The current generation of console hardware is in its twilight, at least for early adopters who are ready to take on the next big thing. From the outset it was anyone’s game with all three major giants of the industry delivering products with strong potential. After six years of fierce competition it is clear that there were no losers in this battle. Each of the platform holders essentially had disparate levels of success, making for a healthy industry. I do however have a winner in mind, but first I will list some of the pros and cons of each.
They by far shipped the highest volume of hardware with a lead of almost 30 million units over their rivals. By that metric they would be the clear winner. However there are many caveats. After a strong start for software, the attach ratio to hardware eventually declined to settle at a lower figure than the other consoles. A possible explanation is that many consoles were sold to non-gamers as a means to access the mental and aerobic fitness software available, but these customers do not consume as many games as ‘core’ gamers. Additionally most third party software titles performed poorly leading to poor third party support. As for digital download titles, sales figures sucked to the point that they have almost evaporated by the end of the cycle; conversely digital sales on rival platforms are healthier than ever with Minecraft for Xbox 360 recently setting new records on that platform. Hardware sales also dramatically declined late in the cycle, with weekly sales now consistently lower than their rivals to slowly chip away at that now sub-30m unit lead. All told, the Wii had an unprecedented first few years but burned out of the race early. “A candle that burns twice as bright, burns for half as long.”
All-time hardware sales are marginally below Microsoft to be at 3rd place. However the PS3 is and has always been the most expensive console and has the most potential to finish strong when they can finally get down to low prices that are attractive to people with low income. Hardware and software sales are generally good all ’round, although 1st and 3rd party exclusives never hit the same highs as Nintendo’s Mario and Microsoft’s Halo. The vulnerability of PlayStation Network was exploited in a high profile hack job, although Sony bounced back and took care of their customers by offering free games. Move controller did poorly relative to Xbox Kinect. Poor decisions early on regarding system software affected Sony’s ability to deliver on popular customer demands, with too little memory reserved to ever allow cross-game voice chat, sluggish XMB performance while a game is running, and a poor file system leading to hard drives becoming increasingly fragmented, and lengthy install times for downloaded software. PS3 overall has been good and steady all along, but never dominant, which is a change from Sony’s position a generation ago.
Microsoft Xbox 360
The bad first. In my eyes the RROD issue was the greatest tragedy of this generation. Be it flawed design or shitty build quality, the first run of Xbox 360 consoles had a death clock and inevitably broke down in huge numbers. Microsoft did the best they could to please all those effected at great cost. Today couldn’t be any more different; the revised 360 console with its efficient SoC processor design and relocated fan is quiet and reliable where the original hardware was loud and faulty. Incredibly, the system software has undergone an even bigger transformation than the hardware, with at least two major redesigns of the entire user interface. Microsoft have had the biggest success with DLC and digitally distributed full games thanks in part to intelligent placement of deals and advertising on the top level of the UI. On a software technology level, Microsoft are way ahead of their Japanese counterparts, being very progressive in rolling out new features and updates, UI improvements, the best network experience with Xbox Live, and the most advanced motion gaming with full-body motion capture provided by an array of sensors in Kinect. All these efforts allow 360 to feel like the most modern console currently available despite being the oldest at almost 7 years of availability.
Winner: Xbox 360
After 11 years in the console business, Microsoft are now in the best position they have ever been, making great profits, having great industry support, and still growing. Last generation they were losing money, and PS2 killed them in volume sales. Not the case today. As a platform holder they are very innovative, being the first to start a social gaming network with voice integration and achievements, the first to start digitally distributing games online with the XBLA portal, and the first company to offer a true indie gaming opportunity on a console: any individual can download the XNA developer tools for free, make a game and make money by selling it on Xbox 360. They had arguably the worst start of all three consoles this generation, but have undergone an amazing transformation, and today, I rate Xbox 360 as the biggest winner of the 360 vs PS3 vs Wii generation.