back to just one year ago when Microsoft unveiled the 360; they had a lot of the same problems Sony has just run into. There were quite a few reports of malfunctioning Xbox 360 consoles and the launch titles just weren’t all that great. In fact, the best title at launch, Call of Duty 2, was basically just a port of a PC game. The other title hyped for launch was Rare’s Perfect Dark Zero and do we really even need to go into the disappointment there? Plus, as a console for HD owners, the lack of support for HD-DVD’s out of the box was disconcerting. If you buy a premium Xbox 360 package and tack on the price for the recently released HD-DVD drive, you pretty much come to the same cost as a PS3. Granted this does make the console cheaper out of the box and gives the consumer an option of whether or not they want the drive, it does make for additional costs to those who do wish to view HD-DVD’s on their Xbox360.

Perhaps the only company coming strong out of the gates has been Nintendo. The Nintendo Wii had more units available, all of which sold out and hasn’t had quite the problems that the other consoles had. To be fair, there have been reports of Wii consoles being rendered useless after attempting to download some system updates; however, Nintendo is sending new systems to consumers who do experience this issue. There are also those who have had the wrist strap snap on the wiimote sending the controller hurling through the air and, in some cases, cracking screens or other household items. Now, I don’t know about you, but that sounds like someone must have been using excessive force, but nonetheless, it is evidently a problem for some. The Wii also faces some interesting challenges that the other consoles do not. As a platform designed to target more people, not just gamers, the Wii error screens may baffle some users who aren’t technically savvy.

When it’s all said and done though, the Wii is the clear winner in terms of launching. It is the only system that had games worth playing on day one and is also the only system to ship with a game right out of the box. The new Legend of Zelda title is definitely a system seller and the included Wii Sports makes excellent use of the motion sensor controller displaying a hint of what the console is capable of. The Wii’s attractive $250 price tag makes it an especially viable option for parents looking to save a little money this holiday season.

Today into Tomorrow
heaven4.jpgAll of these new consoles are certainly capable gaming machines, but with two just hitting the market, what does the future hold for each? For Sony’s PS3, a rocky start is not necessarily indicative of the console’s future. The PlayStation brand is arguably the most well known in the industry today and that carries a lot of weight. Consumers will buy the system, developers will make software for it and it should do well over the next few years. The new cell technology under the hood is just beginning to be looked at so who knows what it may be capable of producing as developers learn the ins and outs of the PS3 architecture.

GoW3.jpgAs the dust settles from the near simultaneous launches of the Wii and PS3, Microsoft’s Xbox 360 finds itself securely accepted by gamers in all parts of the world. The future looks bright as second generation games are beginning to hit the market and anticipated titles such as Epic’s Gears of War are not only meeting expectations, but surpassing them. The social experience of Xbox Live is something that neither Sony nor Nintendo has been able to match thus far and with MS buddying up with various television networks and movie studios, things are looking promising for team green.

mario1.jpgThe Wii is the odd ball here. On one hand it delivers an experience that neither the PS3 nor the Xbox 360 can claim to provide. It is completely unique and Nintendo first party software always scores high with players. It is hard to imagine the Wii not doing well with its mass market appeal, nice price point and one-of-a-kind controller. On the other hand the Wii is not technologically equipped to stand toe-to-toe with the consoles from Sony and Microsoft. It’s hard to say if the innovation behind the system will be enough to sustain it on the market years down the line.

The Envelope Please
So who’s going to come out on top at the end of the day? Well, I personally believe that all three companies are going to find a nice share of the market. However, as I said, this is more of a two way race with Nintendo being in its own market. The Wii will sell and sell a lot. As for the remaining two; I believe Sony will finally lose the iron grip they’ve had on the industry for the past decade or so. The PS3 will do well, but Microsoft’s one year head start will ultimately prove too substantial. The original Xbox was almost a joke when it was first announced, but solid titles and the Xbox Live service helped solidify the Xbox name in homes. The Xbox 360 didn’t face the same challenges the original Xbox did; the brand had been established. The 360 was brilliantly designed inside and out for upgrades and developers are no longer developing much exclusive content for Sony. Grand Theft Auto IV will be released for both platforms and this time around Square-Enix is also giving Microsoft some support as the popular MMORPG Final Fantasy XI has already been released on the Xbox360. The Xbox Live service has hit full stride with the Marketplace and XBL Arcade. Expect indy developers to flock to the system once XNA hits the market giving the Xbox 360 gobs more exclusive content than the competition.

That’s just my two cents. Will any of this come to fruition? Who knows, but one thing’s for sure, it’ll be interesting to watch things unfold! It is, as always, a great time to be a gamer.

(Editor’s Note: Ryan’s opinions in this Editorial do not reflect the opinions of everyone at CVGames. But we will save other viewpoints for future Editorials)

By Ryan Schaefer – 12/27/05

Screenshots for The Main Event