What Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony did right
The gaming industry is not totally a bunch of greedy publishers with unlimited sequels for a popular franchise, there are also good ideas. Video games exist since more than 40 years, and it becomes hard to be truly original in a game or in the industry. Everything is a copy of a previous thing, and usually pleasure and fun come from original ideas.
But developers are not the only ones to offer good things to gaming, the three giants Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony provided for this generation of consoles advantages we, gamers, tend to not recognize or glorify. In this article, I will list for each few good aspects they brought to gaming, to video games or to players. Before starting, I just would like to say that I have no bias, I own all three consoles and love them all of three, without preference, so don't take some sentences as fanboy words, my only fanboyism goes to Metal Gear, Legacy of Kain and Hitman series. I'm a game fanboy, not a console fanboy.
- Avatars actually look good and are regularly updated: In response (or not) to Nintendo's Miis and Sony's Home, Microsoft gave players a way to create their characters with tons of clothes and accessories. I don't doubt the Avatar Market has some scam, such as the Halo ring for 40 MS Points, but at least Avatar clothes are detailed and they have new animations with accessories, while in Home, many clothes are only colored T-shirts with a crappy picture on it (and you pay that $1.49). Plus Avatars are more friendly than frigid Home characters. However, prices are often prohibitive.
- Gamercards with real-time update: The gamercard allows player to give a résumé of their gaming performances. How much Gscore do I have, what did I play lately, since how many years am I on Xbox Live... You also have this on PS3, but the difference is that you have to do a trophy synchronization to update your gamercard. Since few months you can export it for the web but the trophy sycnhronization is still a pain (especially when it doesn't work), so the 360 Gamercard remains the reference.
- Cross-game chat: For me the biggest difference there is between PS3 and 360. On Xbox 360, you can start a private chat with your friends, start a game on your side and keep talking with your friend even if you aren't in the same game. That's pretty useful, especially if you have real friends with a 360. Rumors slated such feature is planned on PS3, but so far nothing really confirmed, only implied.
- Windows media center and custom soundtracks: Some games get pretty boring for being repetitive and having no good soundtrack (Demon's Souls. It has a great soundtrack, but you just don't hear it), or your playing a game you love but you know the soundtrack so much it's getting irritating (Sacred 2), the Xbox 360 gives the possibility to listen your music while playing. An under patent feature that discredited any custom soundtrack attempt on PS3, and many gamers hate Microsoft because of that. Anyway, Microsoft had the great idea to prevent the addition of media content on the Xbox 360 through a USB key. You have to burn a CD then insert it in the 360 in order to copy your songs on it. But you can also enable Media Center (or Connect 2) on your computer, and when you're playing, you can access your music library and play whatever is on your computer. Simply awesome.
- Customize your console: This time I may be wrong because I don't know if it was Microsoft's initiative, but on Xbox 360, there are modders that get banned, and players that think their console is pretty ugly (especially if they took a white version and are smokers). But at retailers, you can find faceplates and stickers in order to customize the look of your console. You surely wont have an Alienware design, but at least your big noisy block will adopt a Splinter Cell, Assassin's Creed or Call of Duty look (buying a GoW2 faceplate was one of the first thing I made when buying my 360).
- TRIGGERS !!! : I don't like the 360 controller heaviness but there's a thing I find really useful: the triggers. Few days ago I really wanted to write an article only for those triggers (and I'll probably do it after all). For common games, it's relatively useless, but for shooters and racers, they give another feel of the battle. Yes, the Sixaxis has a similar approach, but the shape is different and not as much useful. And these days, as I'm mostly playing shooters, it's all good.
- A microphone with my console: Unless you take the Arcade edition of the console (is there anyone who actually bought it? Even vendors wouldn't recommend it), you'll find in the box of your console a microphone. Yes, it's a very basic one, somehow pretty crappy, but giving a microphone with every console surely highly influenced the development of Xbox Live community, in good and in bad. It doesn't mean you'll meet many people with a mic on XBL, but you have more opportunities than on PS3. You can meet good players and future friends, but also the crying kid you want to kick in Modern Warfare. It's a double-edged sword, but sometimes you wonder how a 12 years old managed to get a +18 game.
- Open video games to everyone: The release of Wii has benefited and plagued the industry in the same time. On a side the Wii opened the doors to casual gamers, on another side the Wii game library has been flooded with shovelwares. Yes, Wii is not the first to do that, PC already had thousands of casual games and PS2 too, but Wii started a true explosion of the genre. However, thanks to the Wii, video games are no longer the little evil that transforms our children into serial killers. If this image is not totally established in everybody's mind, the Wii may be a great beginning.
- Start new trends: With Wii and DS, Nintendo managed to do what other companies never did, being attractive to everyone and not only the gamers. Both consoles are incredibly successful and this success generates profit and excited many developers. Gamers hope PSP2 will have a touch screen, Sony and Microsoft are developing their own motion control technology for PS3 and Xbox 360 (and no doubt they will never admit the Wii influenced that choice). Will it be a success or a failure? No one knows yet, but Nintendo can be proud to be the pioneer of this reorientation.
- Accessible to everyone: As Wii is widely open to new audiences, Nintendo needs to be understandable for everyone. Menus, interfaces, first party games are all very clear, very simple and very well explained. Yet, some hardcore gamers may believe Nintendo take them for dumbasses and are searching for a Mature mode in the menus, but such initiative is still welcome. However, Nintendo are probably too protectionist and it has plagued them for online interactions so far.
