Pete's Perspective Episode 9: Invincible No More
So… what, then? I’m going to talk about something that seems almost unbecoming to write about when employed by a site that focuses on Sony-based games and systems. I’m going to talk about something here that, quite possibly, could fetch me some hate mail for the first time in a while. I’m going to talk about something here that will make Sony fanboys squirm with discomfort.
I’m going to talk about Sony’s sudden vulnerability.
That’s right. Sony is probably now the most vulnerable to competition that it’s been since the juggernaut really got rolling in late 1997. Back then, the PlayStation had some killer exclusives that Nintendo couldn’t match or deliver. Final Fantasy VII sparked Sony’s success, and now Square-Enix—which was a staunch Sony-exclusive supporter during the PS era when Squaresoft was independent—is now promising full support for Sony’s biggest rival: Microsoft’s XBOX360.
Don’t misunderstand: Square-Enix will still be supporting Sony in the next generation, but with support for all major platforms, that’s another former advantage for Sony that’s gone. What’s worse for Sony is that Microsoft won Square-Enix support despite having a miserable time of it in Japan with XBOX sales. Something seems wrong here, and a lot of it might have to do with Sony pulling the plug on Final Fantasy XI quite literally by making the hard drive accessory obsolete in their slim PS2 models. Ouch.
The defections don’t stop there, either. Konami’s surprise announcement at E3 to deliver Castlevania: Curse of Darkness to the XBOX as well as the PS2 shocked many who thought that it was to be a PS2 exclusive. Aside from the Metal Gear Solid franchise, other major Konami IPs (intellectual properties, or franchises) have seen the light of day on the XBOX… like Dance Dance Revolution, for example. Then, of course, you’ve got support from Tecmo and, of course, EA’s support… and suddenly, Microsoft’s got a very formidable third-party support camp.
Then, of course, you’ve got the newly-redesigned controller, which looks more like a boomerang than a video game accessory. I’m not sure if this is a direct result of Sony’s legal battle with Immersion or whether somebody at Sony is a big Crocodile Dundee fan… but this thing doesn’t look all that ergonomic—and with the XBOX360 controller looking more like a PlayStation controller now than Sony’s own… it makes you wonder. Nintendo unsuccessfully has tried to build a “better” controller for the last two console generations, deviating from the basic SNES controller design that was so intuitive and comfortable… and both times, the new controllers have been a bear to use. Now Sony’s trying it, and by the looks of it, it might not be such a hot idea. I don’t know about you, but I like the feeling familiarity with my game controllers… and having to readjust to a new controller style after using what amounts to the same style for the past 10 years is going to be more work than it should be.
Lastly, the issue of price is going to have to come into play. Whispers within gaming circles are signaling that console prices for the next generation will blow right by the $300 benchmark that gamers have been fortunate enough to see since 1990. Higher prices will mean, at least initially, that game consumers will not be multiple console owners. If you then consider that Microsoft will have the edge in launching first (which will capture the attention of the casual audience) and that it’s been proven that Microsoft has the capability to match Sony stride-for-stride in terms of games (with strong third-party support similar to Sony), online services (the plans for XBOX Live look very impressive), and extras (with the notable exception of backwards compatibility, which I’ll address in a moment)... Sony will have a very difficult time convincing gamers to wait for the PS3 when a viable platform like the XBOX360 will be available for the holidays and will be ready to wow people sooner.
Sony’s got a few trump cards which could still ensure that Microsoft doesn’t get off to too fast of a start. For starters, the announcement that a new Grand Theft Auto game will be available alongside the PS3 launch will tempt some gamers to wait. Secondly, Microsoft’s issues with backwards compatibility are stunting initial excitement over the XBOX360. If you consider that the PS3 will likely play almost any PSX or PS2 game available (although I’m sure there will be exceptions) and that Nintendo’s Revolution will have built-in emulators so that players will be able to play almost any NES, SNES, or N64 game… Microsoft’s issues are getting no sympathy from me or anyone else in the gaming community. Finally, people may not yet be ready to make the jump to next-generation hardware. If you look at all of the games unveiled at E3 for current consoles, you can see that gamers with current hardware will have plenty to keep them busy… well after the XBOX360 launch and perhaps even after the PS3 and Revolution launches. Sony is almost counting on this reluctance to keep things close until the PS3 is ready to roll.
Don’t misinterpret this week’s Perspective column as a death knell for Sony. What it really signals is that Sony’s run of invincibility seems to be at an end. Don’t expect another cakewalk like we’ve seen with the first two PlayStation consoles. Microsoft has all of the momentum and Nintendo is bound and determined to regain respectability in the industry. If Sony is to indeed repeat as kings of the proverbial mountain in the next generation of consoles, they’re going to have to work harder than ever to do so. Since the rebirth of console gaming 20 years ago, no hardware company has yet managed to lead in sales for three straight console generations. Nintendo faltered with the N64 after consecutive successes with the NES and SNES. It’s akin to winning the Triple Crown in horse racing… and it’s extremely difficult to pull off gaming’s trifecta.
While I sit back and wait for the waves of hate mail to roll in, here’s this week’s Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down:
Thumbs Up: Hideo Kojima is helming Metal Gear Solid 4, after he swore up and down that he would play a lesser role. He sure fooled us. For those of you who haven’t seen Konami’s teaser trailer, you’re missing out. There’s no in-game footage, but it’s too funny—especially if you’re a Raiden hater.
Thumbs Down: I know I mentioned this in the column, but it’s worth repeating here: Microsoft is angering more than a few people with its backwards compatibility issues on the XBOX360. I’ve heard apologists try to reason that the XBOX games will be “old” and that nobody will want to play them. Give me a damned break. I’ve got close to 50 XBOX games in my library now, and you’re telling me that they’re all going to be pointless to own? I’m sorry, but if Sony and even Nintendo can get backwards compatibility to work, then Microsoft has no excuse. None.
Thumbs Up: Scoff if you wish, but I totally enjoyed Revenge of the Sith. For me, all of the loose ends are closed and seeing Anakin’s transformation to evil bastard was remarkable. I so need to see this in IMAX. Anyone else?
Thumbs Down: Take it from me, single men and women: Speed dating does not work. I tried it last weekend, and it got me nowhere. Stick with personal ads or other traditional methods, and save the money, anxiety, and embarrassment.
That’s it for another week, although this column is a bit late. We’ll be back to our normal Friday posting this week, now that E3 is over. Feel free to discuss this column or any of our E3 news in our forums—we’re always anxious to see new people or have engaging conversation. You can always feel free to e-mail me about this or any of my columns, as my e-mail address in linked to my name below.
Let the hate mail commence.
5/22/2005 Peter J. Skerritt, Jr.