If sales of the new generation of consoles were a NASCAR race, it would look something like this:

Microsoft is off to an early lead, having suited up and lapped the track for a full year before Nintendo and Sony even arrived at Daytona. But in the eight months Nintendo has been in the race, they’ve been burning through tires as fast as Dunlop can make them, and so far they’ve halved the Microsoft’s lead, and are still coming on strong.

Meanwhile, Sony, in the number three car, is laboring just to match their own time from the previous race and Microsoft has been forced to take number of emergency pitstops, which may not cost them the race, but certainly can’t help.

Race prediction: Nintendo takes the checkered flag before Christmas, Microsoft hangs on to an impressive, but relatively weak number two position and Sony fires their driver and throws the old car back into the race so they can at least claim “former glory.”

Also, Jeff Gordon is a weenie.

What a difference a year makes. Last year, before the Wii and PS3 hit the market, most were predicting that the strange, new machine from Nintendo would be little more than a curiosity, and would barely make a dent in the behemoth sales expected by Microsoft’s and Sony’s machines. And two years ago, if you thought the Xbox 360 would outsell the latest model of the storied Playstation brand, you’d have been labeled a fanboy at best, fruitcake at worst.

And now here we are. Having continued to sell out available stocks for 33 weeks straight, and made up a lot of ground on Microsoft, the Wii looks poised to become the number one next gen gaming machine practically any day now. While Microsoft is smarting from continued problems with the Xbox 360 hardware, the device has managed an impressive acceptance rate, and captured a veritable treasure trove of exclusives. And the PS3 is in dead last, and dropping like a stone. These are days one wished one made wagers.

The question then is, will any of the three make giant waves, break new ground and secure new futures at this year’s E3 event? The answer is: no.

Microsoft made a great hue and cry over the fact they’ll be rolling out over a hundred new games this holiday season and just dropped a ton of new content onto the Xbox Live Marketplace. Their favorite two phrases were “available tonight” and “everything you see will be released this holiday season.” Which are excellent catch phrases to be sure.

Microsoft is in a position now to hit this ball out of the park (for number two) if they do three things: 1) sell the crap out of Halo 3; 2) stuff the content channel of their Marketplace so full, the device makes as much sense to buy as a video machine as a game machine and 3) figure out what the hell is wrong with the console and fix it – for good.

The announced partnership with Disney for downloadable movies and TV shows solves problem 2 almost overnight. Number 3 is impossible to judge, but rumors of an enhanced chipset sound promising, and 1 is almost a given. Almost.

The real world translation of Microsoft’s press conference is this: “When you buy a 360 this year to play Halo 3, you’ll be walking home with the best value in gaming consoles.” And honestly, that’s not a bad message.

Nintendo, for their part, stayed the course, making practically no waves and breaking absolutely no new ground. And really, who can blame them?

They’ve currently got the two hottest selling game devices on the planet (the Wii and the DS) and every game they have in development is “in demand.” Practically the only thing they can do to ruin the game for themselves at this point is voluntarily step out of the race, and that’s just not going to happen.

The momentum Nintendo has accumulated thus far by marketing to the other 90% and polishing their games and hardware until the gleam is easily enough to propel them to the number one spot this round, and may, in the long term, prove as earthshaking as their achievements with the NES console. Not bad for last round’s number three. And their press event reflected this reality.

The Wii Fit demo was the only “news” to come out of the event, per se, and even that time was essentially wasted. Wii Fit is guaranteed to be profiled on every major media outlet that covers games, and will be the hottest selling game this holiday season. Hotter even than Halo 3.

Translation of Nintendo’s press event: “How awesome is Nintendo? So awesome.”

And then there’s Sony.

The company has been hemorrhaging money and exclusives at a rate that seems unsustainable to all but the most delusional observer, and the sales of their PS3 have been abysmal. It’s quite a feather in their cap that the PS2 continues to be such a beacon of longevity, but when you’re the market leader, and your old product continues to outsell the new, you have problems.

The PS3 is a technically impressive device, and Sony appears committed to pushing the envelope with the technology and services. Unfortunately it all appears to be too little too late.

Playstation Network? Microsoft beat you to the punch, and is doing it better than you are.

Motion control? Nintendo nailed it – you didn’t.

Handheld? The PSP is a fun, little device, but the emphasis on console-quality experiences in a smaller package has cost you. Nintendo’s device, which focuses on original, innovative experiences, is just plain more fun to have in the house.

If Sony’s story were a VH1 “Behind the Music” special, this would be the part where we’d say “And then, everything started falling apart.” And then go to commercial.

Tretton and Co. were appropriately contrite on stage, and the lavish spread of food and free booze accompanying the posh arcade setup next door to the event stage was almost enough to make me forget I had other places to be, and other companies to see. Almost.

Translation of Sony’s event: “Please, please stay here in Culver City with us. We used to have something good. Ike loves you. Ike is the only one who loves you.”

So who won? It depends on who you ask. One journalist I spoke with said Sony beat the other two guys hands-down. And as far as free food goes, he was right. Gourmet sliders and an open bar are the keys to a journalist’s heart, but I have to disagree with his analysis.

Another person I spoke with said Nintendo nailed the press event contest this year, with their low-key approach and slate of eagerly-awaited games, and I can see this point, too, but I don’t buy it. Nintendo has won the war, and to be perfectly honest, there really isn’t much more they could have done to make their event stand out better other than announce a ton of stuff they’ve already announced elsewhere, and/or give free oral sex.

They won, they know it, end of story. But their event was still a waste of time.

So this round of the press event war goes to Microsoft. They may not have made mention of a world after Holiday 2007, but to be perfectly honest, for Microsoft there is no world after Holiday 2007. Either they grab on to Halo 3‘s coattails or they don’t. And as far as convincing consumers to see the world their way goes, they nailed it.

If I didn’t already have a 360, I’d buy one this year to play Halo 3, and if I were doing that, I’d want to know that my money would be well spent, on a device with legs and a ton of exclusive content. Microsoft, at their E3 press event, showed they have just that. It wasn’t the most groundbreaking event ever, but it did exactly what it set out to do. And for that, they win the bucket of flowers and get to stand next to the hot chicks while we pour beer non them. Go, team!

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