With Sony’s PlayStation 3 finally launched across the globe, the next-gen video games wars can start in earnest. Microsoft already has a reasonable installed base for Xbox 360, but not enough to guarantee dominance, while Sony’s consumers’ brand loyalty is being tested to the limits by the PS3′s high price point.
Nintendo, meanwhile, has carved out a nice niche for itself by making next-gen not about hi-def, with its ridiculously named, but extremely popular Wii.
Within the industry though, most pundits are expecting a much more level playing field this time around, with Microsoft and Sony battling it out, but neither gaining significant domination over the other. This is, frankly put, a disaster for Sony whose PlayStation 2 console defined a generation, and not just of consoles.
What is the reason for this shift? One word: exclusivity. In the good old days, games publishers were convinced to launch their game on a single console, and then perhaps later allow it to grace the competitors’ machines, and so Lara boosted the original PlayStation and GTA helped the PS2 explode. With the next-gen, exclusivity is all but gone. GTA will launch on both the Xbox 360 and PS3 and Lara is two-timing the PlayStation all over the place. There are even rumours that Snake will turn tail and that Metal Gear Solid 4 will not be a PlayStation 3 exclusive. In fact, the only games that remain exclusive to a format tend to be those developed by the console manufacturers themselves, first party games as they are known.
So, what do Microsoft and Sony have up their sleeve? Sony has a game called Heavenly Sword, which has games journalists very excited, but apart from this its near-future release schedule is quite embarrassing.
Microsoft on the other hand has a machine mature enough to be expecting its second-wave of titles, games which should really be starting to take advantage of the next-gen hardware (to date, only Gears of War has really shown its next-gen credentials to gamers). And its line up is looking OK, and not just first party: Bioshock, from 2K, Mass Effect, a highly anticipated game from Bioware, who can do no wrong, Halo 3 to arrive one month after GTA IV on both platforms – you don’t have a bucket big enough to describe how many bucketloads this game will sell, Fable 2, from the well-liked Lionhead Studio and then later more Project Gotham Racing and Halo action.
Essentially, this year Xbox 360 has some good triple A games, with 2 tent pole releases in GTA IV and Halo 3. Sony has GTA IV and Heavenly Sword and then many more third party, multi-platform games.
So, expect Microsoft to shift some units with their line up, but Sony will also be hoping for a GTA effect on its console. This pinkish, if not rosy, outlook for Microsoft could change next year though. Sony has more development staff than anyone else, and while it might be taking its time, you have to expect its first party games to start coming through.
All of this, of course, is only considering the games consoles as just that, and it remains to be seen what effect, if any, the Blu-Ray (PS3) vs HD-DVD (Xbox 360) hi-definition formats for videos have on sales.