What Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony did wrong
Following my article on what Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony did right, now It's time to list mistakes, and preferably huge mistakes, that made the big ones in this generation of console. This time, I wont manage to get the same number of mistakes, as some made more errors than others. I shall recall to my readers that I have no bias. I don't care who's winning and who is losing the fight, I own all three consoles (all five if you include DS and PSP. Check my Playfire profile to see all the consoles I own) and enjoy them without preference. So don't take those lists as hatred toward a manufacturer but more like a "to fix to be perfect" list .
- Lack of first and second party studios: an article has recently been submitted on N4G about that and this is very true. For some reason, when Microsoft acquired a studio, they closed it no matter their quality or their potential value. While Sony can count on Sony Liverpool (Wipeout, Formula One), Sony Santa Monica (God of War), Naughty Dogs (Jak & Daxter, Uncharted), Team Ico (Shadow of the Colossus, The Last Guardian), Incognito (Twisted Metal, Warhawk), Polyphony Digital (Gran Turismo), Insomniac Games (Resistance, Ratchet & Clank), etc... what do have Microsoft? They had Ensemble Studios (Age of Empires, Halo Wars), they closed it. They bought Lionhead and Rare, and if the first one did good performances with Fable 2, the second one disappointed. They also own Mistwalker, that created Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey. They have Turn 10 which suffers of a loud mouth reputation, that's not much. What are the upcoming first party games? Halo Reach, Fable 3... I'm not even able to say if there's more. More first party studios means more exclusives, and so far first party exclusive games fall a bit short.
- Wasting money, too much money: Microsoft has a reputation of being greedy and unfair with the concurrence, and that's not new. In the gaming industry, this reputation has been reinforced with money lost a bit everywhere. $50 millions were spent for GTA IV downloadable contents, and disregard their quality, $50 millions is pretty huge. Just as a comparison, Killzone 2 required $40 millions for its development, Uncharted 2 as well. And Microsoft spent the budget of a huge blockbuster for two DLCs. Did they manage to make profits on it? No one knows. No doubt either for Metal Gear Solid : Rising and Final Fantasy XIII on Xbox 360 having their origin on Microsoft's paycheck. Because of the 360 failure rate, Microsoft extended the warranty of the console to 3 years, which costs them $1 billion. They focused too much on stealing Playstation exclusives or copying them instead of developing non-Halo major titles.
- Their arrogance regarding the concurrence: Another point that taint their reputation. If you hear them, they are the current leader of this generation, the Xbox 360 is the only console everyone needs to play and they are always better than PS3. Even on the numbers, everything is blurry. Are those shipped or sold units numbers? What do they consider as Europe? Are South Africa and Australia parts of Europe? How could be Microsoft conferences if Sony never existed? What can perfectly illustrate this arrogance is the Forza 3 case, where Turn 10 kept trolling about GT5, when a Microsoft employee has been spotted on NeoGaf and warned by a moderator, or when the Cnet poll where Turn 10 cheated in order to have better numbers than GT5, etc... Humility doesn't seem to exist around there.
- The failure rate case: If you're a gamer, you automatically must have heard about the Red Ring of Death, the infamous 3 red LEDs that signal the console death. According to many reports, the 360 failure rate is far superior than the industry standard. Some say it's around 34%, some others slate it's 54%, others even claim it's more than 60%. But we can't really know, because following this high failure rate, Microsoft decided to directly take in charge the reparations. Usually, when your console breaks down, you go to your retailer and they send the console to a reparation center, but with Microsoft you directly contact them and they take it from your home. Yes, it's very effective, but they can easily hide the numbers with such method. And even when they claimed all was resolved in new versions of the console, it appears the problem was still there. A real plague for the industry and a persistent fear for the gamers.
- Japan? What is that?: USA is the biggest market in the gaming industry, followed by Europe. But with Microsoft, that's where the world ends. Yes, the Japanese market is now smaller than the UK market, so why should it matter? When you see the sales of Pokémon, Monster Hunter, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Mario games, you know the Japanese market is not dead, even if their tastes are very special. But disregard pantsu games and a very low price, the Xbox 360 doesn't sell in Japan. And it seems Microsoft no longer care.
