Opinion – The Console Wars: 2014

The Console Wars: 2014
Originally Published on the Official Blast Away the Game Review Facebook Page
By Allen M.K. Jenkins

The race between consoles and PCs has always been a hotly contested topic.

The standard arguments are rote to most gamers by now—PCs always have the graphical and performance advantage, and consoles have exclusive games, and the benefit of being playable on the television, rather than at a computer desk.

However, in today’s world, as consoles become like less capable Personal Computers, and the release of the Steam Box and the Steam Controller looms ahead, what can console developers do to stay relevant? This is a question that most of the heavy-hitters in gaming have attempted to answer, in one way or another. Each company seems to have its own strategy for upping the ante, and staying one step ahead of the PC market.

Exclusive titles are the easy answer, but the consoles of the new generation have only just started to gain traction with their lineups, or have their biggest titles on the way. Gone are the days of Super Mario 64 on launch day—then again, it’s only partner on launch day was Pilotwings 64, so all the talk of the awfulness of today’s launch lineups seems a little misplaced. So, what are developers doing to keep ahead of the game?

Microsoft, for what seems like an eternity, has been pushing the Kinect as (expensive) hook to grab gamers who might be on the fence between the Xbox and PC. Then again, Microsoft is the only company whose console directly competes with computers that carry their ubiquitous Windows operating system as a gaming platform. In the new generation, Microsoft seems to have partially lightened up on the Kinect evangelism in favor of marketing to people who still use Jurassic cable with Xbox One’s Live TV capabilities. Sony seems to be using every bit of bad press that Microsoft has had, using the tried and true politician’s method, otherwise known as “not being the other guy.”

Although it’s been said before, Nintendo seems to have answered this question by doing the only sensible thing—not competing in the same market at all.

Nintendo, since the advent of the 3D age of gaming, has never really been in the same market as Sony or Microsoft. With the Wii’s cheap price and accessibility, Nintendo marketed directly to families and non-traditional gamers. Although the sales of the Wii U have been poor so far, their performance at E3 shows a similar zeitgeist in the newer system. One of the biggest problems that the Wii U had at launch was a lackluster lineup of games, combined with a price tag bigger than its predecessor.

Everyone expected a title along the lines of Mario 64 or Ocarina of time—instead we got yet another uninspired Mario 3 port a la New (old) Super Mario Bros Wii U. The system often felt like a rehash, due almost entirely to their software library.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—software makes the console, not hardware. There seemed to be a different Nintendo at E3, standing in stark contrast to the other developers in attendance. They showed off games that were essentially ready to play, with the exception of Zelda. They had interviews with, believe it or not, the actual passionate developers of those games. They even showed off a few new IPs. Most importantly, the people at Nintendo seemed to have fun, and that fun was infectious. From Dragon Ball Z style battles between Iwata and the Regginator, to sitting in on a developer discussion in a Japanese yarn shop, and an animated sequence from freaking Robot Chicken, everything about Nintendo’s appearance was exciting and fun, like the anticipation before opening presents on your birthday.

Nintendo finally seems to be back on track with the Wii U, but more importantly, they seem to be marketing to the only people the industry seems to have forgotten. Not the hardcore online gamers, not the phone gamers grabbing a few minutes of Angry Birds on break, but to the gamers on the couch, in front of the TV. They promise to make their console experience about having fun, and their games about PLAYING. They’ve made a console, and now there is a library of great software just around the corner waiting to fulfill that promise.

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