Once, twice, three times a next-generation console battle

Microsoft games

It's been a week of next-generation snipin', bitchin', moanin', timin', and pricin'. But at the end of the day, no matter how 'in' we are, nobody will know the truth until the big three say so. This week, they started to say so.

Let's start with Nintendo. Speaking at a shareholder's meeting in Japan earlier this week, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata effectively admitted that the Revolution will come last in that peculiar next-generation rush to launch. It might come after the PS3, he said, but it wouldn't "fall behind by too much".

So, let's take stock. We know the 360 is due this winter, and the PS3 is due Spring 2006, so Iwata's comment implies gamers will have to wait till summer 2006 to be able to play next-generation Nintendo favourites like Mario, Metroid and Zelda. That's potentially a year from now, possibly even longer.

But other news this week suggests Ninty are starting to pull their finger out. The ever affable Reggie Fils-Aime, Nintendo of America VP of sales and marketing, told US magazine EGM that third party developers have already seen the much hyped Revolution controller.

Just because "you and your fans haven't seen the controller", he said, "doesn't mean that no one else has." He's right of course. It would be a worrying thing if developers hadn't seen the controller gamers will use to play Revolution games in a years time. I have a question: Reggie, when will we, the people who will pay you for it, see it?

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Not yet, it appears, although, according to Reggie, it will be some kind of NES, SNES, N64 uber-hybrid super controller. "If you just think about it, we're going to have the ability through wireless internet to download all your great games from NES, SNES, N64," he said. "Think about it - each of those controllers are different. How are you gonna play? That captured some of the imagination of what our controller needs to be able to do, and certainly as you get into the meat of that type of innovation with the developers, their eyes truly light up because they start to imagine what's possible with that kind of configuration, which is vastly different than a sheer horsepower kind of game."

What's hidden in Reggie's Revolution controller comment is an interesting reaffirmation of Nintendo's message of the last half decade - let's get back to the core: pure gaming. Innovation, it seems, is driving the Nintendo philosophy. They're a toy company after all. And while Sony and Microsoft are off doing their multimedia, tech spec infatuation thing, Nintendo are providing simple, compelling and fun game experiences for all.

Another nugget of Revolution info emerged this week from the mouth of the ever-quotable Reggie (although it was simply confirming something everyone else on the planet always suspected). It will be cheaper than the 360 and PS3.

"We have to assume that from a pricing standpoint, we will be substantially lower than the competition," he said. With specific reference to Microsoft and Sony's offerings, he said the Revolution won't have "all of that added fluff that a gamer, frankly, doesn't [want] - it's not core to gaming."

Which pretty much confirms Nintendo's place in the graphical powerhouse leader board. The Revolution won't be able to match up to the power of the PS3 or 360, so Nintendo will price it lower. Nintendo are a profitable games company, with millions coming in from the DS and GBA:SP. They won't jeopardise that by packing the Revolution with expensive components and make a loss. No, they won't enter that race with Microsoft and Sony. They're running a different race, but all three end up crossing the same finishing line.

Speaking of pricing...

This week, research analyst Merrill Lynch Japan suggested that the PS3 would retail for $399 when it launches next Spring. That's a lot of money - the machine looks like it's going to burn a particularly large hole in gamers' pockets.

Think your pockets will be burning? Save a thought for Sony. The PS3 will, the report suggests, cost up to $490 dollars to manufacture. That's a $100 loss on each console sold. Factor that into Sony's projections for the console in its first year, and you get a whopping $1.18 billion loss on the PS3 alone.

Sony playstation 3

Sony are prepared to burn themselves in the next-generation console race, just to establish a customer base to build upon during the PS3's life cycle. Microsoft are as well: latest reports suggest they will lose $75 on every 360 sold. But are you, the gamer, willing to do the same? Sony certainly think so, as Ken Kutaragi, Sony Computer Entertainment Chief's quiet unbelievable comments to Japanese magazine Toyo Keizai showed.

