Make it or Break it Edition! With Awards Even!
Ah it’s the end of odd numbered year, so time for another “Future of Videogames” article from me! Unlike 2003 we’ve actually got some new systems out and on the horizon this time, so there’s more frame of reference for my bizarre predictions. To keep it simple I'll start each section with "Make it or Break it" - the top reasons why each system might be a hit or crash and burn. Then I'll elaborate on that with a bunch of ramblings. At the end of the article I'll give out special awards to all of the next-generation systems, just for fun. Enjoy!
-Benjamin J Heckendorn, November 2005
XBOX 360 - Microsoft Corporation, Release Date: 11-22-05
Make It: Microsoft's seemingly limitless cash supply can be used to advertise and "push" the XBox 360 as hard as they have to to make it a hit. This itself is far more important than it being first to market, though that's part of their "throw money at the problem" strategy to be sure. So basically the 360's biggest asset is it's "rich daddy", more so than the games or even the system itself.
Break It: The shortages, whether real or fake, are still shortages. If the only 360's available were all sold on November 22nd, and everybody else will be waiting til January-March as rumored, that's pretty bad. Even worse, people trying (and failing) to get refunds on their deposits are going to get mad and turn on the 360, thinking "screw this - I'm waiting for PS3" Of course the big M$ knows every dollar that's NOT returned on deposits is that much less money people have for the PS3. Sigh... If they hadn't rushed this console so quickly maybe they'd of actually had time to BUILD some...
Predictions and Ramblings:
When you current system is finally gaining momentum, when your online service has come into its own, what do you do? Continue support to increase sales? Distribute add-ons and make sequels? Nope, if you’re Microsoft you drop it all and release a replacement system! The similarities between the XBox 360 and the ill-fated (but beloved) Dreamcast are pretty obvious, even to the casual gamer. Sites such as 1up.com (ala EGM magazine) have done full articles on this so I won’t go into much detail but the basic similarities are:
1) Released only 4 years after the previous console (rather than the standard 5) to get a “head start” against the rival company that beat them last time.
2) Went from a 1980’s style black case & controllers to all white. (Any change from the XBox 1 case is good though)
3) Logo is a scribbly circular thing obviously designed by either a highly paid graphic artist or a 3 year old.
4) Really pushing online services (that was a lot cooler in 99 than now of course)
Of course it must be noted the original XBox is far, far more successful than the Dreamcast's predecessor, the really ill-fated Saturn. Still... similarities loom.
Thanks to Microsoft’s multi-zillion-dollar ad barrage we’re all familiar with what the Xbox 360 is supposed to be capable of, so let’s get right to the predictions:
Ultimately it won’t fail like the Dreamcast but it won’t beat the PS3 either. Unlike Sega, Microsoft has enough money to build a staircase to the moon (out of stacked money) so they’ll push the 360 hard enough to make it a success, and throw money at developers to get the games they want.
I was going to say "XBox 360 will have the best launch ever!" but that doesn't seem likely now with all the shortages. This could really hurt them in the long run - if they basically "miss" Christmas 2005 then there was little point in beating the other consoles to market by a year. I still think they'll have a leg up over Nintendo but this will hurt them in fighting Sony.
The reason why I don’t think it’ll beat the PS3 is because, much like the Dreamcast/PS2 debacle, everybody knows a new Sony system is close on the horizon. Therefore they have the option of either waiting for the PS3 or getting the XBox 360 now. Hardcore gamers (the kind who buy every system released) and die-hard XBox fans are sure to get the 360 at or near launch (if supply allows, heh heh heh) However the casual gamer, who is the bulk of the market and typically owns just a single current console (usually a PS2), will save their money and wait until all 3 systems are out to make a choice. Again this is even more relevant with the 360 shortages. If you have to wait til March why not just wait another 6 months and have all 3 systems to choose from?
Playstation 3 - Sony Computer Entertainment Company, Release Date: Fall 2006 (US)
Make It: It's called a Playstation and is the latest in the line of best-selling Sony consoles. More importantly it has the most top selling franchises of any console on the market. This is very important to realize... everyone raves about the Xbox and Nintendo for Halo and Zelda but those are basically the console's ONLY super-selling games. Playstation has quite a few, including the "sells better than anything" Grand Theft Auto.
