Microsoft was out for blood. The Xbox came in second to the PS2, having only sold 24 million units and they where as determined as ever to beat Sony this new generation. Microsoft had a plan, to release before the next PlayStation console and to launch with a sequel to their biggest franchise; Halo. The Xbox 360 was released November 22nd, 2005 with tiered models based on their size of hard drive. The Xbox 360 was an overnight success and a perfect storm for gamers. The 360 reinvented online gaming with Xbox LIVE. Never before was it so easy and accessible for console gamers to play online and have a constant connection to friends while playing their favorite games, and yet even with all the positives surrounding the 360 they were still not out of the woods. Sony was gearing up to announce their new console, the PlayStation 3. The expectations were high from gamers and there was a bar set by Microsoft that the PS3 needed to exceed, and however high the bar may be most gamers felt Sony could surpass it. But they were wrong. Sony fell short. With the overwhelming success of both the PlayStation and PS2, Sony developed a stigma within the company that they could do no wrong, and this mindset almost cost Sony everything.
Sony’s E3 2005 announcement of the PS3 felt detached from the gaming community. With their focus on hardware and odd tech demos like giant crabs destroying cities to show off the power of the PS3 instead of focusing on the games did not resonate well with fans. Sony was losing focus, and this caused them to lose the mass appeal and favor over Xbox with every passing minute. However, with all the missteps Sony made none surpassed the mistake of the price. Now an infamous line used to announce the price of Sony’s new system. “Only $499.99” rang out in the E3 auditorium. This was one of the most expensive base video game consoles ever released, and even though the 360 also had a $499 model it’s base price started at an affordable $299. Xbox had its opportunity and Microsoft did not waste it. PlayStation 3 launched November 17th, 2006 in the United States and was met with poor sales. Sony was reeling and discovered very quickly that passed success meant nothing with a new console launch. Games like The Orange Box and Elder Scrolls both sold and played better on Xbox 360. This was due to the 8 cell possessor in the PS3, which was very difficult to develop games for. This was a hindrance Sony hadn’t anticipated. The 8 cell processor was designed to be the smartest chip in gaming, and for the most part it succeeded, however it required its own unique coding for games. Sony also failed to foresee a very important part of this generation of gaming: online.
Xbox LIVE (XBLA) during this generation was the benchmark of online gaming that Sony’s PlayStation Network (PSN) aimed for but failed. Microsoft knew the potential of online gaming from seeing it first hand with PC’s community’s commitment and enthusiasm as well as the massively successful Halo 2. Another problem for Sony was Halo itself. Xbox already had a franchise associated with online play, and Microsoft was smart enough to announce Halo 3 with the Xbox 360. This sent a charge through the gaming community, and was a huge part of Xbox 360’s success. Sony’s last major online obstacle was cross game chat. This function may have been small in concept and easily over looked but it was a crucial part to online play. To be able to hop between games and still communicate with friends was something console gamers never thought could happen and now that it was possible, they cannot be without it. This was something Sony desperately tried to implement into the PS3, however the memory in the system was not allocated properly implement and thus, Sony was never able to bring this highly demanded implementation to the PS3. Xbox 360 was not the only problem for Sony, as Nintendo was readying their launch of the Wii and it was going to turn the gaming community upside-down.
The Wii was like nothing the gaming community had ever seen. Typically, with console generations the newest system on the market is vastly superior to the successor, but Nintendo however took a different approach. The Wii was not much more powerful then the GameCube, but the Wii introduced something into gaming that was only considered a gimmick prior: motion controls. The majority of the gaming community’s opinion never swayed, and a great deal still believed motion controls were a gimmick. This however did not stop Sony and Microsoft from trying to get into motion. The Kinect was an Xbox peripheral that allowed players to use not controllers, instead it was a camera that tracked your movements and your voice. The Kinect became the most successful accessory for any console in history. Sony answered launching the PlayStation Move. The PS Move combined both motion controllers and their PlayStation Eye which was the successor to the Eye Toy, the camera Sony launched a generation prior to allow your PS2 to track your movements. Even with both Microsoft and Sony trying to tap into the Wii’s success, neither company came close. The Wii went on to sell 101 million units. The 360 was able to build upon the original Xbox’s success and sell 84 million units. This was over double the amount of original Xbox’s while also meeting their original goal, to beat Sony. The PS3 found itself in uncharted waters at third place. Since the birth of PlayStation it was the leading console of each generation previous, however with the missteps Sony made announcing the PS3 it almost found itself in a much worst predicament sales wise. Sony changed their message and learned from their mistakes with a re-branding, re-marketing, and re-focus on console exclusives like The Last of Us, Grand Turismo, Uncharted, God of War III, and Little Big Planet. In doing so PS3 was able to keep pace with the 360 by selling 80 million units worldwide. This generation of consoles ended as the most uncertain to date. PlayStation wasn’t in the lead, Xbox was the favorite, and the Wii had undisputed success with what was considered a gimmick. The future had never been so unclear. However, the gaming community didn’t have to wait long for the next chapter with Nintendo’s announcement of the Wii U.
This is part of a five part article series that will continue to outline the history of video games console wars. Stay tuned for part five, which will be posted next week, right here.