In the gaming community, we have our own rendition of the thought provoking “chick and the egg” question. Except, ours is a lot less existential, and a lot more business related, being “what sold first, the game or the console?”
It’s the debate of what makes a console successful. Is it the software features? The ability to stream services or directly download games, movies, and music directly to the console? Multitasking and multi-functionality? Is it the hardware that makes up the guts and bones of the console?
Is it the games? The interactive experiences that make up the majority of the memories you have with the console? The digital events and happenings you discuss with your peers?
Of course, you can’t have one without the other. You can’t play games without the graphics card to see anything with, or the hard drive to save your data onto. A console without games may not sell as well as hoped and developers will consider it too financially risky to develop for.
This argument has particularly come into light since the launch of the next generation consoles, starting with the Wii U in late 2012. It’s been the most common victim of the accusation “it has no games”, or more specifically, no “good games”. Which, over the past year, Nintendo has made a solid effort to remedy. The HD re-release of The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker boosted Wii U sales considerably, as did the holiday release of Super Mario World 3D which was met with critical acclaim. In the summer, Nintendo released cult favourite sequel Pikmon 3, and Platinum Games released whacky-superhero title The Wonderful 101 which received mixed reviews but has a fan base begging for more.
The Wii U is also criticized for having somewhat inferior hardware, but that doesn’t stop its games from looking truly wondrous. The Wind Waker HD is easily the most breathtaking game on the console, breathing new life into already gorgeous environments, The Wonderful 101 is a damn near epileptic hazard with how many bright and shiny colors it throws in your face. It also helps that almost every game released on the Wii U is brimming with every color of the rainbow, which is certainly relieving in an industry full of games featuring brown, grey, and black as the prominent tones.
The most notable part of the Wii U’s hardware is its console defining gamepad, which, as anyone who has ever seen a Wii U knows, is a large controller with a touch screen separating the left stick and the d-pad from the face buttons and the right stick. The touch screen is often used for menus or mimicking what’s being shown on the television (though some developers make innovative use of it; the way it was meant to be used), but easily the coolest use of the gamepad is being able to switch the main game to the touch screen at the push of a button. That way, you can continue playing while yourself or others use the television for something else. Essentially, the Wii U turns your living room into a huge DS, which isn’t a bad thing considering how well the DS and it’s 3D offspring have done financially.
“But Andrew” you might inquire, “if the 3DS is doing so well, and the Wii U turns your living room into a big 3DS, how is it the Wii U isn’t more successful?” Well, there’s one thing the 3DS has that the Wii U doesn’t, and it’s not just the 3D capabilities.
As hard as Nintendo has tried to make good games for the Wii U, they’ve tried even harder with the 3DS. On an almost monthly basis, Nintendo releases top quality first party games for its best-selling handheld. It even got the honour of the exclusive sequel to Luigi’s Mansion, which very well could have been an even greater success on the Wii U and most likely would’ve bumped up console sales as well.
And it’s understandable why they do this. The 3DS is the only place the company is really turning a profit right now, so it makes sense that they would keep investing in it. Although, I can’t help but think that if they put the same kind of first party dedication into having, even bi-monthly releases for the Wii U, the console could find some success.
And now on to our second culprit, the Playstation Vita. I just recently got one of my own, and I personally think it’s a fantastic little system. With it, I got Tearaway and Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and they both make great use of the handhelds front and back touch screen and motion controls. Tearaway even went the extra mile and incorporated both front and back cameras into gameplay. They’re two of my favourite games of the past few years but that being said, that’s kind all the Vita’s got going for it as far as games go. Aside from those two, there’s not very many games on the Vita that make me want to throw my money at Sony. I mean, it has PSOne classic titles, but much like Nintendo, they’re sort of taking their sweet time getting all the real classics aside from the golden era Final Fantasy games. There’s also the PSP category in the shop, which has a slew of titles from Sony’s first handheld, but again, not too many that can justify the space they’re going to take up on my SD card. But that’s not to say the Vita is a “bad” handheld per se. Its OLED touch screen makes every color in every game look good enough to eat and the touch screen on the back makes for some very interesting gameplay mechanics when used properly. The little guy can run current-gen level graphics as well as common useful apps such as Netflix and Skype wonderfully.
Sony has made some effort to correct the PS Vita having “no games”, pushing spinoffs of its exclusive lineup onto the console with titles like Killzone: Liberation and Resistance: Retribution, but so far none of them have fared too well critically or financially. Their more positively effective efforts include every PS4 game supporting Vita remote play, with Vita sales skyrocketing around the release of the next-gen console. Another promising effort includes Sony’s recently announced Playstation Now, which will stream all of Sony’s classic titles to the Vita sometime after the services launch on the PS4 later this year.
Of course, those are all fine and dandy, but what the Vita is really needing is its own solid titles. The most promising looking games of its 2014 release calendar are all ports (Final Fantasy X/X2 HD, Borderlands 2, The Wolf Among Us), and of course they’ll all be great to play on the Vita, but the features of the handheld are just begging to be put to good function by exciting, original, exclusive titles.
The recently released next-gen consoles are also experiencing the same criticism of not having any games, but are still doing pretty well in spite of this. The main victim of this complaint, the Xbox One, has sold nearly 4 million units since its launch in November. That being said, it’s common for new consoles to experience a somewhat underwhelming launch lineup, usually only having one or two games that will warrant purchasing one on launch day.
It’s hard to say what a consoles success truly depends on, because people buy whichever console suits their entertainment needs. In my personal opinion, I think it relies on the games, particularly exclusive games. They can define a console with the way the games characters become the console mascots and exclusive titles are often cited as main reasons for buying a certain console. Sure, a console can have nice hardware, but the surge of indie gaming has proven that visuals and console speeds aren’t everything. (If you need proof, look at how many people that build their own PC primarily use it for Minecraft. It’s crazy!)
But what about you guys? What do you think makes or breaks a console? What are your primary reasons for buying the consoles you do? Let us know in the comments below!