With every big shiny new console, there is always a sense of uncertainty. Not every box that has been on the market has garnered success and even industry veterans like NEC, Atari, and Sega closed their doors due to the costs associated with running a successful console business. It wasn't long ago when it even appeared Nintendo, on the back of two failed consoles--the Nintendo 64 and GameCube--might even cease manufacturing and develop titles for other platforms. The risks and costs associated with consoles has grown out of control in the current generation. Plus with the faltering economy, big budgets for titles, and the increasing pressures from hardcore gamers; Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo find themselves each in a very unique position.
Microsoft, first out of the gate, rushed their Xbox 360 to the market. At first, this appeared to be a smart move. They were the first to offer high-definition gaming, first to bring the next-generation of online play to your TV, and first to give gamers VOIP in all titles. The Xbox 360 has been and continues to be a success. But every Xbox 360 has been designed to ultimately fail by the dreaded RROD--the Red Ring of Death because of Microsoft's rush to get the machine out the door . Like the Blue Screen of Death Windows machines are known for, Microsoft has done very little to stop the problems from occurring and continues to repair the issue for up to three years after purchase.
Nintendo took the most drastically different approach from everyone by adding motion controls to a Nintendo Wii console that essentially matched the power of the original Xbox. This helped ensure costs were driven down, consoles could be sold at a profit, and the result has been phenomenal. Unfortunately for Third Parties, the Wii, despite its huge sales at retail, has barely been able to generate any success for game makers outside of Nintendo.
Finally, Sony released with much fanfare and buzz. Everyone in the industry, myself included, unanimously felt like they would win the generation hands down. Blunders by the marketing team, high costs, and relatively few exclusives hurt the PlayStation 3 in the first year of its life. With sales sagging behind the other two console makers each month, one would think it would be ludicrous for Sony to win this console war. Winning the war may take the entire life cycle of this console generation- which could amount to ten years or more. However, it will happen.
When making comparisons for who will win this generation, I am automatically throwing Nintendo out of the equation. The Wii is seen as a toy that plays a few Nintendo First Party titles and Wii Sports and the majority of Wii consoles are not being used and Third Party titles do not sell on the platform. That being said, this "last generation technology" has made a mint for Nintendo and I could see an HD Wii device winning a future console cycle.
At E3 2009, Sony showed that they mean business with an incredibly deep first party lineup. These titles were not only visually superior to the Xbox 360, but were greater in number and polish. A quick look at some of the First and Second Party Exclusive offerings on the PlayStation 3:
God of War
White Knight Chronicles
Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time
Final Fantasy XIV
The Last Guardian
Gran Turismo 5
To be fair, Microsoft also displays a wealth of First Party offerings that were spearheaded by Alan Wake. But most other 360 titles from Microsoft are not looking anywhere near the quality or depth of a game like Uncharted 2. This also appears to only be the beginning of the different in power. Developers are already grumbling that the 360 is showing its age while the PS3 is just now being understood. Due to the economic climate, launching a brand new system seems unlikely for quite some time. We should begin to see the quality of PS3 titles completely overshadow the Xbox 360 very soon.
A quick look at a title like Halo 3: ODST will show you how underpowered the Xbox 360 is. Despite this looking like a fun game and providing players a great Halo experience, the engine is absolutely dated and pales in comparison to the offerings from Sony.
Besides quality of First and Second Party and the power of the consoles, the PlayStation 3 has a huge advantage with the size of its media. Want to play Final Fantasy XIII? You are going to want to play it on the PlayStation 3 unless you are ready to swap disks. Currently the BD media (Blu-ray) caps out at 50 GB for a dual layer disk. DVDs are much farther behind with a fraction of the space with 9 GB's max.
In addition to the incredible size difference in media, the PlayStation 3 offers players Blu-ray movie support and a much better quality DVD player. Many claim Blu-ray is overrated and downloaded movies are the future. However, at this point in the life cycle, BD is actually doing better than DVD. With prices of the players and media coming down, it is only a matter of time before the format is fully established for movies. Are movie watching capabilities even necessary in a console? No, but if your console can do both, it makes for a much more versatile setup.
Another way that the PS3 has a leg up over the Xbox 360 is with the built in web browser. Again, is this a necessary component of a good console experience? No--but it makes the console more enjoyable. For example, players can hop on their PS3 browser, download themes for their console, and install them right there. No memory cards, no PC, just the console and your TV. With Microsoft owning the Internet Explorer IP, it is a strange omission that they still have chosen to keep it off the platform. Even the Nintendo Wii, a console built on last generation's console technology, has a browser.
For those gamers looking to save money in the long-run, the PlayStation 3 also is much more upgradable than the Xbox 360. Sony uses the standard Bluetooth wireless protocol for use with its accessories. This makes it much easier to take a headset and use it with your device. In fact, if you already own a Bluetooth headset, you can easily pair it up to your PlayStation 3 without the need to buy some costly proprietary device.
In addition to this, players can easily upgrade their Hard Disk Drive with any Notebook drive. Just open up the side, slide in, and you have a brand new, larger sized, hard drive for 1/3 the cost of what Microsoft will force you to buy. Even more, you can transfer your content to a memory card or re-download DLC you have previously purchased since it is linked to your account.
Developers can also count on the fact that every PlayStation 3 console will include a Hard Disk Drive. This is one of the biggest mistakes Microsoft made this generation and while they are trying to get all players to get a HDD, the fact is, since they sold systems without it bundled, they can never be assured of one hundred percent compatibility if developers want to ensure their games require the disk drive.
Since the original DualShock Controller was released, Sony has dominated the industry with the best controller. The DualShock 3 is no exception to this. Featuring Sixaxis motion control, rumble feedback, and a d-pad that completely annihilates the Xbox 360, Sony definitely packs the punch when it comes to controlling games.
A big advantage Sony has over Microsoft is that they have a huge catalogue of titles from both the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 that they can push on the PS3 via the PlayStation Network. While they have yet to release any downloadable PS2 titles, I hear this is coming in the near future. Regardless of when this feature arrives, Sony will allow gamers to pay for games in their own currency--without the need for some crazy mathematical equation of converting dollars into Microsoft Space Points. Want to buy Castle Crashers on Xbox Live Arcade and are 200 points short? Guess what, you have to buy at least ten dollars of more points (800 MS Space Points when you do the math) or you don't get the game. Over on Sony's system, PSN allows you to spend exactly the amount you need.
Speaking of online, Sony may not have every feature of Xbox Live--but the system they offer is very capable and allows users to play games online for free. Microsoft, on the other hand, not only charges you to play on their servers but continues to find more and more ways to add advertisement into Xbox Live. Would you rather pay $50 on a new game or for the privilege of playing online?
Just remember, every Xbox 360 is built with a limited window of use. Due to the horrible design of the console, every Xbox 360 made so far will eventually encounter the dreaded RROD (Red Ring of Death). I have been hit by this deadly curse six times and just when you think you are safe, you will get hit with the RROD too!
With the power of the PlayStation 3, excellent First and Second Party support, the capacity of Blu-ray media, free online play, a huge back catalog of titles, the PlayStation 3 is just beginning to hit its stride. Be on the lookout as the platform builds momentum over this 10 year life cycle as the number one platform. The Xbox 360 is aging fast and the PS3 still has plenty of room to grow!