Op-Ed

Op-Ed
It's (console) War!

Russ Pitts | 29 Sep 2006 17:33
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This holiday season, you, the consumer, will have as many as eight gaming platforms for which to buy new games. And yes, I'm counting both major handhelds, and yes I'm still counting the Gamecube.

There's been a lot of talk about a console "war" and there will undoubtedly be much, much more as the holiday season wears on, and the PS3 and Wii take their place in the next-gen lineup and start trying to woo their way into your pants (pocket - where your wallet is).

Seeing as we're now at the end of September, the beginning of Fall, the beginning of the frantic fall-winter release schedule and it's a payday (for most folks) I'm expecting a great many of you to be rushing out to buy games or perhaps hardware this weekend. And so are the major manufacturers. So let's not disappoint. Go out there and buy!

The question is: buy what? Which, of course, is merely the "in the trenches" translation of the question analysts and industry execs have been asking themselves for over a year: who's going to win the console war?

I believe that their question and yours have two separate answers.

Take my shopping list for the next two months for example:

    Nintendo DS
    New Super Mario Bros. (DS)
    Guitar Hero 2 (PS2)
    Rule of Rose (PS2)
    Okami (PS2)
    Nintendo Wii
    Zelda: twilight Princess (Wii)
    A boatload of Virtual Console titles (Wii)
    Splinter Cell: Secret Agent (X360)
    Lego Star Wars II (X360)
    Star Trek: Legacy (X360)

I could go on, but I'd have to get a second job. I'm not even including the PS3 (which I won't buy until A) the price drops and B) they stop saying things like "we're having trouble getting the components together." Seriously. Nothing inspires fear of new technology faster than the manufacturer's lack of confidence in their own processes or supply lines).

If I were to extend this list into the first few months of next year, I could easily double it. I could probably triple it by including all of the upcoming MMOs that have intrigued me enough to consider playing one. My point is, that's a lot of good gaming right there. More than I've ever been able to look forward to at any one time, I think.

Is this because the game industry happens to be particularly strong right now? Yes. Of course. But it's also because we're at war, and nothing spurs production faster than a wartime economy. Just ask Boeing.

I'm talking of course about the "console war"; the race amongst Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony over who will get more machines into more homes and (most importantly) sell more games. Microsoft has a year's head start and has developed a fairly robust online service. Unfortunately they were slow to exploit that service and too quick to rush consoles out the door, leading to an embarrassing admission this month that they cut some corners in the manufacturing.

Sony is the current king in this space, but their console promises to launch with just as many, if not more manufacturing flubs as the Xbox 360, and it's more expensive to boot. Doesn't look good, Goose. Then again, Sony is Sony. They don't have to be smart, they rule the world. I wouldn't count them out of the race just yet, but they've certainly opened a door to failure - a new experience for them, one imagines.

Nintendo is the wild card here. They lost the last console war (yet, strangely, were the most "profitable" game maker - make sense of that), but now claim to have taken that opportunity to think long and hard about where to go next. Their decision: make games that everyone can play. Not a bad move, and having played their new machine at E3, I have to admit that I think they're on to something. They will also face far fewer mechanical obstacles with their machine, which (considering it's also the cheapest next-gen console) could tip a number of scales in their favor.

So who's going to win? Everyone has an opinion on this, including, from time-to-time, me. In fact, I've probably spouted my own opinion more than half a dozen times in the past few months alone. It changes, because I'm an Emersonian, but I'm currently undecided on who exactly will sell more consoles this generation. I have a guess, but it's based in large part on my own prejudice toward things that A) are tailored to my tastes and B) don't suck. So we'll hold off on that.

It doesn't matter though. Because I think the winner of this console war has already been declared, and it's you. Regardless of which console sells more games, or _insert preferred deity_ goes bankrupt, the machines are coming and the games are being designed. The list of "exclusives" is dwindling on all three calendars, which just means more good news for you, the consumer. Pick your favorite and play.

The "war" will ultimately be "won" by someone, but so long as it rages on, prices will drop, quality will (hopefully) improve and games will march off the assembly lines and into your homes. I say we've got about 18 months to two years before it's really clear exactly who's won this round, and the development support begins to dry up for the loser(s), and by that time the machine(s) in question will have dropped in price to make owning more than one a reasonable proposition. Just like last time. So I say enjoy it while it lasts.

Now get out there and shop. We're counting on you, soldier.

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