Op-Ed

Op-Ed
Console Wars, Failure Rates and E3

Russ Pitts | 2 Jul 2007 17:00
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With the shiny, new, "invite only" E3 about a week away and sales, manufacturing and other various numbers streaming in, now is as good a time as any to take another look at the state of the industry.

For starters, and this is not purely fanboy nonsense, the PS3 is in trouble. The good news for Sony? So is the Xbox 360.

Although the bloggernet is abuzz over the mysterious, black invitation being sent out to "top" men by Sony (rumor has it, it's about Killzone), the bare bones fact is it's really hard to find anyone presenting at the event who has something interesting to say about the PS3. Other than Sony, that is, and the jury is still out on whether or not what they have to say is interesting.

EA was kind enough to provide a list of games they'd be showing and/or willing to talk about at their various E3 booths, and not counting PC games (which give Microsoft an edge anyway) there isn't a single Sony exclusive on the list. Microsoft, by contrast, has one (Skate) and Nintendo has three. A number of the most eagerly anticipated games on EA's list are cross platform, between the Xbox 360 and PS3, but if you're looking to play Mercenaries 2 for example, and you don't already own a PS3, which console would you buy?

The bad news for Microsoft is in spite of the laudable Marketplace effort, and a pocketful of exclusives, the answer isn't an easy "Xbox 360."A confusing array of different models and accessories may not have dampened the initial acceptance rate of the console, but it didn't help either. And the introduction of a third model, the Elite, has only muddied the waters. To make matters worse, rumors of a higher than average failure rate for the console continue to plague Microsoft, who has yet to set the record straight by confirming or denying them. Bad juju.

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Yet in spite of all of Sony's PR blunders and Microsoft's concerted effort to blow their market lead, the real story, still, is the Wii. From exclusives to sales figures to equipment failures to manufacturing overages, the Wii is still the headline; Microsoft and Sony, although their difficulties are mounting, are subheadings.

The Wii is now outselling the PS3 in Japan by 6-to-1. And although practically no one is buying the machine, Sony is proud to announce that manufacturing has come fully online. I know we're all tired of wondering what they're smoking in Sonyland, but when they bus me out to Culver City for their E3 press conference, maybe I'll finally get to find out. And if they have extra, I'll bring some home. Nintendo, on the other hand, has been making Wiis as fast as they can for months, and no, you still can't find any.

Even the flap over Manhunt was colored by the fact the game, as brutal as it is, was made even more so by the groundbreaking control scheme of the Wii. Which reminds me of that game you play with children, pointing to their toes saying, "This little piggy went to market, this little piggy stayed home ...": Nintendo's little piggy went "Wii Wii Wii" all the way to the bank.

Each generation of consoles has brought us closer to the promised day on which gaming consoles would more closely resemble PC gaming machines. Last generation brought us close enough to that dream that I was bale to forsake my aging top-of-the-line rig and I haven't looked back. The Xbox 360 and PS3, however, have blown the distinction between PC and console wide open, offering, in some cases, even better experiences than those to be had on the PC. That more developers are making their games with the console audience in mind and porting to the PC is a symptom of this trend, not a cause.

But the closer the consoles get to looking and handling like their PC cousins, the closer they come to sharing PC gaming's irrelevance. The Xbox 360 and the PS3 are each fantastic machines in their own right. I can't get enough of my 360, in fact, and am considering buying a second. From playing DVDs to Xbox Live games to downloading videos and the like, I've simply never owned as versatile a machine, outside of a PC.

Still, the Wii is a better gaming machine. Case in point: A woman who'd never played a videogame in her life visited my home recently. I'm sure you know at least one person like her (if you have a mother, that is). This is a woman who's never heard of Halo and probably only knows Pac-Man from the T-shirts - in the '80s. Yet she'd heard about the Wii - and wanted to play it.

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Although she had never picked up a game controller in her life, she'd been bowling a time or two and asked to play Wii Bowling. There were three of us playing that night, two game writers and her. She kicked both of our asses. She'd never played a videogame, but she knew how to bowl, and the Wii made playing a bowling game as intuitive (and responsive) as bowling with a real ball, minus the 16 or so pounds of weight to throw around.

It's part of our mission here at The Escapist to help introduce games to those who don't already know the joy to be had in playing them, to explore the methods of play in all forms and expand our understanding of escapism. We've always said gaming won't become an accepted medium until everyone who has a Monopoloy, Clue or a deck of cards in their closet also has a game machine. The Wii is that machine. Welcome to the future.

Next week in Santa Monica, there will be a lot of companies showing a lot of products. Expect the most exciting to be playable on a Nintendo console. When was the last time anyone said that?

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Russ Pitts is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. His currently unnamed, yet critically unrecognized column appears every Monday at The Escapist Daily. He also blogs at www.falsegravity.com.

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