Break It: Sony can still screw the pooch and blow it if the price isn't around what the XBox 360 was at launch, or maybe a little more. If it's $500 then there's trouble as it's pass the "tipping point" towards a thousand. Remember how annoying it was when cans of soda started costing MORE than 50 cents? Exactly! Granted Microsoft is CERTAIN to drop the Premium 360 price to $300-$350 when the PS3 is released, but it's well-established the PS3 will be the superior system so the extra $$$ will be worth it in the eyes of many gamers.
Predictions and Ramblings:
PS3 will NOT cost $500. Or more than $500. It will be $400 on the head, with all options included. Microsoft has “broken the seal”, so to speak, on having a $400 console. Screw the core system, it doesn’t count. Either people got the $400 system, or have to buy so much crap for the core it’s practically $400 anyway. Sony said the PS3 is going to be "expensive" which everyone has interpreted as being $500-$700. In my book, and probably a lot of people's, expensive is merely something that costs more than normal. Since Sony called it expensive before the 360 prices were revealed I'm thinking they expected a $400 PS3, which at the time would have been the most expensive console ever. (Neo Geo and 3D0 don't really count ;)
People keep saying "oh the Blu-Ray will be expensive" or "the Cell CPU is gonna be $500 alone" The thing to remember is those are both Sony developed products so they can give themselves the best price possible. For an example, how on Earth can those new Star Wars movies be done for sub $120 million with all the effects they have? Simple - Lucas gets the effects for cost since he owns the company that makes them. Same here for the fancy new Sony technology. Sony's real strategy is to sell the Blu-Ray and Cell technology to other vendors once it's demonstrated them with the PS3. THAT'S where they start making money. If Blu-Ray becomes the next video standard not only will Sony license the players but also get a cut from every Blu-Ray disc sold (much like Warner Bros. gets a cut from every DVD sold now, as they originally worked on standardizing it) That's big business, to be sure.
Besides all this I don’t see why these prices are considered so horrible. (system prices, not $40 controllers - that's just insane) Back in 1977 an Atari 2600 cost $250. What would that be in today’s prices, probably at least $500? The thing is consumers are so used to cheap electronics these days (off-brand DVD players, TV’s, anything from Wal-Mart) that a cutting-edge high-tech name-brand item seems expensive by comparison. It’s really not so bad when you consider a current PC that could run a game and graphics anywhere close to a XBox 360/PS3 is going to be well over $1000. (of course you can do more than just play games with a PC, but I digress)
But no matter, the PS3 will be $400. This of course will be $50-$100 more than the Xbox 360 at the time, as Microsoft is sure to drop their price to fight off Sony (I mean, they’ll still be losing money on every 360 anyway so who cares?) Make no mistake though – the PS3 will be big. The reason we hear so much “doom and gloom” death of Sony rumors is because the Xbox fans, like the Dreamcast ones before them, are quite vocal. This makes it sound like there’s more of them than we think, and that’s usually the case. PS2 fans are the “silent majority” and will speak with their dollars when the PS3 goes on sale.
It'll also be cool to have a Hi-Def Blu-Ray player (Free Inside Every PS3!) Sure most of us don't have hi-def sets YET but likely we'll consider it for our next TV, especially with analog signals (NTSC) being officially phased out by the end of 2008. Remember the consoles are to have at least 5 year life spans (oh sorry Microsoft), so it's not 2006 that matters, but what the console can do in 2008-2010. PS3 will be doing true 1080p right out of the box while the Xbox 360 upscales its native 720p to 1080i, and the Revolution sits on the old NTSC TV next to the rabbit ears.
FREE BONUS NOTE:
One last thing - I predict Blu-Ray will win the format war over HD-DVD. For the simple fact that it has so much more storage space, double that of HD-DVD. It's better to take a big leap than a little one, and I'm sure the movie studios will realize this. Although Bill Gates is correct in saying "HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, either way, it's the last physical media format" Those discs will run their course, then once broadband internet reaches the majority of households everything in the future will be streamed right to your hard drive. Good-bye disc collections! Really, sell your stock in brick & mortar video stores NOW!
