Rest in pieces.
Nintendo is releasing the Wii Mini in time for the American Holiday Season. At the same time, the XBox 360 and PlayStation 3 are getting aggressive price cuts, moreso here in the UK.
This may seem like a sensible strategy to maximise revenue; at a time when there is still no real serious traction and so many delays on games for these new consoles, shifting units of whatever kind and generating revenue seems like a good move. However, the real problem no-one is talking about – or rather, glossing over – is that the next-generation of games consoles cannot gain any market traction when their older, more established predecessors are still getting the main bulk of releases in the next eighteen months.
It’s not merely the Wii U; as much as many would accuse Nintendo (quite rightly) of muddying its own waters with the Wii Mini, Sony and Microsoft are watching with some helplessness as the term “Cross-Gen Gaming” has risen into the public consciousness, stealing away the thunder of a new generation by releasing games of comparable quality and with the same content, often for a lot less than the next-gen versions; and without the expense of buying into a rocky start to this new hardware. With games like Dark Souls 2 not even coming to next-generation consoles, many are faced with the enviable realities of a generation that isn’t putting forward backwards compatibility – that being that their old consoles, in the throws of getting quality releases and re-releases, are going to remain in their possession for the foreseeable future. In a competition to compete for space in the average living room, the next-generation is effectively competing with an already firmly-entrenched generation caught in the throes once more of a final spurt, one which raises many questions as to the quality of these next-generation games in comparison to the relatively cheaper, more polished old-guard that have had many years to be tightly honed to perfection.
And then there are those aggressive price-cuts; when a 250GB XBox 360 with Call of Duty: Ghosts and FIFA14 is retailing for £150, the £425 XBox One with no games attached (and games retailing individually for £49.99, meaning with those two games you’d spend closer to £525!) just doesn’t make any sense to a consumer for the holiday season. The world is still tightening its belts; economic recovery is getting there for many, but living costs and utility bills have risen a lot too, meaning that yes, many still struggle to make ends meet right now. The gulf in price difference, often for rather little extra other than a little graphical polish, looks astronomical.
It’s a fantastic time to get involved in the old-generation, especially if you have missed it in the past few years; with both Sony and Microsoft giving away free games every month, often successful past titles that showcase the better releases of their lifespans, and a wealth of cheaper content available both digitally and from stores, those who are just getting into these consoles will be catered for very comfortably through the next two to three years; that’s not including the brand new games coming out in the next eighteen months, of course. With even Nintendo gaining plaudits for Super Mario Galaxy being heralded by some as the “Game of the Generation”, and Mario Kart Wii breaking records in terms of profits, those who get a Wii Mini will still have plenty of content to keep them occupied.
Of course, Nintendo has no real excuse; the Wii U is backwards-compatible, where its rivals in the PlayStation 4 and XBox One are not. But it’s important to make a real note that Nintendo’s biggest rival isn’t going to be the PlayStation 4 or the XBox One; it will be its old Wii model. Similarly, Sony and Microsoft are pushing the exact same issue; they are slashing the costs of their old units, but in the process making those machines look a damned slight better value than it is currently offering with its next-gen drive.
New generations take time to grow; often they don’t gain serious market presence until there are aggressive price cuts of their own, which usually coincides with a marked reduction in new old-generation content; at this point, you’re two to three years down the road, and with a raft of releases already underneath you to keep you buoyant, there’s much more sense throwing things overboard in order to take on more passengers. At this point, with so much money on the line, Sony and Microsoft have no choice but to watch and wait, hoping that their machines will somehow magically reach their mysterious sales targets – currently set at five million each by the end of April 2014, which by any standard prediction seems a little overly-optimistic. Often these price cuts also come with a hardware refinement; slimline models take advantage of the advancements in manufacturing, replacing often-unreliable older models and making the newer ones more attractive to look at. Again, these refinements are not cosmetic; the advancements often cut manufacturing costs considerably, meaning there is more profit to be had in selling the newer models at a reduced cost, than pushing the older ones with a heavier price cut.
But right now, there is plenty of concern from gamers that there simply is no great need to buy into the next generation – cross-gen gaming ensures the content they want is still being released for the hardware many potential buyers already own. Games people want on the horizon keeps living space as it is for the foreseeable future. And the inevitable hardware and firmware issues, as well as distinct confusion on hardware potential and what benefit, if any, is given on an upgrade. Couple this with big reductions on PC hardware in recent months, and it’s getting harder to justify such expenses from day one.
Unfortunately, those are the sales Microsoft and Sony will desperately need right now, in the short-term. And they are the sales that Nintendo needs to be pilfering.
