Musings about the Console Market

I am not a console player. I do not own any of the current generation gaming boxes. I did own a PS1 back when Sony was still kicking ass in the video game market. Now I consider myself an objective outside observer. Yes, objective – the fact that I did once own a Sony console does not make me a fanboi. Any fanboism I might have had, evaporated around the time they pulled off that rootkit stunt. I also didn’t really own any Nintendo hardware since the NES so I don’t have preference for them either.

People often ask me what console they should buy. The logic is that I’m a geek and I should know things like that. What would you recommend? I usually qualify that it depends what kind of games your are into. If you are buying it for a hardcore video game veteran then you should probably consider the Xbox. As much as I hate Microsoft they do have the best game selection at this point. Then again, their consoles tend to brick themselves quite frequently.

If you are more of a social player, and you want to have a console that is guaranteed to be at parties you should probably get the Wii. The console doesn’t have many of what people consider hard core titles these days, but Nintendo is going places and they are a sound investment. I should probably point you towards the excellent essay Birdmen and the Casual Falacy which gives you a glimpse into their market strategy. Don’t make the mistake of dismissing Wii as a console for casual gamers. Nintendo is quite diabolically using it to corner the market. It is funneling new blood into the video gaming community, and it will use that army of new converts to dominate the next generation console war. In the meantime it will try to use Wii to tap into every niche market – and next to their casual family games they will serve deep and engrossing RPG’s action games and etc. A lot of these may be paradigm breaking games too – considering Wii’s non-standard controller and input methods. They are the console to watch.

How about PS3? Well, if you want to buy an inexpensive BlueRay player that you could also sometimes use to play games then yeah – go for it. Seriously, Sony completely lost the battle for the position on the console market this time around. PS1 and PS2 were dominant products in their time, but PS3 is clearly in the far 3rd place even though it has the best technological specs out of the 3 consoles. They were pretty much doomed from the start.

As you may, or may not know, Sony outsourced the development of their powerhouse Cell chip to IBM. Part of the deal was that IBM could then license this technology to other companies. And so they did – to Microsoft who approached them shortly after Sony. So in effect, Sony essentially bankrolled the development of the XBox chip.

Not only that, but they were late to the market. If you read the article I linked to above, you will see that the first run of the chips produced by IBM (both for Sony and Microsoft) was defective. Fortunately Microsoft had the forethought of securing a secondary backup manufacturer for their chips so they were able to ship their console on time. Sony had no such luck. Not to mention they were fighting another far on a different front.

Sony was not only implicated in the console war, but also in the HD format war. Their decision to bundle a BluRay player into their console was a risky move. Not only did it raise the price of their hardware to a point where they were by far the most expensive console on the market. They also risked damaging their console market even further if the BluRay format lost. Sony decided that the battle for the next video format was much more important than the battle for console market, and they made PS3 part of their BluRay strategy hoping that the hordes of fanbois will buy their machine anyway.

This of course did not happen. Late release combined with prohibitively high price combined to yield low sales. The fact that PS3 had the best console hardware on the market meant nothing because due to low sales numbers no one wanted to do exclusives for it. If you are making a PS3 exclusive, you may be tempted to tap into the full power of it’s multi-core Cell processor. If you are just porting over and X-box title, and you know that sales will be low due to limited number of PS3 users out there, you probably won’t bother.

So despite having a less impressive, and more failure prone hardware, Xbox reigns supreme on the market right now. Sony knows this, and they are very careful not to throw too much money at the slowly sinking ship that is PS3 these days. Right now, I believe they view it as a vehicle for shipping inexpensive BluRay units which just happens to have video-game like capabilities. Don’t expect this to change anytime soon.

As for next gen consoles – it’s way to early to make any predictions. But if the birdmen essay is right, Nintendo may kick some serious ass in that iteration. Whether or not Sony will regain a leading position depends on how seriously they decide to treat the PS4. It will be hard for them to wrestle the market away from Microsoft though. After the huge success of 360 it would take a series of major blunders (like the ones that plagued PS3 release) to threaten Microsoft’s position.

So that’s my take on the console market. If you were one of the people who asked, this is the un-abridged and expanded version of what I might have told you. I’d love to hear different opinions in the comments though. Do you guys generally agree with this assessment? Do you expect there to be any major shifts happening on this market soon? Which console do you own? Which one would you recommend buying?

