With E3 long past and all the data readily available and no doubt already devoured by those reading this right now, I thought it would be a good time to make some of my thoughts surrounding Nintendo's Wii, Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PS3, as well as the GameTap service for the PC, known. (all my thoughts of course are US-centric)
Anyway, whether the Wii - and yes, I still believe the name is a poor one and an unecessary liability - releases at $199 or $249, it should still come in at a good value in comparison to the high end $399 version of the Xbox 360 and the high end $599 version of the PS3. At the same time, the high end Microsoft and Sony systems are high quality multimedia centers, whereas the Wii is not. For many, this is not a factor, as they just want a game system, but I believe the higher prices - anywhere from $200 to $400 - are still justified, particularly as they're the only consoles to offer hi-definition gaming. Nintendo really has made a clear distinction with their direction, as have Microsoft and Sony with their hardware decisions. (and again, don't use the videogames are for kids argument with me, as a kid can't afford $200+ any more than one could afford $400+; don't forget, the average gamer age is now 33 and rises EVERY YEAR)
It seems like the Wii will offer full support for widescreen televisions, so the lack of hi-def is not that big of a deal to me, particularly if it hopefully supports progressive scan (at 480p). It should, as even the original Gamecube "easily" supported progressive scan (though Nintendo removed the option from later Gamecube models). The only real downside to the Nintendo solution is the sensor bar, which I'm not particularly fond of from a "cumbersome" standpoint. I'd really rather not place a wired sensor bar on top of my television, but of course I'll live with it as a die-hard gamer. I also don't like the DVD add-on thingy, as at this point it's probably worthless to most people. They should have either made DVD playback standard as a throw-in, or just not bother. I imagine a very, very small percentage of people will bother to upgrade the Wii to use it as a DVD player.
I really like the basic idea behind the controller and the modular nature of it. Hopefully third parties will be able to make clever shells that simulate specific systems that the Wii will emulate. At the same time, I hope that the motion sensing is not overused, as being someone with a great deal of experience with motion-based gaming - and an owner of countless add-ons and systems that do it - it's the kind of thing you really don't want to do too much of (it can be something of a workout, somewhat tiring to one bodypart if the motions are repetitive, not accurate for every type of action, etc.). If it's subtle enough (and it seems that in many case, the motions are subtle), I don't forsee any issues, but I'm not sure if I'd always prefer playing a tennis game by swinging the controller versus using a traditional control scheme. At the same time, nothing stops you from owning the Nintendo swinging tennis came and a hi-def Xbox 360 traditional tennis game for instance. We'll see how it plays out.
As with the other two systems, I love the idea of old games being made available via official emulation and the full online support. These days there's no reason not to fully support broadband online. I know I have a full wired/wireless setup throughout my house and it makes any type of networking a no-brainer. It's good to see Nintendo get on the online bandwagon and it sounds like they have a good plan. Hopefully the games stay reasonably priced. I'd like to see everything available for between approximately $1 - $10. Xbox Live stuff is roughly around that pricing, with a few that inexplicably go beyond that.
As I've stated before, this is the first time that beyond being a hardcore gamer, owning more than one system is 100% justified beyond exclusives. Owning two systems this generation will be all but a requirement to get the Nintendo oddities that will be possible with the controller and the classic games that won't be available on other services, in addition to either a PS3 or Xbox 360.
Speaking of PS3, it's a major dissapointment to me that rumble was removed (legal reasons aside) and no type of force feedback or anything was substituted. This is a major ommission in my book, particularly since it will nicely up-res PS1 and PS2 games that DO support it. I love the tilt sensor and I think it's a wonderful compromise between a traditional controller and next gen control. I also like the fact that Sony is going the Xbox Live type of online route. Their existing online service is the wild west of the online world, with no standardization or consistency. It's particularly frustrating on the PSP. Hopefully this translates to all their platforms. A more sensitive Eye Toy also intrigues me, as I enjoy the Eye Toy, despite its deficiencies. As for the two system options, personally I think just as with the Xbox 360 Core and Premium systems, one would be foolish to purchase the cheaper PS3. Spend the extra $100 and get the fully capable unit with 40GB of additional hard drive space. I know my TV doesn't support 1080p, but it's certainly possible I'll get one that does in the next five years, so again, why get the unit that doesn't do HDMI?
As for the 360, it's business as usual. We already know what it is and what to expect and many, like myself, are already enjoying it. The system's strongest suit is Xbox Live and Xbox Live Arcade, with its strong mix of casual games and updated classics, as well as readily downloadable demos. On the next gen control front, the camera option looks very promising and looks to improve upon what the Eye Toy started. Yes, the 360 is traditional and safe, but it's wireless, hi-def, online and mostly backwards compatible. It's definitely a viable alternative to the PS3 as the second system in the Wii mix.
So what are my early conclusions on the next gen race? I think the 360 will continue to sell well and I think the Wii and PS3 will also be great successes from the beginning as well. I see a MUCH closer three horse race this generation, as for one Sony won't have a huge headstart and the price of entry is much higher. This still won't stop people from buying Sony's system, but will make adoption after the first several million slower paced.
I don't think Wii will bring in that many more little reached potential casual gamers, like grandmas and little brothers - after all, videogames are still videogames - but it will sell extremely well to the slowly growing videogame audience (and won't come up lame towards the end, like Gamecube), which is getting bigger all the time.
So anyway, here are some crazy next generation console predictions for 2006, keeping in mind PS3 and Wii will have supply issues at first:
2006 - Xbox 360 - 78%, PS3 - 11%, Wii - 11%
2007 - Xbox 360 - 39%, PS3 - 34%, Wii - 27%
2008 - PS3 - 35%, Xbox 360 - 35%, Wii - 30%
I think the generation after this one will feature systems with a Wii-like controller and wireless camera/sensor bar combination, as well as 1080p and high end optical audio as standards, along with roomy hard drives.
Don't agree about any of the above? Let's debate it!
Finally, just to mention GameTap quick... I'm becoming more and more intrigued by this PC service. PC gaming is a very specific undertaking in the mainstream, meaning the "top" games will always go to consoles these days, with PC-centric titles like MMORPG's and strategy games being the last strongholds of computers this generation. With the three next gen consoles each having very specific online services offering classic games and official emulation, it falls to something like the GameTap subscription service to offer the same on the PC. Good pricing, great selection and no biases make GameTap stronger overall than anything the big three console makers could come up with.