- You will pay for what is free: No, I'm not talking about the Xbox Live monthly fee, even if I could. I don't like paying a monthly fee but can we say it was a mistake, considering how many people don't care about paying what they could have for free? No, it's more about the free content, or should I say the content that should be free but that is not. Gamerpics for example, you pay for a 50x50 pixels avatar on your Gamercard. Yes, 50 MS points is maybe a ridiculous cost, but why not making it free then? The same goes for themes. How many free themes do you have on Xbox 360? Less than a dozen. But the worst goes for content that developers wanted free and Microsoft made it pay. The Left 4 Dead DLC for example is free on PC, but it's 560 MS points ($7) on Xbox 360. While developers wanted the Braid theme to be free, Microsoft decided to set it at 250 MS points ($3.12). It's free but you can pay for it, so why making it free after all?
- A kit console: One of the biggest flaw of the Xbox 360, if we exclude its reliability, is the fact that many component are optional, and you have to pay for them. You don't have rechargeable battery inside your controller, you have to pay $100 dollars in order to bring WiFi to your console, Microsoft brought a HD-DVD player to 360 which is now useless for everyone who bought it... And this without counting the monthly fee for the Xbox Live. The good news is if you were rich enough to get a Xbox 360 Elite or Pro, you had a AV-HD cable and a cheap microphone.
- The Xbox 360 controller: This is a hot subject but I assume my opinion. Yes, in my previous article, I said Microsoft did a great thing with the triggers, but that's the only thing I find good with the 360 controller. Let's say it, its design is absolutely not ergonomic. When handling it, your fingers stumble on the battery and the triggers protections. The analog sticks are not symmetrically placed, the controller is heavy, the central Xbox button is easy to pin down and the D-pad is absolutely awful. Yes, we still enjoy playing our games, but it certainly should have been redesigned since a while.
- Forgetting about hardcore gamers: Nintendo widely opened the doors to casual gaming, but the doors are so much open they forgot the essential: hardcore gamers. This is a very sensible subject, as when you say "There's no hardcore game on Wii" you will be flooded with the same list all over again: MadWorld, Okami, Resident Evil 4, No More Heroes, Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare Reflex... So yes, the Wii has hardcore games, but not enough. During E3 2009, Nintendo announced only 3 hardcore games for Wii: New Super Mario Bros, Mario Galaxy 2 and Metroid Other M. All the rest was casual or for DS. In my shop, on 150 Wii games available, Wii counts 53 hardcore-oriented games (I had to include Guitar Hero-like and movie adaptations, disregard their poor quality), all the rest is casual and shovelware. And from those 53 titles, not even 20 are based on quality IPs.
- HD is not Wii: Nintendo probably didn't expected HD TVs would be popular (try to find a cathodic TV in shops, now...) and wanted to be marginal. As a result, Wii games, disregard Wii being theoretically more powerful than a Gamecube, are plagued with a large amount of aliasing and many games are cropped due to their non-support of 16/9e TVs. Displaying a 480p signal on a 40" screen is maybe not the best idea, but so far Nintendo didn't do anything regarding players complains. When asked about a possibility for a Wii HD, Nintendo answers "HD is not the path Wii will take". They are probably thinking beyond HD, maybe 3D, but nothing about HD itself. Will there be an HD accessory on Wii or will we have to wait the next generation of console to see what will provide Nintendo? We don't know.
- AV cable for YUV output: The first time you switch on your console, you will notice the screen is blurry with random parasites. You ask to the support services and they say "It's because you don't have the proper cable, you need a YUV cable in order to have a clean display". Then why giving a poor AV cable if Wii don't support AV signal?
- Kit console and kit games: Just like the Xbox 360, the Wii is not complete. Yes, it has integrated WiFi, but did you know it doesn't have an Ethernet slot? Who had the great idea to insert WiFi but not Ethernet in the Wii, seriously? As well as Xbox 360 controller, the Wiimote doesn't have an integrated rechargeable battery, and Nintendo released months ago the Wii Motion Plus. "Plus", because it's "plus better". Did they make on purpose to downgrade the Wiimote precision in order to force gamers to buy the $20 extension? The same goes for Wii Sport Resort or Wii Fit Plus. Couldn't they insert those additional contents inside the previous games? Or is it to force players to buy the same game with some additional stuff?
