The next gen consoles then and now – Revisited

I wrote this little ditty sometime last summer, analyzing all three consoles and how they had changed since launch. Since then the market has seen more major shifts, so I want to take yet another look at the Wii, 360 and PS3, and see what we might expect from them in 2009.

Then: I claimed before that Microsoft looked to be getting wishy washy, constantly tweaking the policies and features behind the 360, leaving early adopters in the cold and not focusing on the important issues that need fixing.

Now: Microsoft embarrassed my predictions through and through. The Red Rings of Death have waned, and whether or not it is a good thing, the community has mostly gotten used to dealing with them when they do occasionally pop up, much like we got used to replacing old PS2s. My worry about HDMI-less old model 360’s was hyperbole at best, after realizing that the games look good enough for me on a good HDTV via component cables. The scare about old Arcade games being delisted turned out not to be a trend, and my hope that Microsoft would define the “Xbox brand” is slowly becoming a reality thanks to the New Xbox Experience.

Personally, I think the NXE is a slightly prettier piece of junk, still plagued with ads and confusingly organized. I’m also bothered by the fact that the interface and new Avatars are made with the sole intention of getting you to buy MS Points (and to copy Mii’s). Ultimately, the NXE is still a success because it is friendlier to navigate for basic tasks and the Avatars mostly capture the charm of Mii’s, which makes the 360 a viable option for casual gamers and families.

For your power users, the features under the hood are what shine. We can now rip games to the hard disk, and anyone with a Netflix subscription can now access their growing library of streaming movies from the 360. These two features aren’t perfect, mostly because the 360 has no standard storage medium, meaning that folks jumping for that $200 Arcade model will miss out (and the rest of us will deal with paltry 20gig drives). They are still remarkable because they are an example of how Microsoft defies our expectations. Sony bragged forever about how the PS3 has a harddrive standard, and that the power of Blu Ray makes it the entertainment center of your dreams. You would think that these two features would hit PS3 first, but they haven’t. If MS can get more users to sign up for bigger 360 drives, then they’ve just made a console that is as good for media as the PS3, and about as intuitive.

MS is getting smarter with the 360. They know when to innovate and when to follow the lead of their competition, allowing them to create a console that has few shortcomings and a few unique features that have transformed it from the lowest common denominator to perhaps the strongest console pound for pound. I still am wary about what NXE’s obsession with micro transactions may mean for the future of the Xbox line, but with the 360 I see Microsoft controlling their own destiny. They simply cannot reach number one, but perhaps they can steer the entire Xbox project into profitability and definitely win their “we’re only competing with Sony” grudge match.

Then: I claimed Sony was getting a softer, fan friendlier side, and that they were on pace to iron out the kinks in the Playstation Family. They wouldn’t win, but they would stay strong.

Now: What the hell was I thinking? I swear I wasn’t sipping Sony Kool Aid (I have proof!). In just a few short months, Sony put the brakes on their improvements, and have returned to their previous way of either screwing up or doing nothing. The big in-game XMB patch from the summer is still groovy, and I haven’t had problems with online lag. We also got the once non-free PSP Media Manager for PC, with access to the Playstation Store and everything. Yet I still feel empty.

I’m wondering why I can’t harddrive install all my games, why it took so long to mandate in-game support for Trophies (which have the potential to work better than 360 achievements at tracking your overall skills). I look at the PSP offerings on PSN and find myself unable to download a 1.1 gig game to a 2 gig Memory Stick because Sony downloads require installation (which means that secretly, they need double the space). Also, while there are a few really great games for download, it only reminds me that the Japanese PSN has a stupid amount of classic PS1 games that we’ll never see. The PSP is dying, if not already dead. As the handheld’s games eventually vanish from shelves, the smartest thing to do would be to work with publishers and get as many UMD Legacy games as possible on PSN. I have no confidence that this will happen.

The company also got beat up by the market. Blu Ray actually hasn’t won. It beat HD-DVD, but is currently losing to the recession. It isn’t picking up, not only because DVDs are still useful, but because streaming services and digital downloads are becoming more popular. What would you rather have – the crisp viewing experience of a $30 Blu Ray, or the crisp viewing experience of a streaming movie from a Netflix subscription you probably already have? 15 – love for Microsoft. Will Sony make it deuce?

