Integration is the big buzz word lately. We got all this cool stuff, like smartphones, tablets, laptops, TVs, game consoles, etc. But juggling so many operating systems, software, and content stores is a bit arduous, so people have been looking for ways to get them to work together. Apple beat everyone to the punch with the various features of iOS and AirPlay, but the benefit of Apple’s “walled garden” has always been tight integration. If AppleTV has iOS on it, it could easily be considered a game console on it’s own.
But that’s another discussion. Today, the big three in the console wars discussed their plans for the next year, and the big word is integration. Ironically enough, they divide along familiar lines. Nintendo’s got hardware-based integration. Microsoft’s focusing on promising but fuzzy software with conceptual-integration. And of course Sony’s trying (unconvincingly) to prove that they can do both better than anyone else.
As I said, Nintendo’s approach is hardware integration. Nintendo makes games and consoles, so this makes sense. Unlike Apple and Sony, they don’t have their own tablets or smartphones or software to integrate. Well, until now. The Wii U is a console that comes with tablet/controller hybrid. The Wii U Game Pad is a touchscreen controller that promises to be a second screen for your Wii. It’s image evokes tear jerking memories of the Sega Dreamcast that was so ahead of it’s time.
But anyway, about that integration. The new features announced today include NFC support to connect with your Skylander’s figurines and credit card (parents should live in fear), infrared connection to control your television, integration with the Nintendo 3DS, as well as a new “Miiverse” that finally proves that Nintendo knows that the internet actually exists. All of this, astute readers will notice, is very hardware based. You need the Wii U, you need the Game Pad(included with the Wii U), and you need a 3DS to get the full benefit. They did kinda sorta mention that there will probably maybe be some sort of smartphone/tablet apps that do something with the Wii U. But obviously that’s an oversight because it’s not their stuff.
Just like in the last generation, Nintendo is first the park with an innovative new way of gaming. Tablet + Console. Ironically enough, Sony should have been first, but it appears they’re still working on it, but more on that later. Last time, it was the original Wii with the motion controller that ended up getting Sony to copy it and Microsoft to try to reinvent it.
Inevitably the biggest downfall of this new console will be the games. Can Nintendo land the exclusives to get itself back on track as a relevant (read: not Disney) gaming company? Or will we see more Mario, Zelda, Soccer Mom, and kiddy games that make it the laughing stock of the gaming industry? Yes that was harsh, but damn it they need to get their act together.
Not to be upstaged by the Wii U, Microsoft’s SmartGlass is simultaneously their answer to the Wii U as well as Apple’s AirPlay. SmartGlass is their platform that allows users to move content from their PC, smartphone or tablet to the TV via the XBox. The level of integration possible is a bit fuzzy, but that’s typical Microsoft fashion. We do know that movies, music and website will be movable easily. We also know that Windows 8 and Windows Phone will be preferred platforms, but Android and iOS functionality should be supported too (although I would imagine it will be limited).
What we have here is a typical Microsoft conceptual show that offers promise but leaves users wondering how well it will work, and how much support it will get. The Kinect was a great concept that promised to revolutionize gaming as we knew it, but it inevitably fell short because of the lack of meaningful game support. Yes there are dance games, sports games, WiiFit clones, etc., but there is still no exciting hardcore (read: Xbox’s main user base) based game that utilizes the technology. SmartGlass fits in the same corner.
While throwing stuff from various devices to the TV is pretty cool and a well sought after feature, the biggest question is how it will affect gaming. Will SmartGlass allow “second screen” -like gaming functionality with smartphones, tablets, and PCs like the Wii U? If so, then SmartGlass really will be the King of integration this round. However, if it receives lackluster support and/or is riddled with problems and fine print, then it will fail.
However, it’s exciting to see Microsoft flex it’s software muscles and try to leverage their massive Windows and XBox user base in a positive way. And if they manage to nail down gaming integration as well as content integration, then there will be a major selling point in getting existing Xbox or Windows users into a Windows smartphone or tablet.
I’m excited to see what happens, but I’m also ready for the inevitable disappointment.
Sony: Well I don’t really have much to show here because Sony was doing what it normally does. Promise. After the buzz of Microsoft’s software-based SmartGlass and Nintendo’s hardware-based Wii U, we kind of wondered what Sony would do. I figured they’d do exactly what they did last time and try to copy everyone else in a lackluster fashion. Ironically enough, that’s exactly what they did do.
The most obvious example of this was Sony’s new exclusive, “Playstation All Stars Battle Royale.” If that name kind of rings a bell, it should. It’s a blatant Sony-based rip off of Super Smash Bros. They also released a whole bunch of new laptops, which is cool, I guess. They talked about their partnership with HTC to bring their as-of-yet-still-unreleased Playstation store on Android, which is sort of integration if you consider being able to buy the same games you can play on a console integration. They announced a whole crap ton of games, and well – here’s the rest of the announcement if you want to watch it.
But either way, it’s clear that Sony didn’t really have much to announce other than to just say “Oh hey, we actually have a couple more games now for the Vita, which hasn’t sold at all, and some more sequals to existing IPs.” Now, I will be fair. They did talk about integration. But it was to say that you will be able to use the Vita as a controller for the PS3 for some games. Today, those games include Little Big Planet 2 and Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Well that’s cool I guess, except it sounds a lot like the Wii U.
However, it’s not a fair comparison. The Wii U Game Pad will be integral to the entire platform. Games will use that controller exclusively. Integration is tight because it the console comes with it and uses it primarily. Sony is just tacking on this functionality, that personally, should have already been there. Sony has been advertising the heck out of cross platform play with the Vita, but there are very little (and realistically no) ways that the feature has been used. Just like the Move was better, hardware wise, than the Wiimote, it received so little game support that it became a pointless peripheral. Now the Vita has become a copy of Nintendo and Microsoft’s “second screen” concept, except that it will most likely not be supported and also become a useless feature.
Oh and Sony also said something about Android apps that aren’t stores and may do something with games that allow you to talk or see stats or something. Obviously another feature that Sony will probably delay and will inevitably become unimportant. At least Sony concentrated on the games instead of offering nothing but empty promises.
Oh yea, and there’s also this thing.
The State of Console Gaming
The big three are now done with their big announcements and it’s safe to say that Nintendo and Microsoft are still going be just as innovative and successful as usual. They both are playing on their strong suits and it will be interesting to see if these strategies are executed well. Sony, on the other hand, is still being Sony. Once again, they are going to try to trivialize great hardware with terrible support, try a half-assed attempt at copying Nintendo, and ignore that Microsoft is very quickly destroying them. Yes I’m being harsh on Sony, but maybe it’s because I’ve been such a dedicated fan for so long. But honestly, I hope that Microsoft’s impressive integration works well, because I may end up having to jump ship for their impressive platform, as long as they don’t screw it up. As for Nintendo, I’ll probably sit this one out, since I still haven’t felt like wiping the dust of my Wii lately. Sony already has the platform and all the pieces, but they just need to get their act together and force game manufacturers to stop exclusively building for Xbox.
But unfortuantely, I can just imagine that this year will go a lot like the last few years. Nintendo sells well at first until people stop caring. Xbox will dominate gaming but lack the desire to execute their best strategies. Sony will continue to decline and offer top notch stuff with terrible execution.