Nintendo is in as prime a position as anyone to undermine the PlayStation 4 and the XBox One; whilst it has been a slow year for Nintendo – in spite of its ridiculous first-month sales – the truth is that Nintendo does have plenty of content to shout about right now. Pikmin 3, Super Mario World 3D, Zombi-U and even the very recent Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut all lend some serious weight to the Wii U; and with games like Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros. and Bayonetta 2 scheduled for early in 2014, Nintendo can also market those to a very hungry crowd of gamers – especially with so many game delays for the new consoles, giving such appealing short-term benefits is just basic marketing, nothing more.
This makes their push of the Wii Mini even more baffling; when the Wii U practically sells itself this holiday season, with a Mario game the critics are already creaming themselves over, why on earth spend so much money pushing a new iteration of old hardware; whose games can be played on your brand-new next-gen system, to boot? It really makes no sense at all.
For the Wii U to do well this season, the Wii Mini – and the old Wii consoles – need to quickly fade away, if not be forcibly pulled off the shelves. Nintendo has no need for those sales – not when it so desperately needs for the superior Wii U to sell more copies; and at a time when Wii Sports is coming to the Wii U, when there are free games and trials, with bigger and more high-profile releases on the cards, the Wii is simply too much of your dad trying to muscle in on your big day; your mother photobombing your holiday snapshots, and other such analogies. It has no place in the market; the hardware is obsolete now, completely, and it’s time Nintendo instead focused on advertising the Wii U, if not even getting stuck into a new-look case for the machine.
And whilst there’s not much Sony or even Microsoft can do about the old-gen games, the one thing that they COULD be offering is digital versions of these games for next-gen consoles. Whilst this might mean some expenditure, admittedly, to get them running – even in a lower resolution – being seen to be sympathetic to those struggling to justify their purchase decisions would be a fantastic step in the right direction. Sadly, with some questions still being raised about old-generation digital content that has been purchased, this is an issue that will again be lending concern to the next-gen jump. With content such an issue, these machines will not be like the Wii – they are not yet obsolete, because they have no new-gen alternatives.
And it doesn’t, and didn’t, need to be this way. Everyone – EA, UbiSoft, Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony, SEGA, Capcom and many, many others – have made a complete hash of this next-gen jump.
The timing of releases is wrong. No drive to give bigger-titles next-gen exclusivity to generate sales. Costs are too high. Too many features have been cut to save costs. All the while, the old generation is having a second wind – it has more content, it has more functionality, it is considerably more accessible and most crucially, it is considerably cheaper at the same time. With Sony and Microsoft having cut backwards compatibility, and watching as more of its launch window titles slip into a mysterious “TBC 2014” window, these new machines look barren in comparison. Expecting five million sales of any of these consoles by April is the sign of an industry clearly in denial about how things work; with so much money having been spent, they have deluded themselves into an ideal world situation, without taking into account that the real-world implications for not attaining these mythical figures could be catastrophic for their bottom-line. Also, with so much content for the old machines, you can be forgiven for asking whether they may be pushing a new generation a tad earlier than they needed to.
Mark my words, in April – and come this time next year, when everyone is looking to blame someone, perhaps the place to start would be themselves. No-one seems ready to commit to a next-generation; not even, it seems, those pushing the next-gen hardware. And you can’t complain about a lack of sales if the sales message you are putting out there is, “There’s tons on PS3 still; don’t worry!”, or the XBox Support line of, “If the One isn’t for you, we’ll still release these games on XBox 360!”, or even “Here’s a new Wii. No, not a Wii U. It’s just a new Wii!” At some stage, for the next-gen to have its own life, the old-generation has to retire; and it has to retire in order for the new generation to have the space to grow and take the reins.
Nintendo needs to let the old Wii retire with dignity; it made billions of dollars in profit, revived their fortunes and broke records. The Wii has done its job, and deserves its position in the pantheon of gaming greats. And Sony and Microsoft will have to decide in the next six months where the bulk of their focus needs to lie for the next fiscal year; feeding off of old profits, or trying to generate new ones?
But none of these new consoles – the Wii U, the PlayStation 4 nor the XBox One – can develop and capture the market whilst they compete with their predecessors. The parents may indeed want their kids to take over, but unless they step down, they can’t assume the same position.
For the next-gen to thrive, the old generation needs to die. And until it does, the transition into the next-generation will be a slow, painful process. It’s up to the industry to decide what it wants now; it cannot have its cake and eat it. Someone can walk into a shop now and ask for a Wii, a PlayStation or an XBox and they have a choice; a choice that, ideally, they shouldn’t even have to make.
Because hey, you can’t say it ONLY affects Nintendo, after all, when everyone is about to suffer some serious brand-confusion!