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6 Responses to Musings about the Console Market

  1. Morghan Phoenix UNITED STATES Epiphany Linux says:

    I have a PS2 and a GameCube myself. Haven’t really seen much point in getting the newest generation of consoles. The Wii looks the best of them, but not good enough to justify the price, and Sony lost me when it decided to drop the b/c from the PS3. That was the major selling point of the PS2, all those RPGs which really don’t decrease too much in playability over the years were still usable without keeping around my old playstation. Now I know they did the software emulation, but there were just too many bugs and slow updates for me to consider that anything but a joke. I’d still take it over the 360, even without my loating of Microsoft, I know too many people who bought a brick to go down that road.

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  2. Ian Clifton UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    The last console I had was the PS2. It was a good system, but I sold it not too long after I got out of the military, so I could focus on passing my college courses (the GI Bill can be quite the incentive). Nintendo has always had an array of their titles (Mario, Metroid, Zelda, etc.), so you know their systems will always have at least a handful of good games. The problem is that it seems like that handful can stay pretty small (e.g., the N64 had a few great games, like Goldeneye, but not too many others). The Wii can be fun for casual gaming; it’s pretty easy to pick up, even if you’re an idiot. I just couldn’t justify paying that much without it being a hard core gaming machine. Most gamers I know have the 360, and many have had problems with it (including my brother, who has quite the frustrating story, but I won’t get into that). It’s got some great games though, and that’s really what drives the system. The PS3 is an impressive device, and I would heavily consider it if I were to get a console, but a large part of that is because none of my nearby friends has one, and I could find a friend any day of the week to play the 360, if I wanted. It would definitely be between those two though; the Wii would not enter my realm of consideration.

    Still, the best system was the SNES!

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  3. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I owned a PS2 previously, but I was a poor uni student back then. So I sold it off to actually buy a new graphics card. :P It was not one of my proudest gaming moments.

    PC gaming will always be my favourite, as my fav genres can only be effectively played on a PC. I love those management strategy simulations, like Gal Civ, Railroad Tycoon, Simcity. (GOG.com now has Capitalism Plus. I’m going nuts!) You can’t replicate these text-laden mouse-driven games on a console. Even if you can, I doubt the market that consoles target prefer these kind of games. I also love text and stat based RPGs, so again, best platform for that would be the PC. I never got into (and never will) jRPGs, which is like the main sub-type of RPG on the PS3. Fancy unskippable cutscenes with no impact on gameplay, minimal dialog choices and random encounters? Me no like.

    I do have a Wii now, perfect for parties and social gathering. 4 Wiimotes + Wii Sports = hours of tennis and bowling. Yeah, I agree that Nintendo is shrewd with the Wii. Making it accessible means ability to sell to the mass market, not gamers. But games on the Wii is either really good, or really bad. It’s just wierd that way.

    I love on-rails shooters (Time Crisis!) and I want a bluray player for the living room, so I’ll probably be getting a PS3 soon enough. The 360 has some nice games on the Live Arcade too.

    For gaming on the go, I have a DS, just because of New Super Mario Bros and Prof. Layton. I’m not sure if the iPhone can be considered as a gaming device, but I’m certainly playing a lot of mobile puzzle games on it. Bejeweled is great for a 15-min session while on public transportation.

    To me, each and every platform has its own appeal. I don’t really care which company makes it. As long as it’s fun, “I want to go to there…”

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  4. IceBrain PORTUGAL Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux Terminalist says:

    The best new-gen console is PSP, mainly for it’s homebrew emulators. I can play almost every game made before the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube. But I still have a N64 in perfect condition and I take it for a spin every now and then. Unfortunately, I only have eight games, so I get a little bored sometimes : p

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Yeah, as much as I like Wii, it really is not something I would buy for myself. I’m more into single player FPS and RPG games.

    I was considering getting an Xbox actually – it has better game selection and bigger community than 360 at this point.

    @Mart: Same here – I like western style RPG’s. The JRPG genre doesn’t appeal to me that much.

    I’m not that much into RTS or turn based strategy games but they do exist on consoles too. At least they used to. I actually own Warcraft, Command and Conquer and Red Alert for PS1. The gameplay is incredibly shitty with the pad but they exist,

    @IceBrain: PSP looked interesting, but it seems to be a dead end technology. The mini-discs it uses did not catch on and I’ve heard they are expensive to make which means that less and less places produce them. So the platform is actually in decline, but the homebrew market is keeping it afloat. :)

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  6. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Luke Maciak: Yeah, I’ve seen those games on the PS1. It looks extremely uncomfortable to play. :P

    @IceBrain: I’m also very much inclined to buy a PSP, just to get into the homebrew emulator scene. The DS homebrew also has emulators but the hardware simply isn’t powerful enough to play SNES or any other generation of console after that. Tyrian 2000 has also been ported to the DS but the screen isn’t big enough and part of it is cut off. Functional enough to play, but it just seems unpolished and cumbersome.

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