E3 wrapped up a few days ago, and I thought I’d give my post-show thoughts. The general consensus on Gamespot and IGN is that this was a disappointing year for E3, in no small part because so much info on the new consoles was released before the show itself. In particular, photos of the Xbox 360 have been leaking out for weeks or even months.
In a three-horse race, it’s hard to use the plural forms of winners and losers, so I will instead rank the console companies from 1 to 3.
In the number one slot I go with Microsoft and the Xbox 360. Sure, I might be biased because the Xbox is my current console of choice, but I give it to MS for a couple reasons. First, all the pre-pre-E3 hype was on the Xbox 360. The aforementioned leaked photos got fanboys and websites foaming at the mouth for one system only. Microsoft looks to have fully rectified the errors it made in its first stab at a video game console — the 360 is much smaller, it stands vertically, and it will play DVDs out of the box. It will also be backwards compatible (I expect that the 360 will play 95% or more of the original’s titles) — this is a feature that may not help much, but it won’t hurt at all, and any positive with no tradeoff is a plus.
Aditionally, the Xbox 360 hype machine will not cool down — ever. We are officially in the pre-launch window. There are no more holiday seasons between now and when the 360 comes out. If Sony really didn’t care about Microsoft’s head start, it would schedule its system for Q4 2006, not Q2. And it seems the the game sites are missing this — the number one reason anyone can figure out that Sony won this cycle of the console wars is because of its big head start. The secondary reason is third party support, which ties in a lot with the Japanese market. Microsoft has addressed every reason that the PS2 beat the Xbox.
Second place I give to Sony and the Playstation 3. It is seemingly a behemoth of power. A cell processor with nine (I think) cores. Two HDTV outputs. Slots for Memory Stick Duo, SD, Compact Flash. Blu-Ray DVD compatible. Two Nvidia 3D accelerators. Six USB 2.0 ports. Gigabit ethernet (with router capabilities?). Wi-fi 802.11 b/g. Bluetooth. It’s also pretty stylish, with the slot-load DVD as opposed to tray, which the 360 sports.
But with all this power comes a price. Now the reality of any — any — generation of video game console is that the manufacturer (Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, whoever) sells the system at a loss. What this means is that when Sony first retailed the PS2 for $300, Sony probably paid in the neighborhood of $500 in parts to build each console. If I remember correctly, there were rumors that the Xbox cost Microsoft $600 to turn around and sell for $300. So: The PS3’s price tag. A recent Japanese article revealed that the system will sell less than the yen equivalent of $500. As we all know from years of commercials, “less than $100” can often mean $99.99, and I have a feeling that “less than $500” will mean $499.99.
Five hundred dollars is unreasonable. Sure, many in the same target crowd are willing to drop $400 on an iPod, but Apple sells the iPod as a luxury item and video game console success is all about market penetration and actual systems in actual homes. A lower price would increase sales, but Sony threw so much stuff into this system that I can’t believe it can afford to go much lower than $500. They might squeeze it to $400, but that’s still going to be 100 more than the Xbox, which I would be shocked to see sell for a dollar more than 300. Further, if Sony somehow manages to retail this system for $300, I would not be at all surprised to see Microsoft drop the price of the Xbox twenty dollars immediately, or perhaps drop it fifty dollars for the holiday 2006 season.
If Sony does sell the PS3 for $500, it will be a display of Sega Saturn-era arrogance.
Finally, I give Nintendo’s Revolution the number three spot, which in terms winners and losers makes it the biggest loser. Nintendo showed no games, and no controller. I expected that Nintendo would release its new system within a month of the PS3, figuring that anything later would be suicide. Nintendo has proven to me that, eh, maybe it doesn’t care, because the system will not be playable until E3 2006, meaning that the earliest it would release is Summer 2006. I won’t be surprised if Nintendo retails the new system at $200, just like the Gamecube did at its launch. The one up I have to give to Nintendo is the fact that the Revolution not only sports a slot-load DVD reader, but the slot itself is illuminated with blue LED light, which makes that one feature even more attractive than the PS3’s. The rest of the system, however, looks entirely featureless.
Nintendo has preached innovation since it introduced the analog thumbstick on the Nintendo 64’s controller. With the Gamecube, Nintendo finally (finally) moved into the optical disc market, but didn’t introduce any new technology. Apparently the Revolution’s name will reflect a big change with the controller. Some have predicted a Nintendo DS-style touch screen. There is also the possibility of a gyroscopic controller that would translate hand movement into on-screen movement, predicted because Nintendo signed a deal with gyroscopic mouse maker Gyration. In this generation, Nintendo’s console will finally (finally) offer DVD movie playback, but not without some kind of additional accessory.
It’s like the world says, “Hi Nintendo, I want steak,” and Nintendo says, “No, you want cotton candy.” Nintendo shows arrogance like Sega back in the day and like Sony now, but it’s more of an ambivalent, “I don’t care if you buy me” arrogance, rather than a “you will buy me” arrogance.
So that’s my E3 Wrap-Up. Yes, I’m biased because the Xbox is my favorite current system. But I also own a PS2. I plan on buying an Xbox 360, and I planned on buying a PS3, but after seeing everything Sony put in there and reading about the Japanese pricing, I have a bad feeling. Nintendo continues to leave me uninterested. So that’s it. Let me know what you think by clicking on the comments link below.