Microsoft's Xbox One is out of the bag, and the next-gen console war's in full swing. So what happens next? Truthfully, the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Wii U are still big boxes of mystery — even though one's already been out in stores for months.
(Credit: Sony; Nintendo; Microsoft; CBSi)
So, how will this new gaming landscape shake out? Sony and Nintendo, the also-rans to the current success story of Microsoft and the Xbox 360, will have options. But they're not always pretty.
Differentiate or die
Under the hood, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One are more similar than any two gaming consoles ever have been: both have AMD-based processors, Blu-ray video capabilities, camera bar sensors and motion controls. And both promise cloud service improvements. Microsoft may have the edge on TV-input promise, but that's not an ace in the hole. Sony needs to explain why people would choose a PS4. That "share" button isn't enough. Microsoft's clearly going after Sony's media-hub consumer electronics strategy and design aesthetic, so PlayStation needs another angle.
Cloud streaming: find the killer app
Sony's Gaikai acquisition and PS4 integration have potential, but what's the amazing feature that people can understand? Sony has already muddied the waters with its current PlayStation Certified program, which delivered only old, original PlayStation games on a handful of tablets and phones (like Sony's own Xperia line). Sony needs to reboot this concept and make it real: play any PS4 game on any Android or iOS device, as long as you have good bandwidth and a PlayStation controller at hand. It's a tall order, to be sure. But that would be a game changer (pun intended).
Triple down on original and curated content
Sony as a game studio has a big edge on Microsoft: its first-party efforts are often better. Plus, there's Sony's little-discussed "pub fund" that finds new talent out of game-design schools like USC, leading to console-defining indie efforts like Journey and The Unfinished Swan. Even if Sony sells off its music and TV ventures, the game-development studios should strengthen, and focus on providing a thriving, open platform.
Be even more 'gamer-friendly' than Microsoft
So, this is a tough sell: Xbox Live is the best online service of the gaming generation we're in right now. But in talking to people after the PS4 and Xbox One events, I hear more gamers satisfied by Sony's "game and specs porn" approach thus far than by Microsoft's, which focused on the Xbox One's wide range of entertainment options, leaving actual games to be discussed at the company's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) press conference later in June. Maybe Sony can run with this and present an even more gamer-oriented take this time out, rather than the traditional Sony "home entertainment plus games" package. Then again, narrowing focus doesn't feel like a proper strategy against Microsoft.
Maybe the PS4 can be more affordable than the Xbox One, but sacrificing profitability on hardware can be a Pyrrhic victory.
Give up on "next gen"
Nintendo's already lost the next-gen wars, if the trophy's given to hardware. The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are a different class of product, and studios like EA are sending a clear message: the PS4 and Xbox One stand together, and the Wii U stands alone. But Nintendo never won with the Wii on pure power: it was a GameCube under the hood with a new controller that won on selling a fun proposition to families. So, play to those strengths.
Focus on kids
The Wii, the Nintendo DS/DSi and now the 3DS thrive on being kid friendly and parent friendly. The Xbox One, with its piano-black finish and A/V-receiver facade, isn't for kids. It's for parents. The PS4 looks like it's for mature gamers. Nintendo needs to keep focus on kids and family — and stop trying to shoehorn hard-core gamers in.
Make it cheap
If the Wii U were half the price of an Xbox One or PS4, there might be some hope. But that aggressive strategy needs to start now. The Wii always had a price edge on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, but the current US$349 price is just too much. The "Basic" Wii U SKU just got sliced from US$299 to US$239 at Target in the US — that's a start, but Nintendo needs to be even more aggressive.
Revise the GamePad hardware
It's bulky and has terrible battery life. Shrunken down and boasting better performance, it could change perceptions of the Wii U. It needs to work better, and the Wii U software needs to be far less laggy.
Make your own games
I said this before. I'll say it again. Mario, Zelda, Metroid. More please. Repeat again. Do it a lot.