Sony Declares War
Fire up the blogs, forums, and comments, people--the Console Wars are back!
On February 20th, Sony unleashed the opening volley in what could very well be the next generation of the fabled Console Wars with the introduction of the PlayStation 4. The message was clear: “We messed up with the PS3 and let our ego get the better of us. But we’re learning from our mistakes, and we’re taking the fight to our competitors.” From the opening song “Monster Hospital” by Metric to the strategic use of classic PlayStation cues for speakers at the conference, it seems like Sony is embracing the now storied history of the PlayStation brand and is ready for a hell of a battle with Microsoft and Nintendo.
Not many details on what’s under the hood of the new machine were revealed, but that was by design. This event wasn’t about how many polygons the PS4 can push (although that was part of it), but rather the focus was on ease of use. The PS3 wasn’t exactly a user friendly console, and developers will chime in and say that the system wasn’t the simplest machine to create games on, either. With a processor and GPU pulled right out of high end PCs and a solid amount of RAM, the PS4 should be much easier to develop exclusive games for, but should also facilitate ports from other machines.
On the consumer end, the PS4 sounds like a dream. Anyone who’s experienced the frequent and exceedingly slow system updates of the PS3 should be ecstatic to hear that the PS4 has a secondary processor that handles updates and downloads in the background. Aside from the obvious benefit of being able to pop in a game and play right away, the system also allows for digital titles to be played as they download. When you’re done for the night but find yourself in a spot between checkpoints the system can be suspended, allowing for play to resume with the push of a button later. Sony promises immediacy to all aspects of their new machine, and in an age where Xbox Live friend lists can take up to a minute to populate and the Wii U spends too long thinking between applications, this is great news for users.
The Sony announcement event showed more than you should have expected, but less than you probably wanted. No, the console wasn’t shown and a price point wasn’t given, but did you really think that they would have been? More games were shown than I expected; PlayStation announcements are usually accompanied by tech demos and a couple target renders that look far beyond what seems possible. The games unveiled at this event looked great, but not so amazing that anyone wouldn’t believe that they were running on a PS4. But I’ll repeat that this was an opening salvo, and games weren’t the focus, even though a lot was shown. Sony pulled out their rocket launcher first, but they’ll be holding the nuke back for later.
With all signs pointing to the next Xbox getting a release this year, I’m excited at the prospect of a long and bloody battle between console manufacturers. Sony and Microsoft have never gone head to head at launch, and in actuality, a PlayStation console hasn’t launched alongside a competitor since the Sega Saturn. Back then, Sony was the scrappy underdog, and did everything in its power to crush the competition. Getting exclusives like Tekken and Mortal Kombat 3 was a huge boon, and the company came out swinging against Nintendo not too long after, thanks to a man in a bandicoot costume.
I, for one, welcome the prospect of another console war. Competition brings the best out of everyone, and this time around the stakes couldn’t be higher. It’s time for Microsoft and Sony to take the kid gloves off. During the 16 bit years, Sega was aggressive in its sortie against Nintendo. The result can only be described as a smear campaign—if you were edgy and cool you owned a Sega Genesis, but if you were a nerdy momma’s boy you played Nintendo. Was it dirty? Absolutely. Did it hold any water? Not really, but the perception worked. I would like to say that history shows that Nintendo came out on top in the end, but don’t tell that to Sega fans—they’re delusional and can’t be reasoned with.
Sony lost a lot of steam this generation, what with its 599 price point and the assertion that “people will get a second job to buy a PS3.” Fantastic exclusives couldn’t hide the fact that third party ports suffered in quality, or that the system interface was convoluted at best. This time around, Sony needs to trumpet all of the strengths of its new system, while simultaneously exposing the weaknesses in its competition.
I’m sure that Microsoft will respond to the PS4, changing plans based on Sony showing its hand early. But just because the Xbox 360 is the dominant HD console doesn’t mean that Microsoft can afford to rest on its laurels—that’s how Sony was taken off guard, after all. Whatever form the new Xbox takes, MS needs to get ready to dig in and fight dirty every step of the way. We’ve already seen the once well-respected Xbox Live service start to lose mindshare compared to the impressive improvements Sony has added to PlayStation Plus; a service that will only look better once the Gaikai-powered streaming on the PS4 is rolled out.
Nintendo needs to get in on this, as well. While the Big N was content to let the Wii speak for itself, that’s not going to work this time around. The fact is that people have less money to play with these days, and it’s entirely possible that more households will only have one console in this upcoming generation. Nintendo has some powerful weapons in its arsenal, thanks to the Miiverse, the GamePad, and media features like TVii. Nintendo also has some of the most creative game designers in the world under its roof, and the company needs to exploit that fact. There are few franchises that can tussle with Mario and Link when they’re on their “A” game, and I’m sure that Nintendo has a lot of tricks up its sleeve. Nintendo needs to take steps to remind consumers--hardcore and casual--that it has amazing games that can only be found on the Wii U.
For the record, I don’t have a horse in this race. I used to be that guy—the guy who propped up the Super Nintendo as the greatest thing ever. But then I got older and it became about the games. I’ll follow the system that has the most interesting library and user interface, and I really couldn’t care less who “wins” or “loses”. But I want a messy, bloody console war. I want people like you—yes, you, the one who’s getting angry reading this—to get really invested in your console of choice. I want developers pushing the envelope of creativity and design to make sure consumers feel satisfied in their choice of console. It’s when the stakes are this high and someone has to come out on top that innovation happens. Don’t believe me? Take a look at what happened to Madden and WWE Smackdown once they didn’t have to worry about competition.