We’re a scant two weeks away from emerging fully into the next generation – in fact, come Thanksgiving, we can’t be calling it the "next" generation – and it’s time to examine where we stand. The world of gaming is about to go through yet another transformation, and one of the more intriguing aspects of this era is that the major players have reversed (or altered) roles. But regardless of where Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo currently sit, one can only speculate as to where they’ll sit in five years time.

So, gamer fans, let’s not be pessimistic, let’s not be optimistic, let’s be as real as possible. Which of the three will ultimately succeed and flourish?

Sony PlayStation 3

The PS2 was the undisputed winner of the last generation, and most attribute that to their one-year head-start on the competition, not to mention the gigantic marketing blitz that spanned back to ’99; a blitz that certainly assisted in the ultimate demise of the Sega Dreamcast. There were rumblings that this machine that would be above and beyond what anybody could possibly imagine, and Sony just built on it and built on it and built on it until the game world was in a frenzy. Did it work? Sure did. The PS2 was by far the biggest console launch to date, and Sony went on to ship 111 million consoles worldwide in the next 6 years.

But of course, that tremendous success wasn’t spawned entirely by hype and a head start. Over the course of the generation, the PS2 consistently produced the most diverse library of games, covering most every possible genre, with flagship games for each and every category. Regardless of how often the public can resort to a mindless mass-mentality, don’t underestimate the consumer- if the PS2 hadn’t delivered the software, it wouldn’t have performed half as well as it did. It probably would’ve survived (thanks to the crucial brand-name recognition), but with the surprisingly stiff competition provided by Microsoft’s Xbox, a lack of software would’ve seriously hurt the system.

However, heading into the next generation with the PS3, Sony isn’t quite as well-off as they once were. They’re facing more questions from the corporate viewpoint, as they spent a huge amount on the PS3, thus throwing them $1.7 billion into the red. They also have to prepare for a down-and-dirty dogfight with the Xbox 360, which got the year head-start this time around. Sony knows Microsoft is for real, but the question is, have they also reversed the power trend? Last generation, the PS2 had the least powerful hardware and the Xbox was king of the block, but now, the PS3 supposedly has the edge in terms of raw power.

Regardless of how confident Sony is in their fans, I initially thought that price tag would cause a problem for consumers. However, after a recent survey taken in the U.S., where the vast majority polled said they weren’t totally turned off by the $500/$600 SRPs, I’m reminded of just how much money this country has. I’m also reminded that the average gamer is a lot older than they were entering the PS2 generation, which means they likely have more money. Furthermore, Sony has a chance at finally equaling Microsoft in the online venture. Xbox Live was a superior online service to Sony Online for the PS2, but with the PS3’s capabilities, it should be a closer race.

Looking at the PS3 launch lineup, it appears very similar to most other launches we’ve witnessed. You’ve got one or two potential must-haves, a handful of solid titles, a slew of average ones, and a few cheesy "misses." Last year’s Xbox 360 launch lineup suffered from the delays of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion , but ended up coming close to the aforementioned formula. Sony is hoping the PS3’s lineup will feature two "must-haves" in Resistance: Fall of Man and Ridge Racer 7 , but questions linger about both. Beyond that, it feels like a pretty standard lineup.

And that’s not necessarily a good thing. Sony really needed something to push their powerful new system as something special. If they only produce a "standard" launch lineup, the rest of the system will appear "standard." And for that price, regardless of what the survey said, consumers may balk. Lastly, given the serious production issues, they’re not exactly off to a running start; the PS3 has been delayed until March in Europe, and that hardly instills one with confidence. In fact, at this point, it almost seems like a difficult uphill climb, especially with Japan taking to the Nintendo Wii like ducks to water.

But in the end, the support is there. The big-name franchises are there. It’s names like Final Fantasy , Gran Turismo , Devil May Cry , and Metal Gear Solid that push consoles, and despite some of the aforementioned getting installments on other consoles, they’re more like pseudo-installments. FF fans care about Final Fantasy XIII , and not as much about another Crystal Chronicles or another online FF. There’s a boatload of potential. There’s a fully realized online program – which gets a nice boost from the 40-player battles offered by launch title, Resistance – and as of now, does have a few impressive games supposedly sitting at the ready for 2007.

