Console Wars – World War Console is a continuing series that details the history of the Console Wars. Part I can be found here, Part II can be found here, Part III can be found here, and Part IV can be found here.
Nintendo found the most success they have ever had with a home console in the Wii and they wanted to build upon it. In 2012 Nintendo announced the Wii U. The Wii U released in the last year of the reign of PS3 and Xbox 360 and was a slightly more powerful system. Nintendo had a new strategy with the success of the Wii, to release a slightly more powerful system than the current competition and add a new element of gameplay. This inevitably placed the newest Nintendo home console a generation behind Microsoft and Sony. The Wii was, in terms of graphics and technology, on par with Xbox, PS2, and GameCube and with the next generation of PlayStation and Xbox right around the corner the Wii U would soon be obsolete. The twist Nintendo tried to spin on the Wii U was the game pad. This tablet like controller launched with every new system and acted as a second screen for maps, inventory, and could even function with a form of remote play that allowed another person to watch the television while you continued to enjoy your game in the palm of your hands. With launch games like New Super Mario Brothers U and Super Mario 3D World many Nintendo fans made sure to pick up the latest system. However there were still millions of gamers waiting on the next big thing from Sony and Microsoft.
Sony sent out mysterious invitations to reporters of the gaming press at the end of January 2013 with the tag line “PlayStation Meeting 2013” and this lead many to speculate the announcement of the next PlayStation. February 20th, 2013 PlayStation announced the PlayStation 4, and the message was overwhelmingly positive. Sony learned from every previous mistake made during thier PS3 era. The PS4 focused on games and the gamer. Sony made sure that developing for their new system would be easy and powerful. They focused on independent games, that mostly released on PC and Xbox LIVE last gen, were now partnering with Sony. Developers like Bungie, who previously made the Xbox exclusive Halo games, and were now giving Sony exclusive content for their new AAA game Destiny. To PlayStation fans it was a blessing to finally see Sony back in natural form of caring about the games and the world took note.
PlayStation may have had a flawless PS4 reveal, however there was still a major factor people where waiting for: Microsoft. The Xbox 360 had been out a year longer then the PS3 and still very much alive in 2013, however many where anticipating a next generation console revealed after the announcement of the PS4. And so it was – on May 21st, 2013 the Xbox One was announced, and it could not have gone more opposite then Sony’s PlayStation 4 announcement. Much like Sony’s PS3 reveal, Microsoft felt out of touch with the gaming community. They focused on Xbox One’s ability to integrate with your TV and cable box, and very little on new games, instead explaining this would be the “all in one” entertainment system hence the name Xbox One. Nevertheless, the gaming community was upset with the decisions Microsoft was choosing to implement into the Xbox One, from always needing to be online to play games to DRM (not allowing you to share disk based games between friends) had the community in an outrage. Unfortunately, even the name Xbox One was under attack. This caused Microsoft to often over explain, and at time become frustrated that their message was being taken so negatively. Things were going to get worse for Xbox before they became better.
At E3 2013 both the Console Wars, and negative reactions toward Xbox, hit an all time high. During the Xbox E3 press conference Microsoft shared a lot of news about the Xbox One, from the price point being $499 to explaining and defending its positions that the Kinect was always watching you, DRM, and needing to be online to play even offline games was the future of gaming. The more the public learned about Microsoft’s plan the more gamers moved away from Xbox. It was unclear if Microsoft was making any positive headway with gamers but regardless it was all undone during Sony’s E3 conference. Sony once again focused on games and the gamers with a nonstop ride of game announcement after game announcement. When it finally came time to came talk about the PS4 hardware itself Sony showed that it did in fact learn from the mistakes of PS3. Sony showed off the console for the first time. A stylish diagonal designed system, much smaller than the Xbox One, while somehow containing more computing power and the power brick inside the system. Both the newly redesigned controller, shown off at the PS4 announcement, and the PS4 itself were both elegant and futuristic. It was something you wouldn’t want to hide inside an entertainment center. The next major announcement came in the form of the price. Sony knew the disadvantages in having the most expensive console on the market, this gen PlayStation did not repeat the mistake. The PS4 was to launch at $399, $100 cheaper then the Xbox One. Everything Sony was doing was only making Microsoft’s predicament worse, and Sony wasn’t done. In a deliberate jab at Xbox, Sony released a video showing just how easy it was to share games on PlayStation. Sony executives Adam Boyes and Shuhei Yoshida created a step by step video guide; step one: pick game up, and step two: hand game to a friend. This was Sony attacking Microsoft on their DRM policies that not only stopped gamers from borrowing a friend’s game, but also stopped the ability to play used games unless you also relinquished your digital rights to the game as well. PS4 pre-sales sky rocketed.
Nearing the release of the PS4 on November 15th, 2013 Sony was still a clear favorite in this new generation. The months between Microsoft’s E3 conference and its release on November 22nd, 2013 had shown us a huge turn around in the Xbox One’s policies. As long as you updated your system on day one Xbox One would no longer need to be always online or need Kinect to work. In addition, if you decided to use the Kinect it too would not be watching you at all times. However, the greatest reversal Microsoft did was take away the DRM. After the first Xbox One update, all pre-owned or borrowed games would play in any Xbox, not just the first one it installed to. These announcements did exactly what Microsoft wanted and increased positive buzz for the Xbox One and attracted back some of their consumers but it was too late. PS4’s sales numbers had Sony in front of both the Wii U and the Xbox One. Microsoft hasn’t officially released sales numbers since 2014, with the last update being three million units sold in 2013. PlayStation continues to out pace the competition with with almost 36 million units sold, and if everything stays the same Sony could exceed its bar of the PS2 by the end of PS4’s lifespan.
Regardless of what some might say, the Console Wars is why this generation of systems are at this level. Some regard this war as stupid or pointless, and yes in forums and social media argument could be taken too far. However, this just shows the passion of the gaming community and the pride they take in the system they choose. The PS4, Xbox One, and Wii U are all under five years old and with virtual reality (VR) now being introduced the competition is only going to continue. However, all three consoles are in unknown waters and unsure of where they will finally land. PlayStation has put a great deal of faith into VR, and as someone who has tried it I can personally say I agree with this choice. However, their success with VR can only be obtained if they continue with what they have learned in their past failures. Xbox has gambled that VR success will only be brief, and if they are wrong they will have a lot of ground to cover just to get back into the fight. Lastly there is Nintendo. The internet is swirling with rumors of what the Nintendo NX, is going to include. This may be Nintendo’s final entry into the console space if it preforms as disappointingly as the Wii U has. It seems Sony, and Microsoft have learned from missteps and found their way back to form as the leaders in home consoles. I for one am excited to see what the future holds and what unexpected things will happen. Until then, the war rages on.