Looking back through my last few posts, I realize I've probably lately sounded at best like a cautiously optimistic Microsoft fanboy, when in actuality I am far from it (heck, if anything I'm a diehard Sega fan, secretly hoping that they will one day return to consoles with a new system that will smite all opposers!!, ok that's probably saying too much). But the reality is that out of the 3 current consoles, I've probably gotten the best overall experience out of my Xbox. A steady flow of quality games(which the Gamecube seriously lacks in), an excellent online service(which both the GC & PS2 lack), and I've never had any serious problems with playing dvds or certain games that use certain types of formats that should work(this happens a frustrating amount on my PS2). But all the same, I got far more games for the PS2, and the same will probably hold true for the PS3 because they tend to have every type of game under the sun (especially in the rpg area, which is by far my favorite genre), and when you look at the Xbox library in comparison, it's marketing seems clearly designed for mostly drunk frat boys as it's filled with an overabundance of mostly mindless shooters and sports titles. So, while I honestly believe Microsoft will give Sony a much better run for their money in the next round of the console wars, their is a serious chance that they will be scrapping for a distant second with Nintendo just like this round, and here's why:
1. Too much belief in online-Now, I honestly believe that online gaming is the next big thing, but it's not there right now (out of over 20 million Xbox users, less than 2 million have live, not exactly a number to boast about), and it may take awhile to get there. And as someone who is recently new to the waters of online gaming (at least in it's current incarnation), it can be very rough going at first. Although I've met quite a few good friends, you definitely meet a large share of cheaters, idiots and total assholes (sadly, a large number meet all that criteria at once). I have a few friends who actually refuse to go online even though they have months of Xbox live left specifically because they've just dealt with way too many jerks to make it worthwhile. Also, while I love the potential idea of Microsoft's marketplace, where you can get demos & custom items; there's also a lot of potential for gamers to be pissed off by companies nickel & diming gamers to death, therefore turning them off the service and the 360 entirely. Microsoft is banking on this being their biggest gun in the next round and they could fall flat on their face because of that.
2. Coming out first-Just because Microsoft will be there first doesn't gaurauntee anything. It may give the impression that they are afraid to compete head to head with Sony. Sony is the gaming equivalent of the 800-pound gorrilla right now, they will launch when they want on their terms and they have no reason to think otherwise. It gives both Sony and Nintendo a chace to look at Microsoft's launch and plenty of time to see what they can do better. It's also a good bet that the PS3 games (at least any exclusives) will look noticeably better than any first gen 360 games (at least if Sony's reps aren't completely talking out of their ass), and better eye candy will do a lot to sell systems.
3. The Price war-We know the 360 will launch in the range of $300-350, which means it will probably be cheaper than the PS3, whose price could be significantly more, or it could be a lot closer in price with some Sony reps claiming it would probably be around $370-$400. And those numbers aren't that far apart, so who could blame someone who has to choose one system for spending just a little bit more on one that's supposedly significantly more powerful?And then there's Nintendo. We know that next gen games for the PS3 & 360 will likely hit the $60 range. With Nintendo's system being far less powerful, not only the system, but the games might be significantly cheaper. And With system exclusives becoming less & less common these days, There might be a huge backlash against both Sony & Microsoft for their high prices compared to Nintendo's.
4. The stagnation of the gaming industry-I know, with all the billions the gaming industry makes, the idea of the entire industry having another big crash like they did in the 80s seems nearly impossible. But they thought it was impossible back then too. And while I'm generally excited about what the next generation has to offer, we seem to be getting into a rut of "safe" titles-Lots of shooters (especially WWII-based ones), lots of games based off of TV shows or movies, or cookie-cutter sequels to already popular franchises. And that's mostly what we are seeing in the next generation as well so far, so why buy a new system that doesn't offer anything new in terms of gameplay? Seriously, if all the next gen systems offer is the same games with shinier graphics, the whole industry will pay for it. And while I believe Sony & Nintendo could easily survive a crash, Microsoft may pull out completely if the industry goes south considering how much of a bath they've already taken.
5. Concentrating on the American market-Gaming is a global thing, and while Microsoft has acknowledged that just concentrating on American gamers (and specifically virtually ignoring the very different Japanese market) was a mistake, and they are supposedly working to rectify that. But I'll believe it when I see it. Grabbing the cooperation of Squarenix (as well as acquiring Mistwalker studios, which is made up of former Squarenix alumni) is a big step foward in that direction, but the PS2 has always had a nice balance of big name titles and odd quirky ones, if Microsoft really wants to succeed, they need that sort of balance.
6. Everything to everyone-The more things a system can do, the more things can go wrong with it. I don't really intend to use most of the 360's "features", and I'd prefer it didn't have them to begin with. Besides adding to cost of the system, if something goes wrong with one particular feature, it could potentially affect the entire system, leaving gamers with a busted system because of a feature they don't even use and feeling ripped off because of it. Granted, Sony's doing virtually the same thing, but having crappy hardware that barely works didn't stop them last time.
7. Lack of HD-DVD or Blu-ray capability-One of these will be the next step in storage capacity, and despite J. Allard's claim of it being the "HD era", the 360 still uses a standard DVD drive, not compatible with either HD-DVDs or Blu-ray, both of which are capable of a lot more storage capacity. And Sony has clearly cast their vote in the Blu-ray corner, which can hold a massive amount comparatively. It's way too soon to tell whether HD-DVD or Blu-ray will become the definitive format, but since the 360 doesn't really support either, they could easily be left in the dust.
8. Lack of strong launch titles-With every current system, the initial launch sucked complete ass in terms of games. Usually one or two pretty good titles, and it was months before we saw a steady stream of quality titles start to turn up on a regular basis. And what do we have promised for launch? We can expect 15-20 titles, but we don't really know what aside from EA's 2006 sports titles (which you can pick up on all systems, and for ten bucks cheaper if the price raise actually happens) and Perfect Dark Zero & Kameo from Microsoft. That's really it. If the launch lineup doesn't deliver some mind-blowing stuff, it may be enough of a blow that Microsoft is never able to recover from.
9. Bill Gates is the devil-At least that's the perception in a lot of people's minds. At best, he's an outsider, just burning his company's money on another wacky idea and doesn't really care if it's succesful or not. After all, he's worth a couple billion all by his lonesome, how much capital do you think the damn company has stashed away? And with that perception in mind, alot of people may steer clear of the system just because it's supporting Gates, which plenty of people don't feel all that comfortable doing. Granted, it's the least likely legitimate reason, but any fanboy for Nintendo or Sony will probably use it as an excuse.
10. Abandoning their current user-base too early-Sony plans to fully support the PS2 for at least a couple more years, most likely so gamers can more easily transition into the next generation of hardware. Microsoft is pretty much abandoning their current console, thus burning some loyal customers in the process, and making them extremely weary that Microsoft may do the same thing next round.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of pitfalls Microsoft has to avoid if they really want a serious chance of duking it out and becoming the top dog in the console wars. Bottom line, it's going to take a lot of well-thought out strategy and plenty of good luck. But serious competition is good, so I'm hoping they (or by some miracle Nintendo) are able to pull a tight race because close competition will be good for ALL of us gamers.