Think back to the years 2004 and 2005. The Playstation 2 ruled the video game universe and nobody had any concept of quality handheld gaming beyond Pokemon, which wasn't exactly pretty to look at. All the analysts and fans were picking their favorites based on E3 keynote speakers and pure hearsay. But five years later I feel like it's fair to look back and figure out who actually won this generation. Was it Sony, Nintendo or Microsoft? Was it anybody? Find out after the jump.
In late 2004 the Nintendo DS launched and was soon followed by the Sony PSP. People were so excited for that little Sony machine. You could go on the internet while you were on the go. What a novel concept. It supposedly had the capabilities of a normal PS2 and would finally blow Nintendo out of the handheld market just like the Game Gear was supposed to do a decade before. The next generation of gaming was upon us, only we really didn't know it at the time.
By E3 2005, Microsoft and Sony were squaring off, trying to outdo one another in every possible concept from online play to pure graphical power to just the controllers. Sony was making bold claims of the most powerful system of all time by showing the now infamous Killzone 2 video while showing a bunch of rubber ducks filling up a bathtub. If that didn't strike fear into the heart of J Allard, I don't know what would have. Microsoft was hyping up my favorite Marketplace entrepreneur, Velocity Girl and her ability to sell things like shirts for players to customize in game avatars with. Finally, somebody could put a custom shirt on their Tony Hawk skater. Genius to say the least.
Then there was Nintendo, basically getting laughed at for the "Revolution" which would later be named the Wii. It cost half as much sure, but it had the graphics of a Gamecube and had motion controls. They didn't want to lose nearly as much as they did on the Gamecube and decided not to directly compete with Sony and Microsoft, two companies who seemingly were good at this. In retrospect, it really looks like the Nintendo DS may have had something to do with this idea.
The DS was immediately a great success with people loving the touch screen and the ability to manipulate controls with their own movements. The Wii would use this principle on a much larger scale to great success obviously. The PSP had great hype and UMDs and sell outs but as soon as people realized the hyped up games like Death Jr were actually pretty awful they went for quirky DS games like Phoenix Wright and more adventure style games. So, and you all knew this, Nintendo obliterated Sony on the handheld market even if the PSP controls the niche Japanese market, which it turns out predictably was overrated when it came to sales of consoles. It's had no impact. Nobody's buying 360s, but it's doing fine.
Looking back, E3 2005 seems like a really significant time in the history of gaming. Motion controls were first announced and graphics were improved probably by the largest degree remaining. Really, how much better can they get? There's no leap that large left unless everything starts to look photo-realistic.
So, the rest is history. The Wii sold like hotcakes, the hype even convincing me to buy one (which I sold a year later) but the games didn't. Aside from the Zelda, Metroid and Mario games, no games were really worthy of the quality. However this was the case with the Gamecube as well. So it was entirely the motion controls that were selling an entire console, something that had never previously happened before. Since there was no direct competition from any other console with motion controls, the system came flying off the shelves and was on back order on Amazon for almost a year afterwards. But everybody just played Wii sports and maybe Wii Fit and nothing else. Third parties have started to bail on the system with many sports and big games being discontinued from the system due to lackluster sales. And hardcore game player eventually realizes with this system that there is no actual substance. For chrissakes my biggest joy was playing Altered Beast, a Genesis title from the early '90s, on the Virtual Console. That's why I got rid of it and replaced it with a PS3.
Well, it turns out the PS3 wasn't nearly as powerful as Sony made it out to be. It looks fairly similar to the 360 in every capacity. Sure, you could install Linux on the system, but the internet browser is woefully bad as are many of the other computer features on the system. Sony stepped up its game with first party titles in this generation like God of War III, Uncharted 1 and 2 as well as a couple Ratchet and Clanks. But really they didn't have a fantastic game like Halo or Mario. It was just a bunch of good games and customizable ones that are fun for 5 minutes like ModNation Racers, a blatant MarioKart ripoff, and LittleBigPlanet. Sure it's fun to watch Sackboy play Sweet Child of Mine and dress him up like Henry XIII, but that gets old fast. Their games obviously outsold Nintendo's for the most part but the system didn't come close. It was a distant third. The people who predicted that Sony would dominate again and still be synonymous with video games were clearly mistaken.
And onto the first one of the three to launch, the Xbox 360. While J Allard, even after he left Microsoft, continues to be badass with his baldness, he'll never live down the Velocity Girl incident. But at least they didn't lie. They knew their hardware was far from fantastic but they still weren't outdone by Sony in that department while also obliterating them in terms of online play even though Sony's was free for God's sake. In terms of everything from user friendliness to connectivity, Xbox Live wins. Microsoft did the wise thing by hyping up the games like GTA IV and Halo 3 and that, along with the early launch, propelled them into beating the PS3 in terms of sales. But the Wii sold the most, but probably the lowest number of games per system of all time. So who really won?
Well, it clearly wasn't Sony. The PSP has been remodeled over and over again and still nobody buys it. It's just a portable PS3 with dumbed down PS3 games. Nobody wants that. They apparently want something different, which the DS offers with touch screens and innovative games. And just wait for the 3D soon. The PS3 came in last after dominating the previous generation and by all accounts was a bomb, even if it did win the HD DVD war, even if nobody's buying BluRays anymore.
Is it Microsoft? Well they've clearly taken the hardcore gaming demographic and best games with GTA IV, Halo and both Modern Warfares on the system. Selling more than PS3, they've made a much bigger mark than the first Xbox did. But they never got into the handheld market as many presumed they would. Also, the Japan market hasn't nearly been tapped.
So guess what? The winner's Nintendo. Sure third parties didn't sell any games, but what does Nintendo care. They're absolutely killing the competition in terms of hardware sales for both the Wii and DS. They're both juggernauts with no end in sight as long as this current generation continues. People from your mom to your teacher have been buying Wiis whether it's for working out, playing drunk bowling or fake baseball. There are an endless amount of uses possible for these systems. And that's why they won. They innovated before the other companies. It's all about the cutting edge.
What's next in all of this? With the Kinect and Sony Move scheduled to hit this fall, the Wii's motion controls may be endangered. May be. The Wii has become synonymous with motion controls and soccer moms and hockey dads will still think of this when they want a video game that will get them off the couch. Also, these two new kinds of motion technology haven't been as well received as Nintendo's simply because the 360 and PS3 weren't built to handle it. And with the DS becoming the 3DS soon enough, the PSP will sink down even farther.
It's in the next generation that the differences will be shown. Sony and Microsoft will build their consoles to entertain both the casual gamer and the Halo players. When great graphics are combined with Nintendo's technology, the sky's the limit. Nintendo has the upper hand now, but when two industry titans like Sony and Microsoft get involved, who knows what can go down.
Stay tuned to pnosker.com for your tech news and reviews as well as a feature coming this week examining sports games of this generation by sports. Just a preview: the first one's pro football and it ain't pretty.