They’ve got the installed userbase set up by that 100 million-plus, they’ve got the best backwards compatibility setup (and with absolutely giant PS1 and PS2 libraries, this is a major deal), and the bottom line is that the PS3 will be impossible to find for quite some time. Yes, that’s due to production issues, but if Sony meets their expectation of shipping over 1 million PS3s to the U.S. by the end of this year, it also means something else- people want one. Business functions on demand. If PS3s are going for $1500 on eBay, that product is in demand. And if the hottest titles at the tail end of the PS2 ( Final Fantasy XII and God of War ) can easily be played on the PS3, it’s just another excuse for the gamer to upgrade.

Sony has more stumbling blocks than ever before. The launch isn’t looking as stellar as they – or anyone – might’ve wanted. The competition is ready and willing. But the evidence is clear-

PlayStation 3- SUCCESS

Microsoft Xbox 360

Microsoft has some seriously deep pockets, and way back in 2001, some gamers may have believed those pockets would be the only way MS could stay in the game. Technically, with the company having yet to turn a profit on any Xbox console, this is certainly the case. However, during that time, Microsoft has turned a deaf ear to the losses and provided gamers with some pretty impressive games; not to mention an unbelievable online service. Despite not being able to realistically compete with the PS2 last generation, the Xbox could only be considered a great success.

Some may argue the success of the Xbox revolved entirely around that blockbuster launch title, Halo , and while there is some truth to that, it’s hardly the whole story. Xbox Live was a much bigger draw than anyone may have anticipated, and while it took over a year for the system to really get going, they did contribute several of the best games of the generation. Ninja Gaiden was a sensation that succeeded on both the critical and retail fronts, and by continually producing the best version of multiplatform games, gamers had many reasons to own an Xbox.

The Xbox 360, unfairly dubbed the Xbox 1.5 by naysayers, experienced a slightly less-than-impressive launch, but Microsoft still managed to sell all 900,000+ systems they shipped in 2005 (and they’re on track to hit their goal of 10 million 360s shipped by the end of this year).. The “red button of death” fiasco that afflicted early consoles did spark some negative word of mouth, but we’ve moved past that now. And finally, 2006 saw the releases of Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter , The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion , Dead Rising , and Saint’s Row , with the highly anticipated Gears of War right around the corner.

Microsoft may have lost another $93 million in their game division according to the latest quarterly results, but that’s down from a loss of $173 million last year. Xbox Live is as strong as ever, the system is reasonably priced in comparison to the PS3, and their third-party support is increasing even as we speak. Unfortunately, the 360 still suffers from a similar lack of diversity the original Xbox suffered from; there are very few – or zero – stellar titles in the platforming, rhythm/dance, strategy/RPG, and Japanese RPG genres. But they’re working on this problem, bringing games like Dance Dance Revolution , Kingdom Under Fire , and the upcoming Blue Dragon to Microsoft systems.

The question is, can the 360 win the battle with only one major exclusive franchise? Now that the PS3 is getting Ninja Gaiden Sigma , and retaining exclusive rights to those aforementioned massively popular franchises, is the 360 pinning its next-gen hopes only on Halo ? Will it suddenly not have the benefit of being the platform everyone turns to for the best multiplatform versions of a game? Does the hardware itself have the same potential as the PS3? All of these questions are very important, but not so easy to answer, so let’s make the final word simple-

The Xbox was a success. So far, number-wise, the Xbox 360 is a success. They’re even getting a bit more recognition in Japan with that Blue Dragon bundle. Developers everywhere are praising its easy-to-develop-for architectural structure. Xbox Live ain’t slowing down. That’s just too many positives to ignore, and thus-

Microsoft Xbox 360- SUCCESS

Nintendo Wii

Ever since the explosion of the PS1, Nintendo’s long-running position as the industry frontrunner has disappeared. Perhaps it was inevitable, given the financial and political influence of mega-global corporations like Sony and Microsoft. But at the same time, Nintendo has somehow survived and even flourished…in some ways. The GameCube did well in Japan, but after a heated battle with the Xbox for a few years, the results soon became clearer and clearer in the U.S.- Americans favored the Xbox, and with the PS2 already out to a 38-lap lead, the GameCube fell into a disappointing third place.

