Opinion: The Messaging for the New Consoles is the Key for Success

With E3 2016 now behind us, we had the time to let the dust settle a bit and clean our heads with all the announcements that were made.  Again, many games were shown, but this year, there was a lot of buzz regarding hardware.  We know that March 2017 will see the release of the new Nintendo console (still only referred to by its codename, NX).  There were also rumours about a new PlayStation console (codenamed NEO, with 4K capabilities), and its Microsoft counterpart (codenamed Scorpio).  Right before the convention, both Nintendo and Sony announced that their new consoles won’t be a part of this year’s presentation. Microsoft had the full attention for its showcase, but what they presented was hard to follow, even for people in the business.

Bringing a PC mentality to the console market

After reading a lengthy interview with Phil Spencer, this is how he himself describes what Scorpio is supposed to bring to the market: a higher end solution to Xbox gaming that allows to play in 4K, and that if you don’t have such a TV, that you won’t see a difference. (For those unaware of this, a regular HDTV is about a quarter of the resolution of a 4K TV.)  This console is not seen as a generation leap, because of its fully backward compatibility with games, accessories and Live network.  He said that it was made for the hardcore person who owns a 4K TV and wants 4K gaming.

Will there be differences other than better resolution ?  There are talks about supporting VR, and that it will be a 4K UHD Blu-ray drive. A colleague wrote about the fact that the frame rates for Xbox One games won’t be different on the new console.  What else ? We don’t know yet.  According to Phil Spencer, talks are happening with developers to see what would be possible, but nothing has really transpired yet.

A platform where upgrades are NOT mandatory

There is a definitive shift in terms of vision for the company regarding their upcoming hardware upgrades, where there won’t be an end of console cycle and the beginning of a new one.  Even with a more powerful hardware, Microsoft has announced that Project Scorpio will be backward compatible with Xbox One.  The leaked information about PlayStation NEO is that there won’t be any NEO-specific games, so all games will work on both NEO and PS4.  The idea of having a platform with compatibility all across the board, with games able to be enjoyed on all level of hardware is getting really close to the PC market mentality, where there will be multiple types of consoles for all needs and budgets.  Phil Spencer himself said it in the interview mentioned earlier that he is not there to sell us Scorpio, and that his company’s 3 consoles are all equivalent entry points in the Xbox world.  The financial means a person have, what he has as a TV and equipment at home and his uses will have to really be a part of the purchasing process more than just “I want to play the game X“.

While some see this as a headache for some developers, some of them see that as a real benefit for the console market.  For example, EA global publishing chief Laura Miele, while talking to GamesIndustry.biz,  went as far as saying that they are “thrilled with the evolution”.  It seems that her company see that this method will enable to not have to restart from scratch every time something new gets release, and that it will help keeping the communities together.  Ubisoft’s head of EMEA Alain Corre goes in the same vain regarding the splitting of the communities, and also regarding games development, saying that this approach will simplify things, that now they “can take the best of the next console but still have super good quality for the current console, without breaking the community up”.

A valid question though comes to my mind though: Are Sony and Microsoft are trying to “future-proof” their ecosystems? Maybe.  Microsoft seems to think that 4K will be an important part of the future, Scorpio having (until now) this functionality as the key reason for purchasing the console.  Sony hasn’t released their official message yet, but the information seen on many outlets seems to point more to a “better iPhone” philosophy, where NEO will be a more powerful version of the same console, so more of a luxury item for the hardcore gamers that want a faster more efficient piece of hardware (a bit like the Apple philosophy with a release of a regular and a “plus” version of their phone). We don’t know yet about its “future-proofing” possibility, other than it would be capable of rendering higher than 1080p resolution games, and the fact that the new console would be cross-platform with the PS4.

The two companies, in a similar situation, have 2 different problems regarding this new hardware and it will be interesting to see how each one deals with its ecosystem.

Nintendo: how to go forward after a misstep

With the last generation of console, we’ve seen Nintendo stumble with its vision, the Wii U is in a very distant third place in terms of place in the market, with its gamepad seen as a gimmick and a console that is largely underpowered compared to the Xbox One and PS4 (it is more in the line of the PS3 and Xbox 360).  What information do we have on the NX ? Almost nothing.  We just know that the company stated that unlike its 2 competitors, they won’t just follow advancements in technology.  Does that mean that it will be an underpowered console again?  Also, the prospect of another “gimmick” scares a lot of people, with Miyamoto saying that “there’s an idea that we’re working on”.  So a total radio silence on the idea behind the console, an idea, and the fact that they’ve announced a release date in about 9 months…that sums to a scary picture, especially for those that already feels betrayed by Nintendo.  But again, the idea of motion controls in 2006 was seen at first as a gimmick and it worked so hard that it influenced the gaming landscape for years.  Nintendo is capable of doing great things, let’s see what they have up their sleeves this time around

A lot of work needs to be done now

With all that said, I think the ball is in the company’s hands now.  A lot of things are brewing right now and each ecosystem can benefit from a successful new hardware launch.

Microsoft can solidify its foothold on the steady platform with backward compatibility, with a very nice effort already done on the Xbox One and its Xbox 360 compatibility.  Will 4K gaming be enough to push Project Scorpio or there’s something else in the works? Let’s wait and see how Microsoft presents what’s coming, now that the official announcement was made.

Sony seems to have a similar vision with its NEO console, having a strong knowledge of the past, acknowledging it and trying to build on it, with its cross-platform functionalities.  We still don’t know a lot.  Will it be a better way to experiment PlayStation VR ? Will it really be just a faster PlayStation 4? Will it be 4K gaming? or a mix of all that? Let’s see how Sony presents its new product before judging it.

The mysterious Nintendo with its new console coming in a couple of months.  What is this new idea? Will it be enough to win gamers back? With what we know, will another under-powered console be enough again this time? Can Nintendo make us all forget how the Wii U was handled and start something fresh again?  Seems we’ll see soon enough, with reports stating that the console will be unveiled at the next Tokyo Game Show in September.

I am personally in a “wait and see” stance right now.  Nintendo has too much uncertainty right now for me to pass a judgment right away.  For Microsoft, I’ll wait to see if there’s something more than 4K gaming, because if that is really the only advantage, for as long as I’m playing on a regular HDTV, there’s no benefit for me to upgrade.  For Sony, I’m very curious to see what it’s all about.  Being a PlayStation writer, they are the company that I’m the closest to and that is the most likely for me to purchase, but without a price tag and a real explanation of what it is, I’ll restrain myself to be overly optimistic.

What do you think of all that? Do you think the market is ready for such a departure in philosophy regarding Sony and Microsoft’s vision? Do you think Nintendo is capable of redeeming itself? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image source : here