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?