Sony’s community blogs are still decent at telling us about cool stuff coming out, but they won’t ever tell us why the more important features are ignored. The company appears to be sitting on its hands doing nothing. Is it money? Lack of direction? Lack of insight as to what they should be doing? I don’t know, but today the Playstation line looks like the mopey kid in the corner who is crying and won’t stand up for itself. Of course, most of us won’t stand up for him either, because we haven’t forgotten that he put Sega in an eight year coma and turned the school against Nintendo. I used to hate Sony with a passion; now I don’t really care if they get their just desserts. I’m deep into the Playstation family, and I’d like to see a good product out of them, not squandered potential (though if that is what I get, all ten of my fingers will be pointing at them).

Oh, and Home is miserable. Lifeless avatars with nothing to do make NXE look amazing. How do you work on this for well over a year and release it with bugs? Because it wasn’t finished. Why wasn’t it finished? The world may never know. Stay away from Playstation. I can’t say I feel like either console was a waste (I use their media features a lot), but I don’t like the future at all.

Then: Nintendo was selling like mad, but they were unable to make enticing first party games or convince others to steer away from minigame hell.

Now: You could mostly cut and paste the last entry here. The most enticing Wii software won’t be found on a disc. The Virtual Console and WiiWare have been nice, but after blowing its load with sequels for every major franchise, Nintendo seems stuck with nothing new to work on. I appreciate how they are willing to experiment with something like Wii Music, but I’d also rather see that same effort go towards a sequel to Excite Truck or some work on Kid Icarus. At this point Nintendo doesn’t have to care, but I want them to. Not because I need justification for buying a Wii, but because I remember what happened the first time Nintendo’s head got big and they started getting lazy. Until the Wii, every Nintendo console dropped in overall sales. Have they forgotten this? They need to stay on top of the game.

At the very least, we know that Dragon Quest X is heading to the Wii. This could be the game that jumps starts the Wii library, as more hesitant Japanese developers jump onto the console with more quality efforts, but it is a bit too early to know for sure.

6 thoughts on “The next gen consoles then and now – Revisited”

  1. I cannot believe that the Xbox did so well in sales this holiday season. I love the digital frame that I got, but I kind of wish I also got one of the game systems that everyone else got.

  2. I also like products and services made by the industrious people of…wherever.

    PS: Santa doesn’t give game systems to spammers. Ho ho ho!

  3. Said it before, will say it again.

    Microsoft gets that the future belongs to those who deliver the best software and services. What else can you conclude after the Red Ring debacle which didn’t hurt their position against Sony at all. Sony is all about… Ummm….. Potential. That will probably be the hallmark of Sony this generation. Potential. Of the unrealized sort. They’re all about media! Just not -delivering- media.

    The BluRay bit is interesting. I wonder if Microsoft was already courting Netflix and the like at the time of that HD-DVD addon, surmising that would be their far future direction. The death of physical media is I think a bit overpredicted, but darned if discs aren’t going to have to make considerable room for streamed content. Oh, what’s that? Yep, once again we see that -services- are the real future, and not hardware. Make no mistake, there’ll be excitement over Megahertz and fill rates for years to come, but the average consumer is going to become more and more agnostic to that sort of thing, and more and more loyal to the interface they grow accustomed to (this is why I still have a Series 1 TiVo).

  4. I haven’t mentioned it, but I have wondered if Sony has struggled after the executive shake up they had. Kutaragi put them down a bad path and I don’t think there’s anyone there yet that can steer them out of it. We’ll have to see if they do next generation, or if they continue on with the same stupid trends.

    By the way, I got to try out 360 Netflix this week. It is heaven. It alone justifies our house’s new Netflix subscription (though we will use it for Blu Rays as well). But hell, Blu Ray can’t stream the Hitchhigker’s Guide BBC show to our TV.

  5. “What else can you conclude after the Red Ring debacle which didn’t hurt their position against Sony at all.”

    Western society as a whole has become complacent to the point where companies can sell us broken products and the most we as a group can muster up in return is a barely audible “meh.”

    Which reminds me, I got a 360 the other day – Jasper Pro. Let’s hope it holds out.

  6. “Western society as a whole has become complacent to the point where companies can sell us broken products…”

    There’s a sad truth to that, which only underscores my point. We don’t care if the product is broken, long as the company slides another one right into the place of the old one. At the point where MS put a three year warranty on the Red Ringed Wonder, they were less about selling hardware and more about providing the service of shipping refurbed 360’s to peoples’ houses so that they could stay plugged into Live. I never saw once whit of backlash, as I recall there wasn’t even a successful class action suit over the whole deal.

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