Nintendo Revolution - Nintendo, Release Date: Fall 2006 (US)
Make It: At the rumored $200 price point it'll easily be half what the other consoles cost, and I wouldn't be surprised to see $40 games the norm for it as well. That will help somewhat, though didn't exactly work wonders for the cheap Gamecube. Also for those gamers who don't own a PC or have never heard of emulation (so about 3 people total) the "playing old NES/SNES/N64" games feature will seem awesome (Even though they'll awesomely charge you for each download, even if you awesomely own the cartridge) Plus they'll always be kids in the world (why do you think McDonald's is still in business?) so that's some guaranteed sales right there.
Break It: The controller - period. I don't see why everyone out there is even giving this thing the benefit of the doubt. It's a really dumb gamble on Nintendo's part. Sure it'll be great for their first-party games like Nintendogs and Warioware but the third-party developers are going to bail like mad. For example, will EA even bother *trying* to map Madden 2007 onto this controller to make a port for the least popular console? Doubtful. This is especially bad for Nintendo as when you look at Gamecube any title that's not a first party Mario Party / Zelda game is just an EA port of something that's on all 3 consoles. On top of this the controller requires that you places SENSORS around the screen. Red flag right there - Mattel Power Glove anyone?
Predictions and Ramblings:
I’ll give Nintendo one thing – at least they’re not putting a ridiculous “more than 2” number on their system or simply adding a number to the previous system. That said I don’t have much hope for the Revolution, even if it costs a mere $200 at launch. I mean, Chevy Metros are cheap but I see a lot more SUV's on the road.
I think it’s a safe bet the XBox 360 will pretty much smash the Revolution to bargain bin bits. The reason I say XBox and not PS3 is because as of now the XBox (original) and Gamecube are fairly even in sales, if anything leaning towards the XBox. So rather than beat the PS3 the XBox 360’s first goal is to get rid of Nintendo, which will be a lot easier than beating the “big S” I thought Nintendo would be done with consoles after the last generation – guess I was wrong. But this time they’ll be beaten back to portables only, I’m sure of it. They may have a lot of cash in the bank but not nearly as much as Microsoft, and not nearly the market share of Sony.
There’s going to be a three-fold downfall of the Revolution – the kiddie factor, no HDTV and that controller:
The Kiddie Factor: The average videogamer is now a 30 year old male. Thus, Nintendo's consoles and games seem ever increasingly childish to this aging target demographic. I know I'm not just speaking for myself when I say I'd rather play games involving cars, guns, swords, tanks and missiles instead than picking boogers out of my nose or whacking pastel-colored mushrooms while I pet dogs. Yes there is a market for that kind of stuff (namely kids and adult women) but it's not the big selling target demographic that makes a system #1. Having a violent Resident Evil now and then does not counteract the 50 zillion Mario Party / Warioware / Pokemon crayola-scribbling and glue-eating fests that dominate the Nintendo systems. When they did start introducing mature games around 2000/2001 it was already about 5 years too late, and that gap is why they'll never loose the kiddie image.
No HDTV output: Here’s another thing - along with good graphics - that matters a lot more than many people think. Why do you suppose those XBox 360 displays in stores look so good – they're in HDTV, that’s why! Also remember they just announced that December 31st, 2008 is the end of analog TV (standard def, like the Revolution) broadcasting in America. That’s a mere 2 years after the release of the Revolution. Now granted the government isn’t gonna go door-to-door and smash your old TV (you’ll have to get an adapter, Dish Network, cable, or an HDTV set instead) but between now and then the price of HDTV sets will plummet and sales will go through the roof. Once decent HDTV sets go sub-$500 the hi-def market will explode like a nuclear bomb. Much like how DVD was the fastest adopted new format ever, HDTV will eclipse and replace standard NTSC very quickly.
Who cares if the controller is great for first-person-shooters if you’re playing them at 640x480 smear-o-vision? For an example who on Earth still runs their PC at 640x480? Well of course all those old emulated games the Revolution is supposed to play will look fine, but if playing old games is one of your major selling points then you’re in trouble. The current PS2 and XBox can already do some forms of HDTV. The XBox 360 can do even better, and the PS3 is rumored to support DUAL 1080p displays. Compared to this the Revolution is outdated right out of the box. That’s why I think it’s just intended to go straight to the kid’s play room and not the adult’s entertainment center. But none of that matters like…
The Controller: Here’s the biggest reason the Revolution will fail. Who cares how much gyroscopic movement it has, or how “iPod-esque” it looks, or any of that. It’s weird as hell and completely different than any game controller before. Again it’s important to look past the hardcore gamer view and think of the consumers. They will see this and think “what the hell?” This garbage about selling systems to non-gamers is stupid – only gamers buy game systems. See, Nintendo is trying to find a new market but the reason they even have to is because they’ve alienated themselves in the normal one. The number of third party developers to jump ship is going to make the N64 and Gamecube drop-offs pale in comparison. Once EA jumps ship (and I bet they will, too) practically the only titles left on the Revolution will be first-party ones. It’ll almost be like the Atari 7800 or Jaguar days. Only first-party releases and all those are rehashes/sequels of past titles. Granted the games themselves will be better than the old Atari shovelware but who really needs Mario Party 85: Reloaded?
In closing I think I’ll take back my old prediction of seeing Mario on a competing system by 2010. While it makes sense financially (most old SNES fanboys moved onto Sony after the Square exodus and would eat up a Sony system Mario game) it’s now clear Nintendo would never do it because of pride. Mario will just “go handheld” and appear on Nintendo’s yearly Gameboy release. It’s pride that's pushed them to release another console, but remember pride always comes before the fall.
Ben's Next-Gen System Awards!
Who cares if only one of the systems has been released - let's give out awards! Don't worry, I'll rip on all systems almost equally...
"Best Improved Console" - XBox 360
This is kind of a "gym class award" to be sure. I'm giving it to the XBox 360, for aesthetic purposes only. I'll just say it - the old XBox was plain UGLY and its controller was not only ugly but larger than the Moon. But now the 360 looks pretty nice and the controllers are a huge improvement as well.
How did this happen? I checked some TV schedules and found this spin-off buried in rerun obscurity:
This explains a lot.
"Least Improved Console" - Revolution
Its big selling points are a new controller and the ability to play old games. Thing is, you could technically already do both with a Gamecube. Seriously, the 'Cube is fast enough to emulate most old systems and there's no reason you couldn't put sensors around the screen to detect your "magic wand controller". Nintendo knows they can't win the hardware or sales race, so they'll settle for the Gimmick Race.
The thing Nintendo doesn't want you to know, or hopes you don't remember, is that you can actually play your old Nintendo games on... keep in mind, this is top secret now... your OLD NINTENDO SYSTEMS! In fact if you spent about 3 seconds online looking for emulators you could even play the old games on... (this is really REALLY sensitive information now) your PC! Don't faint from shock too quickly.
Remember those old Atari Jaguar ads? Here's one for the Revolution:
"Ugliest New Console" - PS3
Ok so you're the top game console manufacturer who started a new console trend (vertical/horizontal placement) with your last system. What do you do next? Obviously make something that looks like a rejected toaster design from the 1950's!
What more can I say?
Controller" - PS3
Wow two awards in a row for Sony! Their designers must be asleep at the switch, dead or both. I mean for crying out loud, did Batman design this thing?
The photos released of it
don't even look real - hopefully that means it's just a "concept"
and it changes before the US release. If not, well, who can't
use an extra grappling hook around the house?
"Crappiest Power Supply" - XBox 360
The 360's power supply is approximately the size of Pluto and weighs more than Kristy Alley, Oprah Winfrey and Paris Hilton put together. Best of all, it sometimes overheats and locks up the system if not suspended in the air to keep it cool. Wow. Simply amazing.
Actually, we're probably LUCKY not enough people got a 360, it'd instantly create a drain on the electrical grid and we'd have a REAL power crisis on our hands! Gas would shoot up to $90 a gallon and THIS would probably happen:
"Dumbest Thing To Omit" - HDTV on the Revolution
Have fun. (Remember, "I Love Lucy" comes on at 5)
Well that's about all I have to say about the next generation of consoles. In short, Microsoft makes gains on Sony (if they make enough 360's), Sony loses market share but is still #1 and Nintendo slinks further towards abandoning consoles altogether and just releasing new yearly Gameboys instead.
Only time will tell if I'm right, but I think my logic is fairly sound. We shall see! Tune in for my NEXT "Future of Videogaming" article in fall 2007! (Um, mark your calendars now)