- Overprotecting their audience: Every time you start the console or launch a game, you have tons of protection advises in order to play properly. Don't play in the dark, be sure you tied the strap, make a 15 minutes pause every hour, etc... Even in menus you feel observed. It reminds me Windows Vista. "What is your choice?" "Are you sure to make that choice?" "You choose that, do you really want to do it?" "It's the last time we ask you that, are you sure to do that?" "Did you answer YES to the previous question?". The same goes for online interactions, which are very limited. In Mario Kart, you can only send preregistered messages to other players, such as "Let's go!" "That was a sweet game!" "Ha ha!". Very few games are compatible to Wii Speak, the official microphone for Wii, and even there you feel like every player that bought a Wii Speak is a potential pedophile.
- New IP? What is that?: When you take a look at upcoming first party titles, you have: Mario games, Wario games, Metroid games, Kirby games, Zelda games, Pokémon games. And when there are ZOMFGWTFBBQ rumors about a new Nintendo project, it's a remake of a previous Nintendo franchise, such as Punch-Out, Animal Crossing, Kid Icarus or Pikmin. The only new IPs Nintendo created are casual-oriented. No new hero, no new story. Why Nintendo can't start a new mature series, for example? Why staying in the pink and innocent marshmallow? How many times Princess Peach will be kidnapped by Bowser until Mario dies?
- Lack of third party support: If you take a look at current hottest games on N4G, you will see that only two games of that list are on Wii: New Super Mario Bros and Call of Duty Modern Warfare Reflex. Yes, Wii may be the most sold console of this generation, it's still a media minority. Most of video games announcements are related to Xbox 360 and PS3, they may not be leaders but they remain the stars. A potential reason of this lack of interest is concerning the sales. Okami sold less than 300k, Prince of Persia Rival Swords 250k, MadWorld sold around 350k, No More Heroes sold less than 500k and let's not even talk about Dead Space Extraction. Very few hardcore third party games actually reached the million milestone, while Mario games or casual stuff sell like hot cakes. Are developers unconfident about Nintendo Wii or do they consider the console as a casual-only gaming console?
- Not being conscious of the popularity of DLC: Halo Wars made many waves on the Web, firstly because it's a Halo game (there are Halo fanboys everywhere, as well as Lord of the Ring, Star Wars, Twilight or Harry Potter fanboys. Never say you don't like any of those, otherwise you will be killed in your sleep) but also because it was originally planned as a DLC, then it has been transformed as a retail game. And disregard that scam, more than 2 millions players bought it in the first week. To be honest, in my opinion DLC is more a plague than a benefit. You pay for something that is already in the disc (Resident Evil 5, Street Fighter IV) or should have been in it (Tomb Raider Underworld, every Guitar Hero games). But on another side, DLC is a way for developers to get extra bonus, sometimes for something they already developed. I don't know the figures about DLC, but I can predict at least 20% of a game owners buy its DLC, which represent a whole side market. Many games on Xbox 360 and PS3 provide or will provide DLC, and so far it appears that Nintendo has been totally blind to such extra cash. Is that because of the Wii's technical limits, because they don't want to be too greedy or because they prefer release extension games a year later like Wii Fit Plus?
- The 2007 overconfidence: 2007 saw the release of PS3 worldwide (end-2006 in USA and Japan, early-2007 in EUrope). This year was certainly where Sony made the biggest mistakes. The following points concern that tragic era.
- Counting too much on their brand name: In the end of 2006, PS2 sold around 110 millions units. A major success for Sony and they were hoping Playstation 2 owners would automatically switch to Playstation 3. Big mistake. At its release, the PS3 made very disappointing sales. In France, Microsoft even showed themselves on a Xbox 360 boat on the Seine, proud of them and almost screaming "Please spank us, Sony!". The main reason for such flop was simple: Xbox 360 released a year earlier, so Microsoft had an advantage on the market share, and the prohibitive price of the console.