The first-party classics continued to drive the Cube forward, however, and with the new Mario , Metroid , and Zelda cementing the library, the system still held some appeal. Factor in a surprising list of wonderfully solid – and unique – RPGs; Tales of Symphonia , Baten Kaitos , etc, and the 2005 Game of the Year in Resident Evil 4 , and the GameCube was able to finish out the generation on a relative high note. Still, with the massive hardware specs on tap for Microsoft and Sony in the next generation, we all wondered if it was the end of the road for Nintendo in the console game.

At first, what was initially named the Revolution became shrouded in mystery and doubt. Then they changed the name, dropped a few intriguing hints regarding a new interaction scheme, and blew people away at E3 2006. The Wii-mote continues to get positive reviews from critics who’ve been able to go hands-on, and somehow, Nintendo has managed to provide the only truly new video game experience for the new generation. They’ve gone out of their way to say the hardware won’t compete with either the 360 or PS3, and throw their whole weight behind that nifty idea. Toss in that awfully accessible $250 price tag, and the Wii is shaping up nicely.

Their acquired status of being associated with a younger gaming demographic isn’t hurting the company, either. With so many adult-oriented high-profile titles helping to push the 360 and PS3, Nintendo is perfectly content with providing what they’ve called “family-friendly” entertainment for the masses, and with the Wii, they’re giving everyone a new way to experience a fantasy world. We’re not entirely sure if that new scheme will present limitations to the gameplay, and we’re not sure if the Wii will experience the same low-frequency-of-quality-titles problem the GC had, but so far, everything looks rosy for the Wii.

When a survey was given to attendees at the Tokyo Game Show, asking numerous questions regarding the three consoles, the Wii had a spectacular showing. It turns out that gamers in Japan are wildly excited about the system’s potential, and even here in the U.S., Wii preorders have disappeared just as quickly as PS3 preorders. And take a look at that launch lineup- no, it’s not overwhelmingly special, but that one title, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is a darn good sign. Do we recall what happened with the last system that launched with such a landmark game (‘cough’ Halo ‘cough’)? That’s right, things turned out pretty well. Early impressions of the new Zelda ? Nothing but glowing.

Lastly, unlike Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo always turns a profit with their gaming division. A big one. So they’re set, right? Well, not so fast. Because the system can’t compete on a visual level with the other two systems, regardless of whether this impacts actual gameplay, it will certainly have an impact on the gaming populace. It’s a mite depressing, but that’s the way things are. And what if, God forbid, that Wii-mote loses its appeal? What if the novelty – if that’s indeed what it is – wears off? Then unfortunately, you’re left with a system that can play some old classics (for a price), and still retains those loveable mascots. But that’s it. And that, my friends, could be disastrous.

If there’s one thing Nintendo can’t afford this time around, it’s a slip-up. If the Wii-mote works from front to back and consistently offers a new way of playing games, than the console is a definite success. But while they’re not exactly putting all their eggs in one basket, it’s darn close. The biggest, and perhaps the only, question we have to ask is- Can the Wii-mote sustain a five-year reign of innovation and freshness, or will the appeal die out in a few short years? If we had the answer to that, we’d have the answer to “success” or “failure,” but for now, we’ll just have to go with what we have. And so far , the majority of the evidence points to

Nintendo Wii- SUCCESS*

* Pending the answer to that last question.

So there you have it. It’s our belief that there is enough room for all three consoles to be successful in the new generation, and at this point, we have no reason to believe otherwise. Perhaps the launches in a few weeks time will change the situation, but it’s unlikely. There are a several big questions that each company needs to address, and we probably won’t have even a glimmer of an answer for quite some time, but at this moment, everything appears to be on the correct track. In the end, it’s all about the games, and if the entertainment is there, success is imminent and even inevitable.

And the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii should have that entertainment we all crave. Nothing wrong with that, is there?

%d bloggers like this: