First Round Knockout
It’s a strange time to be a gamer, Voxelites.
After literally trouncing the competition in both the fifth and sixth generations of consoles, Sony has had to eat more than its fair share of humble pie in this last, seventh generation. Despite much early bluster and bravado, not only has this been a neck-and-neck race between itself and Microsoft, the Wii has made both look like they were somewhat stuck in the starting blocks. You’d think, then, that the stage would be set for a thrilling spectacle this time around. Not so.
You see, I’m going to put my neck out and call this one now: the eighth generation is going to be a return to form for Sony, period.
For very different reasons, both Microsoft and Nintendo seem to have completely shot themselves in the foot. I say shot; it’s looking increasingly like they’ve both just unloaded a blunderbuss full of nails into their feet. Repeatedly. Wise man say: it ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it – so what is it about Nintendo and Microsoft’s approach that’s so wrong?
The GameCube: 21m sales and classed as a failure – yet even that’s looking like a tough figure for the Wii U to beat at the moment
Firstly, Nintendo – who have had a frankly awful start to this generation, despite being a good year ahead of the competition. Their machine is a perfectly respectable and intriguing piece of kit, that’s without question – and more than enough the keep Nintendo fans happy by the simple virtue of being HD. So what’s misfired?
Two areas, as I see it. Firstly, the marketing has been a master-class in weak decisions and arrogant assumptions . The Wii is about to pass 100 million thanks to doing something that no other console before has done: capture the hearts and minds of the non-gamer – or the ‘casual’ gamer as they have become known. The thing about said gamer is, y’know, they’re casual. They’re not, therefore, going to be bothered to scratch much beneath the surface every time a new peripheral or a new machine comes out as they often rely upon word-of-mouth. And when the word-on-the-street is that the Wii U is a peripheral for the Wii, you’re in big trouble. Worse still, if you manage to get past that urban myth, you’re left with the very real prospect of the Wii U being a rather single-player centric device – an anathema to the happy clappy casual crowd who just want something else to show to Auntie Flo at Christmas.
To further muddy the waters, not calling the Wii U something radically different from the Wii was a catastrophic failure on Nintendo’s part given the nature of its casual fan-base – and something that they may never fully overcome. The dreadful sales thus far seem to indicate that it’s simply passed many casual Wii owners by. That and the sahara-like release schedule that’s starving even those that have jumped-in with a steady flow of sustenance.
The whole affair beggars belief, to be quite honest with you.
The patented Voxelometer chance of recovery? Very slim indeed.
There was a time when Microsoft’s transparency was beautiful. This isn’t that time.
Which leads us to Microsoft – who whilst having the advantage of revealing their cards last, managed to fulfil every dark and cynical prophecy that was foretold. Bar none. Everything from the wanton destruction of the second-hand market; the always online and always Kinect’d platform; the prospect of achievements for watching TV (with extra points for Kinect sensing branded products in the room – no, really); the obsession with micro-subscriptions and the pretensions to being Sky-box 2.0. It’s all so depressingly corporate that it’s easy to forget that the the first two Xboxes were hardcore gaming consoles that gave birth to some of the greatest developments of the last two generations. It’s also impossible to escape the overtly Americanised approach to the Xbox One’s business strategy, which seems quite bizzare given it’s intended to be a global product. Localisation of services may well unfold as time goes by, but there’s no escaping the fact that this is a device pitched at the American consumer first. Perhaps Microsoft are looking to further strengthen their lead at home but given the tough economic times that Americans presently face, the culling of the second-hand market alone may well be the only nail in the coffin that’s required. Either way, it’s going to be one hell of a loyalty test.
Voxelometer says: dead on arrival
It’s the new black, darling
Which bring us to Sony, who form the filling of this eighth-generation sandwich, having revealed their intentions before Microsoft.
Let’s not beat around the bush: things are looking extremely strong at the moment for the old sensei: a stylishly re-imagined vision of the Dual Shock; a warm embrace of the indie-developer community; a smart move with the purchase and integration of Gaikai; a focus on games as opposed to media and a strong desire to get a serious amount of of-the-shelf grunt into the hands of AAA developers to make their lives as simple as possible.
In short: Sony seem to be trying to be all things to all people – and are doing a bloody good job of it in the process. “But how can you seriously call it this early in the day?”, I hear you mutter. How indeed. Allow me to retort:
I read an article some time ago that highlighted the correlation between the volume of graphic horror films and the general psyche of the cultures that produce them. In other words: when people feel unnerved and worried, their creative mediums tap into this by feeding their fears – or by reflecting them, depending on your point of view. I mention this as I don’t think that the current state of the world – particularly the developed, console buying world – can be ignored as we approach this most exciting of gaming junctures. People are quite simply batting-down-the-hatches, looking over their shoulders and growing ever more distrustful of anything that resembles an authoritative framework. It’s a climate that’s fuelling the resurgence of paranoid, right-wing socio-political groups the world over and it’s one where the honesty and integrity of organisations has the potential to shine like a light perhaps more so than at any other time.
Or not, eh, Google?
In short: people are in a naturally cynical frame of mind and the actions (or inactions) of Microsoft and Nintendo are therefore going to be perceived in an especially negative light. Quite how that will translate into sales remains to be seen, but my prediction is that in this strange world that we find ourselves in, gamers looking for an escape from the hostilities of the outside world will be drawn to the company and the product that seemingly puts their interests and their beloved hobby’s interest first.
Or as I like to call them: Sony.
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Husband. Parent. Gamer. Go figure.