At this very moment, I am looking at a paused Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess game while an Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 are perched alongside the Wii collecting dust. Does that mean the 360 and Playstation 3 are inferior to the Wii or provide a less gratifying experience? No way. But what it does mean is that Sony and Microsoft underestimated Nintendo as well as the consumer base they try so hard to impress. The Wii's success may not have been a surprise to Nintendo fanboys out there, but it becomes more apparent that the Wii's success certainly surprised Sony and Microsoft.
In a recent release by NPD -- the definitive source on sales figures for gaming consoles -- it was revealed that Nintendo has officially taken the gaming industry by storm and nearly tripled the sales figures of its competitors during the month of May. According to NPD, the Wii sold 338,000 consoles, while Microsoft sold 154,900 units and Sony laid out an abysmal 81,600 units.
In one short year, the tides have officially turned and the company that most people were speculating to be another software convert is officially the hardware leader.
And while this may come as a surprise to some, it was as if Nintendo knew what was going to happen all along. The company basically held off on any major releases for the Gamecube (remember the poor excuse given for the Zelda delay?) and kept telling everyone to "wait and see." And while Nintendo was holding off the masses, Microsoft continued promoting their console as the best alternative to the PS3 with nary a mention of the imposing shadow Nintendo was soon to cast. Even worse, Sony kept on telling the press that the PS3 is the "real" next-gen platform that would include all of the fixings we would expect from this day and age. So while Microsoft and Sony competed against each other assuming whatever Nintendo had up its sleeve would be made for young kids, the Mario camp kept their secrets to themselves and unleashed a device that, while technologically inferior, changed the way people play their video games today, and will expect to play them in the future.
In a recent interview, Howard Stringer of Sony finally admitted that the Wii "has been a very good business model compared [to Sony's]." But during that interview, he never made mention of the truth; namely that Sony was taken by surprise and rested on their laurels. The company expected its predecessors (the PS1 and PS2) to be enough to warrant a PS3 purchase. They were wrong.
In various discussions with Sony, the company explained that it will unveil a significant price reduction by Christmas to appeal to the consumers who want to buy just one console and decide on the cheaper versions. But perhaps the most repeated statement by Sony employees is this idea of "just wait and see how many great third-party games will be coming out in the summer and around Christmas."
To be honest, the company sounds desperate. True, there will be a number of great games coming out this year, but will it be enough to warrant the purchase of a $600 machine? Lest we forget, games for both the Xbox 360 and the PS3 go for $60, so that $600 investment quickly becomes an $800 investment if you want the newest Final Fantasy, Killzone and Metal Gear Solid. And let's be honest with ourselves, besides Killzone, does anyone really believe those other two games won't be on the Xbox 360 within the year if the PS3 continues to sell the way it is?
The Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 are great consoles that, believe it or not, I play on a somewhat regular basis. The video game industry lives and dies on competition and unfortunately, competition is quickly diminishing with EA's never ending pursuit of software domination. The Wii concept is good for the industry -- it keeps it fresh and appealing to more consumers than ever. But what the industry needs now is a resurgence from Microsoft and Sony. Once both companies realize that their competition is not only each other, but Nintendo as well, innovation will quickly become paramount and the video game industry might finally get past the days of porting and move into a new era of gaming: fun, consumer-centered enjoyment.