On Second Place

I have a long history of making poor tech choices. I’ve owned Laserdiscs and Minidiscs, Sega Saturns and NEC TurboDuos, an eee 701 netbook and a Windows Phone.

Let’s just say that I have a knack for picking the winning horse, then betting against it, and I’ve gotten to see how a lot of companies deal with failure.

NEC, for example, pulled completely out of the US gaming market, while Sega followed up the Saturn with the too-beautiful-to-live Dreamcast and Nintendo… well, Nintendo released a console so popular as to make people forget that the Wii U ever existed.

THE POINT IS, I’ve noticed a pattern with dying technology at the point where it hasn’t officially been 100% cancelled, but the manufacturer is still putting just a hair of effort into supporting it. In the case of the Saturn, this got us Panzer Dragoon Saga and Shining Force III; the Wii U gave us Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Splatoon and Breath of the Wild… all brilliant games but far too late to save the systems.

The reason this has been on my mind today is a report, from Electronic Arts, where they estimate the current total installed base of modern consoles. It’s a report that a lot of people are using to compare the PS4 to the Xbox One and declare the latter not long for the world. This month also marks the fifth anniversary of both console reveals, so it’s a good time to look back over those five years and see how things have gone.

It’s no shock to anyone that the PS4 has just been an absolute juggernaut since its unveiling. It was the cheaper AND the more powerful of the two at launch, with a laser focus on gaming that contrasted strongly with Microsoft’s bizarre notion that what people really wanted from a games console was cable TV integration and fantasy football.

Oh, and let’s not forget Microsoft’s weird messaging around used games, or the privacy hysteria that blew up over the always-listening Kinect, as quaint as that last seems in a world where Amazon ships millions of Alexa-enabled smart speakers every quarter.

Frankly, they earned the “Xbone” nickname before they had even shipped a single unit, and it pretty much landed with a wet flop. It didn’t help, either, that the prominent “Day One”-branded launch consoles and games lingered on shelves, making it obvious that it just wasn’t moving, or that exclusives seemed to keep winding up on other consoles or being canceled outright.

Things haven’t changed all that much, as far as console market share is concerned, since 2013. I eventually wound up owning an Xbox One S when Amazon put up a bundle at a price that was too good to ignore, but didn’t foresee much of a future for it except as a 4k Blu-Ray player.

But, here’s the odd thing. Both the PS4 and Xbox One are coming up on their fifth anniversary, and Sony has been absolutely killing it with exclusives – Bloodborne, Horizon, Nier, God of War, Nioh, the list goes on. By all rights, the Xbox One should be looking like the Saturn right about now, but… well, at least in the US and UK, it’s a perfectly viable platform to game on. If you want to come home from a hard day at work or school and sit down to a few rounds of Fortnite or Call of Duty or Overwatch, it has you covered, and it’s better-than-even odds that any new game announcement will be PS4/XB1/PC.

This is, in my admittedly somewhat anecdotal experience, unprecedented. Normally third-party support is the first thing you lose when sales start to dip, and it’s up to the console manufacturer to shoulder the burden of keeping new titles coming.

Furthermore, if you want the best versions of games, or the best controller, and don’t mind reaching a little deeper into your wallet, you almost certainly want an Xbox One X with an Elite controller over a PS4 Pro. Granted, Microsoft is benefiting heavily from the state of the graphics card market right now – nobody is denying that the absolute shiniest graphics are to be had on PC, but when you can’t find or afford a reasonable GPU… well, an all-in-one box looks awfully tempting.

The heavy push towards enhancing their current box to play games from older Xboxes seems to be paying off, as well. I’ve had a lot of my digital Xbox 360 games happily pop up in the “Ready to install” list as the backwards compatibility improves, and I’ve repurchased some of the original Xbox games that I couldn’t own digitally at the time.

I’m still waiting on Fatal Frame 1 & 2, though, and Gunvalkryie if we want to get extra crazy. I suspect pretty much everyone has a little list of games they would like to see show up some day.

More importantly, while nothing’s been said on the topic, this sort of commitment to legacy titles makes it seem a pretty safe bet that Microsoft will carry the backwards compatibility into future generations of the hardware. If an Xbox Two happens to show up in the next few years, there’s this weird sense of confidence that I’ll be able to keep moving my library of games forward – a good thing, considering how the first year or so of any console tends to go.

Basically, I’m just impressed at Microsoft’s stubborn refusal to cut their losses, and I’m looking forward to seeing that they do next.

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2 Responses to On Second Place

  1. Pete Davison says:

    The Xbox One is kind of interesting in this regard. It has nothing particularly unique about it (aside, perhaps, from the ability to play some games from the two previous generations) but because of all the multiplatform stuff, it is still just about viable… assuming you don’t have a PS4 already, of course.

    The fact Xbox One is hanging in there is symptomatic of the fact that the two “main” consoles these days are very similar indeed to to one another, at least so far as the popular mainstream games are concerned — your CoDs and your FIFAs and your Fortnites. In previous generations, individual platforms asserted their uniqueness rather more than they do at the moment, whereas now, sure, we have exclusives for each platform — Sony in particular — but the more casual gamers who just play the aforementioned titles (who make up a significant proportion of the overall market) are just going to go with whatever their friends have.

    Nintendo is, as always, an exception to this rule, of course, but then they always have been. It’s why even when Nintendo puts out a “failed” console like the Wii U, it’s still worth having for all the unique games on it. (And in the Wii U’s case, having a single system that plays both Wii and Wii U games is very convenient, too; I just wish it had Gamecube compatibility too!)

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  2. baudattitude says:

    “Just about viable” is a good way to put it. Looking at my PS4 history, I’ve finished 55 games and 37 of those are available on the XB1… not a great ratio, until you consider that I play a ton of titles that are honestly kind of outside the mainstream. The average person can probably get by just fine without Gust RPGs, for instance, but I wouldn’t want to live in that world. 🙂

    I’m mostly impressed that they took a really terrible launch, stuck it out, and somehow convinced other publishers to keep releasing titles for their system as well. Electronic Arts, in particular, is absolutely famous for dropping platform support at the slightest hint of weakness.

    Nintendo is… well, yes, unique is a good word. I always buy their hardware – yes, I even owned a Virtual Boy – but I never get a ton of use out of it in any given generation. I’ve come to accept that they’re a Japanese toy company who tailor their products to Japanese kids (and occasionally Japanese teenagers), and customers outside that demographic are politely appreciated but not considered terribly important.

    Part of that may be more NoA than NoJ, of course. I’d swap you NoA for NoE in a heartbeat.

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