"Whether consumers think a product is expensive or cheap all depends on the balance between its appeal and price," he told the magazine. "Our ideal [for PS3] is for consumers to think to themselves, 'OK, I'll work more hours and buy it.' We want people to feel that they want it, no matter what."

I know what he's trying to say, and I don't know if it comes across this way because of a translation issue, but Mr Kutaragi's comment won't go down well with many gamers who are already unhappy with the inevitable rise in cost for next-generation games. The PS3 had better be damn good if people are to put in more hours at work to buy the thing.

So, maybe with a view that many people simply won't pay the high price of the PS3 (and that the damn thing will cost so much to produce) reports from Japan suggest the hard drive for the PS3 will not be bundled with the machine, but will instead be sold as an add-on unit, reducing the cost of the machine. Either way, the PS3 will be the most expensive next-generation console on the market. They'll have a tough job convincing gamers that it's $100 more powerful than their closest rivals . . .

Speaking of close rivals...

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Japanese developer support is key to Microsoft

Microsoft are desperate to make their next-generation console a success in Japan, the second largest game market in the world and a territory where the original Xbox spectacularly failed. So, this week, some intriguing and key announcements were made that suggest the Xbox team is closing deals in the land of the rising sun faster than it takes the Bullet train to get from Tokyo to Osaka.

This week Japanese media reports suggested that Microsoft will announce a new batch of locally developed exclusives this month. According to the latest issue of Famitsu, "there could be some major surprises". Ohhhh.

Let's also not forget comments from Michihiro Ishizuka, president of Konami's computer & video games division, in a recent interview. He mentioned that the company is currently working on "one or two" flagship titles for the Xbox 360 and PS3. We've known that one of those games will be MGS4 for the PS3, and now Michihiro Ishizuka has revealed that Konami is "developing an original product for the Xbox 360." Ahhhh.

Cryptic and intriguing. But at least we know the 360 will make more of an impact in Japan than its predecessor. Microsoft have been honest enough to admit their weaknesses and have attempted to address them - by signing locally produced developers to make games tailored to the Japanese gaming audience. Whatever you say about Microsoft, they know how to react to a problem.

P.S.

So there you have it - two's a company, but three's a bloody nightmare. The Revolution will be late, but its controller will be, ahem, revolutionary. The PS3 will cost an arm and a leg, for gamers and Sony. The 360, desperate to satisfy those RPGing nutters across the pond, have chucked money at local developers for exclusives. And so the circle of life is complete, and the world feels right again.

This race is as scandalous as the most spicy of election campaigns. During the transition between generations, it's great to simply absorb all the leaks, rumours, tit-bits, Photoshop mock-ups, confirmations, denials, announcements, cancellations, bitching, retorts, broadsides and challenges. It provides us hacks with great copy, and you gamers a vision of the future. Soon, all this will be over. Let's enjoy it while it lasts.

This week's new releases

Most notable this week is the double whammy of big name DS releases. Unfortunately for DS owners, both games seem to be a bit pish. Having played both games at a recent press event, the poor scores that the games have received from the major US websites seem to be perfectly fair. If you want some Splinter Cell and GoldenEye action, don't look for it on the DS.

EA's Cricket 2005 should do well given the recent one day Internationals and the upcoming Ashes series, and Sony's Formula One 05 seems to be about the best F1 Sim you can get on a console, even including online play. It isn't a particularly exciting week and expect things to get worse throughout July. God of War for the PlayStation 2 finally receives a UK release next week, but other than that, August can't come soon enough.

  • Bomberman Hardball (PS2)
  • Cricket 2005 (PS2, Xbox, PC)
  • Formula One 05 (PS2)
  • GoldenEye: Rogue Agent (DS)
  • Madagascar (PS2, Xbox, Cube, PC, GBA, DS)
  • Saint Seiya: Knights of the Zodiac (PS2)
  • Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer's Call (PS2)
  • Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (DS)
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