The Console Wars: Attitude is Everything

The console wars.  It’s a phrase that gets tossed around, but rarely has it actually applied like it has for the last week.  Of course we’re all viewing this from our own lens – with our own loyalties, history, personal circumstances, etc – and that shapes our opinion, but most would agree on two points: a)XBox/Microsoft can’t seem to keep their collective foot out of their mouth, and b)Playstation/Sony has been taking advantage of this with sometimes hilarious results.

Honestly, if you’d asked me about this a few months ago I might not have even said I intended on buying a console next time.  Gaming takes up considerably less of a percentage of my life than it used to, and typically it’s spent with World of Warcraft or some fast and casual endeavor like Rock Band or an iPad app.  As for this generation, I’ve played around with WiiU (particularly at PAXEast) and while it was fun, it isn’t yet fun enough to make me purchase one of my own.  When Sony began to announce their plans for PS4, I barely took notice – both because I’m not in a console-heavy phase at the moment and because I don’t own a PS3.

However, the events of the last week have caused me to shape an opinion of my own despite myself.  At this point, I actually have a pretty good idea which next-gen console I will purchase if I choose to do so.  Here’s a peek behind my personal lens:

Subject to Change

I didn’t grow up with much money; most of my earlier devices were obtained several years after their initial release.  I was able to try out different gaming systems thanks to friends, but for my own purchases I sought out the systems that had the games I wanted to play and weren’t too expensive.  As a result, while I have nostalgic loyalty to certain specific products (the Game Gear was totally ahead of its time), I have almost zero brand loyalty.  Here’s what I’ve personally owned over the years, in more or less chronological order:

  • Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
  • Sega Game Gear
  • Sega Genesis
  • Playstation 2
  • XBox 360
  • Nintendo DS Lite
  • Nintendo Wii
  • XBox Kinect

A little bit of this, a little bit of that.  I was able to branch out a little more when I got older, and as a result made purchases that didn’t necessarily hold up over the years (ahem, the Wii).  My Playstation 2 was a particular favorite, as it lasted me years, had a ton of great games, and was my first DVD player.  Choosing between XBox360 and Playstation3 was probably the only time I had a tough decision, but ultimately, the 360′s game options and price won me over.  It’s a decision I’ve never regretted; I even replaced the old, dying original 360 when I got a Kinect.  Since I have experience with one great console each from Microsoft and Sony, it’s a draw at this point.

Power of Nostalgia

When I find a game I love, I will revisit it – maybe not constantly, but over the years the time adds up.  I still have my original hand-me-down NES and a handful of games; the console itself is barely functional, but I’d spend time carefully nudging the cartridge back and forth until well into the mid-2000′s.  Then I bought a Neo-Fami, a bootleg top-loading console, and that got a little extra life out of the cartridges.  Nothing is currently hooked up, but if I come across a Virtual Console or an emulator, you can bet I’ll throw on Bubble Bobble, Mario 3 or Adventure Island 2 (this actually happened a few weeks ago).

Similarly, I’ve bought the original Sonic the Hedgehog games for at least one later console.  Ecco the Dolphin, too.  Mario Golf for Gamecube gets played on the Wii from time to time.  Perhaps due to its ability to extend the usefulness of game purchases, backwards compatibility is huge for me.  Neither new console will feature this, though Sony has at least acknowledged the demand and talked about cloud-based emulation.

The Internet Issue

The issue of accessible high-speed internet is something I feel very strongly about.  It’s frustrating that in 2013, my family has almost the same internet options we had in 1999.  And they’re really not living off in the mountains somewhere, or in the past; access to high-speed internet is more uneven than one might think.  Meanwhile, the people without consistent or high-speed internet still want to watch movies and TV, stay in contact with loved ones, and, yes, play video games from this decade.

So you can imagine my reaction when I found out that the XBox One is essentially dependent on a constant, high-speed connection.  I’ve watched the options for computer games dwindle over the years, because they demand some sort of online set-up (I believe Civ 5 is the most recent offender), but at least the 360 wasn’t entirely based on XBox Live – in fact, though I have a high-speed connection of my own, I have spent little to no time utilizing XBox Live and I’ve been quite content.

It’s not just people in neighborhoods without high-speed that miss out; those in the military are theoretically the prime demographic age, often in isolated areas with lots of downtime.  Consoles are a great way to blow off steam, hang out with friends, and kill time.  But internet access is absolutely not a certainty for them.

It’s not like Microsoft is completely in the dark about this issue; they’ve simply decided that those people don’t matter.  As Microsoft’s Don Mattrick stated, “Fortunately we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity; it’s called Xbox 360.”  He also said gamers are “imagining outcomes that are worse than what we believe it’s going to be in the real world.”

Well, not exactly.  I’m not “imagining” anything; I know for a fact that in the real world, the XBox One will not be an option for specific people I know.  What he’s really saying is that these people don’t matter.  Further, he suggests that the appropriate solution for those people is a console that’s almost a decade old, apparently not realizing that the more obvious response is that if they want a new console, they’ll just go to the competition.  In my personal opinion that’s beginning to sound more than a little classist.

Attitude is Everything

If Microsoft is coming across as tone-deaf at nearly every turn, Sony is earning a reputation for being savvy and quick-thinking.  When Sony realized there was outrage at Microsoft’s new position on used games, Sony quickly provided this video on how to share games on a PS4.  Even if it’s ultimately more complicated than that – particularly with online purchases – the PR has been night and day compared to Microsoft.

Similarly, even if there’s nothing wrong with wanting to streamline all living room activity, in the past adding such features to consoles was an added perk (like the DVD player in the PS2).  Microsoft has focused heavily on the all-in-one aspect of the XBox One, and minimized the concerns about, yknow, gaming.  In contrast, Sony has emphasized the new technology of the PS4 as viewed through the gaming lens.

It might be too soon to make a console call, or even a decision on whether I’ll be buying one at all.  Still, so far, for someone like me – someone who doesn’t currently live on XBox Live playing shooters, who feels strongly about issues relating to class AND internet access, who already has her own streaming TV setup and turns on a console to play games, and who appreciates a clever dig now and again – well, maybe I’ll be adding another Sony product to my list.

What about you?  Do you have a (plush and friendly) dog in this fight? 

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