So the launch of the Xbox 360 has finally been, and all the units have gone. But does selling 50,000-odd consoles to a mix of canny eBay sellers and rabid gamers who will buy any new machine the day it comes out really constitute success? The lukewarm response by games reviewers says not. So Microsoft needs to build hard for 2006 when the real battle against the PS3 hits. But the battle this time isn't just about who has the most pixels or the best games, but who has the right disc. Both Sony and Microsoft have bet everything, not on their consoles, but on the way they deliver games.
Microsoft's Xbox 360 features a standard DVD drive. Sony's PS3 has a much fancier Blu-Ray drive in it. The two approaches are at opposite end of the technological spectrum.
Microsoft's approach is to use the existing, and cheap, DVD format. Everyone knows it, it's produced in mass market quantities, and it holds 9 GB. Most games for existing consoles like the PS2 and Xbox don't even fill up one DVD. Microsoft is betting that game makers won't be using that much more for the shiny new graphics on next-generation consoles. Meanwhile, Bill Gates has hinted he thinks DVD could be the last disc storage format. The Xbox 360 Live Marketplace already features game trailers and additional levels for games. Clearly Microsoft is set on a system like Valve Software's Steam. They put the games on Xbox Live, you download them.
But Microsoft has some fairly serious obstacles to overcome if it follows the download route. Retail and traditional game distribution's wariness of game downloads at the expense of the high street is likely to be a major stumbling block. Secondly, there are already rumours of Xbox 360 games in development that take up four DVDs. Four? Gamers, a largely sofa-bound demographic, will loathe getting up that often to change discs.
Thirdly, the hard drive that ships with the Xbox 360 is 20 GB. Or half the size of that four-DVD game. So how will the hard drive have the capacity to store downloaded games (and for that matter, how long will it take you to download before you can play)? Finally, what about people who want to use their machines to play movies? The "HD Era" that Microsoft trumpeted when hyping the Xbox 360 extends to the new High-Definition Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs that maximise movie visual potential. Gamers like movies. So will Microsoft, as they have hinted they will do if necessary, provide an add-on HD-DVD kit? If so, that's a lot of expense. And it will make their brand-new console look distinctly under-featured in comparion to Sony's PS3.
Sony, on the other hand, in embracing Blu-Ray, have their own problems. The discs have up to 50GB capacity already. But are looking like they'll be fearsomely expensive and complex to manufacture. That means pricier games, or fewer niche or quirky games and a format that may not win a format war with the cheaper HD-DVD.
If consumers don't opt for Blu-Ray, Sony is in real trouble. In effect, its console is a Trojan horse, like Microsoft's. Microsoft want an Xbox 360 in your living room, talking to the PC in your office. Sony, on the other hand, want a PS3 so that Blu-Ray is a success. Without PS3, without Blu-Ray, Sony looks like a very weak, financially ailing company past its innovative best.
Both companies have a lot at stake beyond the next console battle. They're both betting everything in the disc wars. Nintendo Revolution has "another secret" In-house games genius, Shigeru Miyamato, has hinted that Nintendo has one more secret to reveal regarding its next console, codename "Revolution". Miyamoto has already revealed two of the big secrets of the Revolution. That it will be able to play games from every Nintendo generation of hardware ever. It will load GameCube discs directly, but for the long line of hardware stretching back to the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, Nintendo will offer a broadband download service. Miyamoto has also revealed the Revolution's wand-pointing control system. It can sense if you wave the controller left, right, up and down, but also if you pitch it, roll it, or move it towards, or away from the screen. So what could Nintendo's last secret be? The two most likely contenders of the Internet rumours are (yes, we did say "most likely") a giant holographic display screen that lets you see games in 3D, or the controller also being able to deliver inertia effects - so moving it left or right might require effort. Unlikely, but in third place is the secret that, yes, the Revolution will be underpowered in terms of graphics and processing, in comparison to its two rivals.
40,000 Xbox 360s sold on eBay Next-Gen.biz and Dow Jones are reporting that over a tenth of the US Xbox 360 launch allocation has been sold through eBay already. There is talk of entire stores selling their day one quota over the auction mega-site to get a better price for their consoles than simply handing them over to punters.
The units were being sold new for from $299, while most eBay sales clocked over $800. It's simple math, as the average eBayer might put it.
Mobile and TV games up by 2010, PC games down According to Informa's analysts, the games industry will be worth over £30bn
by 2007. Console gaming will still make up the majority of that money. But there's an abrupt reversal coming for the rest of the pie. Mobile and
interactive TV gaming is set to be generating most of the rest of the money, with PC gaming heading in the opposite direction. By 2010, the analysts predict, PC gaming sales will account for half the revenue it did in 2001.
PCs are out, consoles and mobiles are in. Does this mean the mass market really is taking over? That the geeks are gone for good? If so, how come most of the games produced still reflect their sensibilities?