Note: The author of this article is in no way a market analyst or professional, and has no inside knowledge on specifics of any next generation console. This article is purely speculation.
“Console Wars” have been around for a long time now. People tend to want the company that makes the console they play to succeed and surpass other consoles in sales and popularity, so that they can continue to get great content on the console of their preference.
The Nintendo Wii U is not selling incredibly well right now. Although it got a year’s head start, Microsoft’s Xbox One has almost caught up in terms of sales and Sony’s PS4 has far surpassed it. While current sales don’t necessarily reflect lifetime sales, it’s very likely that the Wii U will not wind up on top of current generation console sales. Hit the jump to read why I think the next generation will play out very differently.
Let’s start by looking at the GameCube. It launched along side the Xbox and PlayStation 2. The PlayStation 2 dominated the generation and is still the best selling console to date, while the GameCube and Xbox trailed behind, each selling about 25% of what the PS2 managed. Many thought that after the huge “failure” of the GameCube, (On a side note, the GameCube is now highly regarded and gems like Super Smash Bros. Melee, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Luigi’s Mansion, and Super Mario Sunshine are practically worshiped) Nintendo would step out of the console business. Nintendo went on to produce the most commercially successful console for the following generation with the Wii.
Sales of the Wii started out strong even though it was the least powerful console of the generation (as was the PS2 of the previous). It was successful because it innovated and appealed to a previously untouched market. Families wanted a console that they could put in their living room and enjoy together. They didn’t want to play a complicated RPG or expose their families to the grotesque nature of modern shooters. These are now referred to as casual gamers. Nintendo struck gold with a console that appealed to the market.
Towards the end of last generation, the game market changed. Casual gamers left their Wii to collect dust and migrated to the growing smartphone medium. The Xbox 360 and PS3 picked up pace. First Person Shooters became the most popular genre. Gamers of all ages were looking for a way to play online with their friends. Graphical capability and raw power became much more important. By the time the Wii U came along, the market had been converted entirely and this was the most sought after experience.
I believe this is why the Wii U is selling at mediocre levels. It wasn’t what the market really wanted at the time. However, markets change rapidly. With the recent release of Mario Kart 8 and Nintendo’s digital event at E3, the Wii U is getting a lot of attention. It’s not going to be enough to catch it up to the PS4, but I predict a fairly drastic increase in sales in the coming months and years.
Because of this new interest, I foresee another change in the market. I think gamers are getting tired of an endless stream of brown/gray first person shooters. As fun as they are, the market can only support so many before it wants something different. While virtually every genre will continue to have it’s fanbase and is supported with great games, the mass market will shift away from entire FPS dominance.
Gaming has evolved an enormous amount in the past fourty years. In only 35 years, less than half a life-span, we’ve gone from Pong to Crysis. Every generation of consoles has brought huge increases in power, graphical capabilities, and new innovative ways to play. However, the dramatic increase has not been steady. Each generation has seen less improvement than the last. Think about the difference between the SNES and N64. Now think of the difference between PS3 and PS4. Hardware and software will continue to improve, as it always has. However, it’s not going to be improving by much. The gap will become less and less significant as we reach the peak of gaming capabilities.
Raw power and the most realistic graphics will no longer cut it. What’s the point in spending $500 on a new console that offers little but graphical improvement not even noticeable to the naked eye? While we haven’t reached this point yet, I believe we’ll be all but there by the next generation. Innovative ways to play will be crucial to console sales. That’s where Nintendo comes in. For the past two generations, Nintendo has lagged behind in console power and graphical capability. The gap is closing, however. By next generation, the underpowered nature of Nintendo’s console will be so insignificant that it won’t affect console sales. People will realize that innovative ways to play (think off-tv play, motion controls, asymmetrical gameplay) and fun games are more important than minor unseen improvements of hardware.
To conclude, if Nintendo can close the gap of power and continue to provide innovative ways to play and superior IPs, they should have no trouble completely crushing all competition with combined console and handheld next-gen sales. In fact, I doubt they’ll even be market support for 3 major consoles by the time the next generation roles around.