If you are like me then you have probably been following all the latest news in regards to Sony and Microsoft's newest consoles. This year's E3 was always going to be a case of PS4 vs XBone. Who was going to have the better exclusives? Was Sony going to follow suit on DRM and second hand sales? How much was each going to cost?
These questions were answered and the results have left Sony looking like some sort of patron saint of gaming, when in reality they are just doing business as usual. While that may come across as a swipe at Sony, it isn't meant to.
While I may have a few issues with how the video game industry developed during the 360/PS3 generation (disc locked content for example), I sure as hell would take it over a future where the consumer loses all power over the manufacturers without any benefits replacing them. In the end, this year's E3 shouldn't be remembered so much for masterful advertising from Sony but for Microsoft's massive failure to understand the general public.
When I was discussing this matter with a friend he responded "Yep, that's the curse of three". After confirming what he meant, I had to agree, a lot of companies seem to really make ill-advised decisions when it comes to their third major console.
This trait seems to be common amongst companies that have entered gaming during the 3rd generation (the first to succeed the video game crash of 1978).
First up on the list is Sega, who after testing the video game market with the limited release of the SG-1000, released the Sega Master System as their first major console in 1985. While it failed to outsell the Nintendo Entertainment System, it did manage to gain Sega a nice foothold in the European market.
A better fight was put up by their next console, the Mega Drive/Genesis. It was during this generation that Sega learned the value of marketing for an alternate fanbase. While Nintendo stuck to their guns on violence and presenting the medium as "family entertainment" (at least until Sega profited from it) Sega decided to make their console look "cool".
Once they got round to making their third console it all fell apart. The rot had begun to set in towards the end of the Genesis' life with the addition of the Sega CD and 32x which were advertised, released and dropped in a short space of time.
The Sega Saturn should have provided much needed stability to a company that looked as if it would abandon a product the moment it looked like something better to develop was on the horizon. The Saturn reached western shores in 1995 and within two years Sega announced the Dreamcast. This effectively caused all major developers to stop producing games shortly after for a console which already had a limited library due to it being difficult to work with in the first place. Sega never recovered from this fiasco as consumers and game developers lost complete faith in them causing the Dreamcast to fail despite it being a pretty good console.
During the same generation, Nintendo lost market dominance with the N64 and ceded to Sony as the top console manufacturer. Nintendo decided to launch their 64-bit cartridge-based console against Sony's CD-driven Playstation. Despite being a cheaper console (N64 was $100 cheaper than PS) it was out sold almost 3/1. Partially this was down to the Playstation having an earlier release but the huge difference in technology behind the systems was the biggest factor.
Cartridges and CDs are like apples and oranges. To make versions of games for both formats took a lot of effort and if a game did end up on both formats it would almost be guaranteed that the cartridge version lost something in translation. Plus CDs were the future, game developers were always going to choose the format which was going to be the better, long-term, investment.
The funny thing is that three consoles later Nintendo would also suffer another setback. While I won't say the Wii U is destined to end this generation a failure, it certainly hasn't had a good start. After the almost niche Gamecube (and not only failing to recapture market dominance from the Playstation 2 but fall to Microsoft's first Xbox) Nintendo returned to the big time with the Wii.
With it's biggest selling point that it would change the way we could be playing games (and with a considerably low entry price) the Wii was so sought after that in some countries it was hard to get one for over a year after its launch.
But with all the success it gained in sales Nintendo lost sight of the goal again. The next console was sold on the gimmick rather than how the user was going to enjoy playing it. Thus they now have a console no one wants to develop for and has a rather lackluster 3rd party game library.
The next company to stumble at the third attempt was Sony with the PS3. After two major success in a row Sony must have thought that they didn't need to try and the people would come flocking to them regardless of what they produced.
If they didn't think that then the general attitude from the company on their pricing could have fooled anybody. With the system including a blu-ray player when the technology was quite new (along with trying to include backwards compatibility for PS2's DVD games and PS1's CD games) prices were inflated to repulsive levels. Thus when the 360 was announced with a more sane cost, it was only natural that the other console would do better financially. At least it is looking like Sony has learned their lesson and the PS4 is going to be a more level headed product this time around (although time will tell).
So all in all, why did these companies seem to stumble at their third attempts into the console industry? In my opinion each company took their consumer base for granted. In different ways Sega, Nintendo and Sony didn't seem to realize that consumer loyalty can only go so far.
With Sega, they had a desire to be the best and kept continually developing new products but dropping them as soon as they believed something better could be produced. However, they did not seem to appreciate that people might not have the disposable income to keep up with their methods. They also seemed to forget that in the end, they were producing a luxury item and in competition with others who were producing cheaper systems that lasted longer. In the end the consumer is going to go with the one that benefits them the best.
In Nintendo's case it was arrogance. The Super Nintendo was the best selling console of its generation and was cartridge based and it was assumed that their customers wouldn't mind going for the same sort of system just because they were Nintendo. This was despite the fact that CD technology was now very affordable and the limitations of cartridges meant better games were going to be difficult for 3rd parties to make.
Their second time with the Wii U the issues arouse out of ignorance. The Wii's motion controller gimmick was only part of the reason it was a major success. People were actually expecting a reasonable library of games to use the gimmick with and this never materialized. The Wii U's gimmick may be quite clever and might be able to be used well in some cases in the future, but it will do no good if there aren't any games to be played and enjoyed on the console.
Finally Sony's failure during their third is obvious. They suffered from egotistical arrogance. An attitude that suggested we should be lucky they were putting out another console, regardless of price, was insane when there was a perfectly good competitor in the Xbox 360, which not only was cheaper, but came out earlier.
Looking forward to the future it appears Microsoft is going to suffer all these problems with the Xbox One. The Xbone takes its consumer base for granted by just assuming they will be OK with a console that doesn't let them freely sell and buy used games. They assume people will be OK with a console that checks up on them every 24 hours to ensure they aren't defying their lord and masters.
Some people have tried to defend the price point of the Xbone by exclaiming that the extra $100 is because of the Kinect being included. But who decided that we all needed Kinect included?
I won't say Microsoft is set to fail this generation because I doubt they will. There will be enough people who will buy their console this time around out of ignorance, brand-loyalty and general apathy to probably make ends meet but they will feel backlash for their rather arrogant decisions. In reality Microsoft have ticked almost every box in the big list of bad moves to make when launching a new console. In the end all I have to say is this:
Microsoft have been wondering so hard about what they can get away with their next console that they never stopped to think about whether they should.