It’s become kind of a cliché, because technology is the basis for the delivery method, but there’s never been a better time to be a gamer. I was perusing my game collection on my iPad the other day and in a portable high quality format I have a perfect edition of almost every single solitary arcade video game I have enjoyed since I was 5. On my Xbox and PS3 I have faithful renditions of many of my favorite 90’s PC and console games, and my Wii has me covered with Mario and other titles.
The present console generation has unfolded in a way unlike any previous.
The Wii managed to illuminate an entire user base no one really had figured out how to tap. Its lower resolution was almost a comfort to parents who wouldn’t have to upgrade the entire living room, and the motion control paved the way for technologies like Kinect. Most of all, while Sony and Microsoft were concentrating on connecting distant players, Nintendo reminded us what fun four people in a room could have. To say it sold like hotcakes is a disservice. Hotcakes could only dream of Wii sales numbers. “Hotcakes”, to be clear, is not a euphemism. They are delicious.
The decision to include an ethernet port in the original Xbox over a modem was lambasted by the industry in general. Remember that in 2000 when it was announced Wi-Fi b with its paltry 6 to 12 megabits a second was still a corporate luxury and your average home connection was either dial up or 1-5mb broadband. But from the beginning the idea of connected services being the long term bet that differentiated the Xbox was firmly cemented in that decision to go with a network port over dial up or some type of adapter. When the Xbox 360 launched in 2005 the whole landscape of home Internet had changed. And with it a new service launched in Xbox LIVE that incorporated not just multiplayer, chat, and messaging but quickly evolved into video and music. It introduced achievements and system-wide leaderboards. Most importantly, it made the Xbox 360 a general purpose entertainment device by constantly upgrading and changing the capabilities and experience. Today Xbox LIVE is the gold standard all console services are compared to, and many of the services other devices have were pioneered first on Xbox LIVE. Titles that are cross platform sell by far more copies for Xbox because of LIVE’s user base.
The PS3 launched in 2006 with the promise it was a better console than the 360 in terms of raw power, and the strength of Sony’s amazing first party exclusives. But what really resulted in the PS3’s success was a pretty bold choice on Sony’s part to pack in an expensive Blu Ray drive. A bold bet that paid off, as within 2 years they killed off HD-DVD through the strength of the PS3 sales and the Sony movie catalog. It was the only “future proof” Blu Ray player, as the device was much more powerful than a standalone one. While some Blu Ray players became quite literally obsolete and had to be replaced due to changes in the Blu ray spec, Sony simply updated the PS3 firmware. Sony also did very well with first party exclusives such as the God of War franchise, the Uncharted series (fantastic games, I’m a huge fan) and wonderful titles like Little Big Planet. But Blu Ray was the bet that paid off the most.
I’m leaving out a lot here, Nintendo had some huge success with their own exclusives, Microsoft took motion and voice control to the next level with Kinect, and Sony adapted their own services to make their moves in video streaming and by far the easiest digital game purchasing system.
The point is, back in the earlier generations people talked about “winning” and “losing” a generation. The Winner usually sold an outsized number of consoles more than the Loser. Sometimes the loser flat out killed their console (RIP Dreamcast Never Forget).
This generation all three could be said to have won in some key way, and all are on track to break 100 million units (Wii got there this month I believe) assuming certain price cuts over the next three years as the new generation starts.
And all of this happened in the course of 7 years while at the same time the iPhone and iPad came about, and Android tablets, and oh by the way let’s not leave out PC gaming which is stronger than a lot of people think between standalone titles, Steam, MMO’s, and flash games.
Games are *everywhere*. Characters play them to unwind in our sitcoms now, and our dramas and movies. Bitching about losing in Words with Friends is reaching an epidemic level. Halo has crossed over to have top science fiction authors like Greg Bear writing in its universe. We now demand even single player games have some level of online capability to issue challenges to friends or check leaderboards. Games are living and breathing forms of entertainment with downloadable content and the capability to provide instant fixes or tweaks on server backends. As of December 31, 237 million consoles have been sold across three platforms not even counting iOS or Android or PC/Mac.
All this happened in this current generation. What’s going to happen in the next?
There’s only one clear winner of the “Seventh” generation of console gaming. Us.