E3: The Road Ahead

Now the speculation begins.

With just about everything said and done, the time for prognostication has come. I have no claims of seerhood or prophet like predictions. I just have my gut feelings, and here's what they're saying.

Sony's screwed.

This isn't just about price. This is about what Sony showed us this E3. Sony unveiled to us that with an extra year of development, they created a system that doesn't show any better performance quality than the Xbox 360 that costs an extra $200. A system which shamelessly tacked on motion sensors into its controller at the cost of force feedback. A system whose only major exclusive games are Metal Gear Solid 4 and Final Fantasy 13.

That's a brief summary. Depth time.

Coming into this, those of us who pay attention to video games and the companies that make them had expectations of Sony. Their system was given a year longer to develop than Microsoft's, and as such we expected to see a year's worth of improvement over Microsoft's system. Through the course of Sony's press conference, the feeling grew that Sony didn't have it all together. Their conference lacked style, lacked structure, and looked like it lacked preparation. The most interesting parts of the show were third party games. Most importantly, the vast majority of games that were shown did not look any better than what had been out on the Xbox 360 this past Christmas. Sony fanboys and the rest of us alike had been expecting that Sony was going to plaster Microsoft with games so beautiful we would cry, or at least significantly better looking. Because that was not seen, we strained to find other redeeming qualities in the system, and found nothing that set it apart.

Sony revealed a new online service, something Microsoft has had and refined for a few years now. Not to mention that Microsoft's is running right now, with a full feature set while Sony's still resides in the realm of vaporware. Sony showed connectivity between the PSP and PS3, something Nintendo pioneered with their Gameboy Advance and Gamecube (both of which were also far cheaper). Sony showed off their eyetoy, but only left us wondering was it all smoke and mirrors through a lack of details. Lastly, they tried to wow us with their motion sensitive controller, but left us scratching our heads at the removal of the force feedback (and the possible irony of them copying Nintendo after bashing motion detection as a gimmick).

Overall the feeling I got in my gut, as well as from what I read of other people, was that Sony had dissapointed. The price was a kick where it hurts, and the higher price of the full version a shotgun to the face. A lot of people have made the argument that it's a bargain because of the built in blu-ray player. That worked for Sony with the PS2 because we knew that DVDs were the next medium. There were no ifs or buts about it, DVDs were what was next. Now, we have no clue. There's too much uncertainty as to what the next medium will be, or even if as to whether we need it.

Meanwhile, Microsoft showed off their second generation of games for the Xbox 360, not all of which were sports games or first person shooters. Microsoft caught wind somewhere that the hardcore gaming crowd only has so much money to spend, and that the market as a whole will shrink (or in the case of Japan, is shrinking minus what Nintendo has accomplished) if nothing is done to reach out to more people than teens age 14-19, and college students age 20-24. Their efforts are somewhat bungled, and not entirely effective, but will ultimately give them a huge advantage. They will have a good number of games for people who aren't interested in Football 2010 or Gunfirekilldead 2007. Additionally, with their online service connecting PCs and consoles, they've leveraged their OS (again) to propel them through a new market.

Nintendo showed that they've got games, and lots of them. They showed that their new console works, and works well. They showed that they understand what needs to be done in the console industry, and that they know how to do it. Nintendo isn't just reaching out to the greater public, they're building huge bridges while maintaining the beauty of the place they're building bridges from. Nintendo killed any question as to whether they have third party support, and in an industry where franchises are becoming stale and losing the weight they carried, Nintendo still has all their old classics such as Mario, Link and Samus standing strong and fresh as the day they were conceived.

Because of all that, I can't see this generation going Sony's way. Early adopters and some casual gamers who already have a playstation of one form or another will buy the PS3, but aside from holiday frenzy it will hardly sell. Like the PSP, it may start strong at Christmas, but sales will just end there. Meanwhile, disillusioned hardcore gamers will jump ship to the Xbox 360 and to the great series residing there. With a potential price drop to boot, the Xbox 360 will sell at least as much as the PS3 if not more during the holidays and will continue to sell thereafter. In Japan, sales of the Xbox 360 will pick up some but not significantly, while the PS3 will fare better there but not enough to make up for the poor showing in the US. Meanwhile, Nintendo will fare better than either of their "competitors". Through simple elegance, and low price, the Wii will sell like crazy in the US, and will hardly be found in stores in Japan. While there will be contention for the US market, Japan will be soundly won by Nintendo.

Microsoft may turn a small profit halfway through the generation, Nintendo will make money as always, and Sony will lose large gobs of money and accomplish little.

I never thought I'd want to predict Microsoft doing well, but honestly they have an understanding that games need to move away from the current "nerdy guy shoot things crush" mindset. It's nowhere as complete or perfect as Nintendo's, but I'll pick the huge monolithic megacorporation that has some sense of what needs to be done over the one that has been riding on the success of their first console ever since it was successful.

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