- The Sixaxis: After Nintendo revealed the revolutionary Revolution console, later called the Wii, Sony was a bit out of the game with the Sixaxis. Yes, the controller has a motion sensor, and many people considered Sony blatantly tried to copy Nintendo's motion controls. It may be right or wrong, the result is still the same, the Sixaxis motion sensing is useless. Sony encouraged developers to use it in their games, resulting sometimes big failures: driving with the Sixaxis in Motorstorm, controlling arrows and discs in Heavenly Sword, keeping the equilibrium in Uncharted, controlling a bunch of petals in flOwer, riding your dragon in Lair, activate cranks in Killzone 2, capturing creatures in Folklore,... Obviously, developers don't care much about the Sixaxis motion sensing, neither do the gamers. Do you really enjoy playing with the Sixaxis? Let me doubt about it. Another mistake Sony made about it is the lack of rumbles. Rumors slated Sony were sued over their rumbles for copyright infringement, and players had to wait a while before benefiting of DualShock 3.
- An excessive price: The Playstation 3 started at $600. It's very expensive, wherever you live. In France and probably in many other countries or states, the minimum monthly wage is around $1,000, so spending more than a half of it for a gaming console is something many people can't afford. Quickly, PS3 was branded as a console for rich people,an elitist piece of technology. HD TVs were still expensive and we though the PS3 would be only for technology nerds, the kind of guys that can spend $3,000 on a sound system. A year later, its price dropped but the console kept remaining the most expensive console of this generation. Gamers had to wait September 2009 to see the release of a redesign version of the console, available for $299. Three long years to see the PS3 being truly competitive.
- Their marketing campaign: Sony ad campaigns always have been somehow weird or metaphoric. It delivered some great ads but I doubt it resulted any success in terms of sales. And PS3 didn't change anything. The problem is while PS2 sold well and Sony could afford bizarre ads, PS3 struggled and ads certainly didn't help. Just take a look at the European "This is living" or the Japanese "11 11" campaigns and you'll know what I'm talking about. And during 3 years, Sony's presence on TVs or in marketing events such as Super Bowl was quite inexistent. While Microsoft and Nintendo spammed the world with simple attractive gamer-oriented ads, Sony continued to be absent or to show something too weird to be understandable. Since the release of PS3 slim, they drastically changed and it can only be good, as long as they don't forget to keep spamming those ads as well. Grow some guts, Sony, and go ahead !
- Important features developed too late: Sony are constantly developing features for PS3 and PSP, thanks to the upgradable firmware, nothing is "forever gone". However, gamers are still waiting for key features Xbox 360 has since launch, such as cross-game chat, invitations and universal music player for custom soundtracks. Sony know how much such features are popular, how much gamers want them. Every time on the official blogs there is an opportunity to talk about firmware updates, there are dozens persons asking, almost spamming, to have those features. I am conscious developing requires time and resources, but while everyone screams for cross-game chat or universal music player, firmware updates only provide photo slideshow that no one use (seriously, who used it more than once?), ugly grey boxes around our nickname, screenshot system that no game use, RSS on PSP or limited Facebook integration. Remember that we had to wait more than a year in order to see our first trophies while achievements existed since the Xbox 360 release in 2005. I know copying our comrades is not good, but couldn't Sony check what ideas they could pick from Microsoft, just like Microsoft do with Apple since years? However, there is one feature we may never see. Microsoft patented their concept of music player, and as Sony's in-game music system is a failure, I'm afraid we will never see such feature on PS3.
- Lack of confidence regarding third party developers: Sony did the exact contrary of Microsoft: while MS put too much effort to steel third party exclusives to Sony, such as Tekken 6, Final Fantasy XIII or Metal Gear Solid, and forgot about their first party games, Sony focused too much on first party developers and didn't feed third party developers. As a result, we have many showcase games developed by first party developers, but not much third party involvement. The most obvious example is about the PS3 wand and Natal. While Microsoft announced the support of Activision, Bethesda, Disney, EA, Konami, MTV Games, Namco, Sega, Square Enix, THQ and Ubisoft, only EA, Konami, Ubisoft and Capcom directly slated they were working on Sony's motion controller. Does that mean Sony hide some surprises for E3 2010, or are they doing the same mistake all over again, counting too much on first party showcase games and not enough on third party developers? Only time will say.