- A game in every console: The Wii offers a new kind of gameplay. It's no longer frenetically pushing a bunch of buttons, it's pointing your hand in the direction of the screen and moving it (the hand, not the screen !). Some gamers adapt themselves to any situation after a 2 minutes hands-on, some may be lost after a week of attempts. Hopefully, Nintendo provide Wii Sports (and recently Wii Sports Resort) with each console, which have two benefits: on a side, you can learn how to play games on Wii, where are the buttons, you adapt your gaming reflexes, and on another side Wii Sports is pretty casual and attractive for the new audiences, "ZOMFG did you see this !? You can play bowling !". A useful marketing argument.
- Heavy and simple marketing campaign: I don't know about USA and Japan, but here in France, video game ads were very rare until this September (when Sony released the PS3 Slim and when publishers started their Christmas campaigns). Only Nintendo actually provided a persistent ad campaign since the release of the Wii, mostly promoting Wii Sports, but also Animal Crossing, [insert Mario game], Metroid, Cooking Mama, etc... And as the Wii is naturally appealing, more ads mean more future consumers. Nintendo highly supported the Wii since the launch and it should be an example for other companies.
- Keeping their roots: You know, long time ago, I used to be a Sega fanboy. NES? SNES? WTF is that? I had my Megadrive / Genesis when I was 3 or 4 and played it until PSone. Sonic was my hero but it started to fade away when it touched the 3D. Sonic is no longer good, and former Sega fanboys now can only say "It was better in my time". But Nintendo didn't make that mistake. They kept their roots. Is there any bad Mario game? Yes, Nintendo milked the franchise like hell, but is there any Mario game that matches Sonic Unleashed quality, for example? Take a look at New Super Mario Bros on Wii, for example. The game is 2D but we feel like playing the very first Super Mario, with the same old song and the same 8 bits sounds. Nintendo surely heavily exploit their IPs, but they always manage to provide quality and keep the nostalgia of their fanbase, without forgetting about appealing to new players.
- Analyze their consumers: You probably don't know it if you don't have a Wii, but Nintendo analyze their community. When creating a Club Nintendo account, for example, and registering your console and your games, you answer to questions asked by Nintendo, like who will play your games, how old are they, what do you like,... And the Nintendo channels permit to send gamer datas to Nintendo, the playtimes, the games you played, your scores,... It may be disturbing to be spied like that, but I tend to believe that some games or accessories have been developed in order to match the results of this giant study. It's certainly more casual-oriented, but we can estimate Nintendo want to appeal to those new kind of gamers.
- Free online, free features, free downloadable content: I hate monthly fees. Really. Having to pay 60€ each year just to be able to play online is my biggest complain with Xbox 360. And it's not like if it was worth it, because you also pay for Gamerpics, themes, music, etc... Even features such as Facebook and Last.fm are only available for Gold members. While Sony provide a free online gaming, with free content such as soundtracks, themes, DLCs, wallpapers, etc... Sadly since dynamic themes, "free" is not much free, as you have to pay for new static themes, and Sony plan to release premium avatars, and with the recent rumor of a premium system on PSN, we're not ensured of what will be free and what wont, so profit of your last glorious days.
- XMB customization: Until dynamic themes, Sony gave to players a fantastic tool to let them create their own XMB theme. I used to create themes, so I wont lie you, it's long, it's eventually boring and somehow technical, but being able to have our own theme is really awesome. Many times on Xbox 360 I damned the impossibility to change the colors of the icons, for example. Sorry but my purple Magic The Gathering theme cannot match with green icons !
- Push first party developers: Released a year after the Xbox 360, the PS3 has longly been mocked for its lack of games. Still, Sony released a bunch of high quality first party games, such as Resistance, Uncharted, Motorstorm, inFamous, LittleBigPlanet, Killzone 2,... And it's not finished yet, with upcoming games such as Heavy Rain, ModNation Racers, God of War III, Gran Turismo 5,... They are also collaborating with Namco in order to develop three games fully exploiting the CELL. In other words, they focus on first party games in order to stimulate third party developers and convince them to develop on PS3.
- A specific day for the Store updates: On the Playstation Store, there is an update every Thursday. If there is a sensitive difference between the content of each region, the fact to have only one day for updates is pretty useful. On Xbox 360, downloadable contents are added at any working day, without any specific. Sometimes you don't have anything during a week, sometimes you have a theme Monday, a XBLA title Tuesday, a demo Wednesday,... The content is published as it comes, and for me it's quite frustrating to have to check every day if there's new content or not.
- Giving access to most of first party private betas: Yet, it's not a total access, as you must be selected by Sony to be a beta-tester, but once you become one, you can play and test upcoming titles several months before their release. You can submit bug reports, give suggestions, request changes,... It's a big responsibility but if you take it on heart, it can be pretty gratifying. Resistance 2, Uncharted 2, MAG, Socom, Home, LittleBigPlanet,... Sony trust their community and that's good to see.
- Rechargeable batteries: With Xbox 360 and Wii, controllers are provided with electrical batteries, which means once the batteries are low, you have to change them. Usually you buy the cheapest ones but they are also the ones that last the least, and this until you realize you must buy rechargeable batteries. While on PS3, rechargeable batteries are directly included in the controller, once the Sixaxis or Dualshock 3 is K.O., you plug it in any USB slot and it will recharges. No cost, no pollution, no pain.
I will probably write an article about what Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony did wrong, so stay tuned.