- Europe? What is that? : I'm French, so I'm an European gamer. And to be honest, it's not good to be an European gamer, even worse to be Australian, but I'm not Australian so I can't say. First, because games are more expensive in non-UK Europe than in USA or Japan. A game in USA usually costs $60 while the same game in Europe costs 70 euros. Even if we consider $1 = 1 euro, we're still scammed by 10 euros. It's not much for one game, but for every game you buy... I currently have 22 PS3 games, which means I paid an extra of 220 euros compared to the USA prices. Now I'm way more involved in import, but imagine how many players don't know anything about import and buy directly their games in stores. However, those pricing problems don't only affect PS3 as Xbox 360 has the same problems. We in Europe had to wait more than two years in order to benefit an official European Playstation Blog, and its existence is more due to European gamers complains than SCEE's initiative.
Take a look at PSone classics. In the US Playstation Store, there are Blood Omen, Bloody Roar, Castlevania Chronicles, Castlevania Symphony of the Night, Dino Crisis, Final Fantasy Tactics, Soul Reaver, King of Fighters '99, Oddworld 1 & 2, R-types, R-types Delta, Rayman 2, Resident Evil 1, 2 & 3, Suikoden, Syphon Filter 2, Tekken 2, Twisted Metal 2, Tomb Raider 1, 2, 3 & 4, Wild Arms 1 & 2,... And you know what? NONE of those games are on the European PSstore. And don't tell me "It's because it's hard to translate, the games are locked to QA blablabla". Some games I listed are on the US Store since more than a year, don't tell me it takes two years to translate a paragrapher in six languages for Castlevania SOTN, for example. I'm conscious translation is not the only problem, but it doesn't seem SCEE want to make any effort to provide a glimpse of quality. Europe still doesn't have a Demos section in the Store, we had to wait 2 years to get PSN cards, Dualshock 3 are only available in black, we still have no release date for games like Demon's Souls, White Knight Chronicles, BlazBlue, God of War Collection, Afrika, etc... There is so much to say about the European service I could write an article only on that.
- Focusing on copying Wii instead of developing their own concept: If you read me, I think you all know that E3 2010 will be a major turning point in this generation of consoles, as both Microsoft and Sony will reveal much more about their motion controller technology. Last year, Microsoft unveiled the non-controller concept Natal and Sony revealed the non-named concept wand. Obviously, Sony want to make PS3 as much attractive as Wii, while Microsoft want to say "We do better than Wii, we have no controller !". It can be a good thing, excepted that Sony didn't say anything about a potential Nunchuk-like for their wand. On Wii, games that require to move a character must be played with the Wiimote and the Nunchuk, which offers a simple analog stick. But not Sony, and here, I wonder how games like Resident Evil 5 will be playable if we can't move our character. But the point of this part is not so much the lack of Nunchuk but the lack of originality of their wand, especially considering Sony had in stock a patent of a hardware that could truly transform the gaming industry.
Instead of a wand, Sony though about a motion controller glove. And this would have been really epic. Our hands is the most marvelous tool the Nature gave us. Nothing can be as sharp and accurate as a hand. To be able to manipulate rendered objects directly with our hands, with the precision of that wonderful tool can open a new way of gaming. In FPS, your index will directly pull the trigger, it can be even more immersive in racing games, especially for bikes, and it can enhance the RTS experience. Imagine a non-Lionhead Black & White with those gloves. And it can be even more interesting if it was combined with the upcoming 3D technology. You probably would be able to see an object in 3D and manipulate it with the gloves. The possibilities are monstrous, but so far, Sony just copied the Wiimote for Wiimote games, excluding any use of Nunchuk-like controller. What a sad decision (unless this wand is a fake in order to fool Microsoft and Sony will reveal their gloves + 3D technology at E3 2010, but it smells more like an utopia than a fact).
[ Here is the end of this article. As you can see, there is still much to do until each manufacturer becomes irreproachable. Some things are irremediable, others still can be fixed. Next E3 may be consequent for the gaming industry, and if Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony don't fix their respective problems, they can still manage to be forgiven by the gamers if they each provide the quality everyone is expecting. ]