The next generation of gaming is less than a year away. For Nintendo, it’s already in the consumers’ hands. For Sony, a glimpse into their gaming future came in February. And less than a month ago, we got our first look at Microsoft’s next-gen plans. The Xbox One announcement may have incensed many hardcore gamers, but not me. In fact, I plan to argue the Xbox One is the best thing Microsoft could have done for the future of gaming.
Many gamers left the latest Microsoft announcement underwhelmed, and I sympathize with them. Microsoft showed off a grand future of interactive television, app integration, and simplistic navigation but left out the games. For a product initially positioned as a gaming console, there was a distinct lack of video games in its initial announcement. It could be that Microsoft is holding their hand until E3 in a couple weeks, but I’m not so sure. It may be an indication that Microsoft, much like Nintendo, is targeting a broader demographic than hardcore gamers.
If that is the case, we may head into a next generation with three machines that serve separate needs. Three different consoles aimed at three different demographics. They all play games, but their mission statements are disparate.
Nintendo appears to be continuing its dedication to family gaming with the Wii U. Their games have historically been aimed at entire families, and the Wii U mirrors this dedication. Playing games on the gamepad while another family member watches TV is a key feature of the system, and one that bigger families will enjoy more. Similar to Xbox One, the Wii U also features integration with cable services, but the partnerships are less pronounced. A freelance writer living in a studio apartment probably has little use of these features, but that’s not Nintendo’s target. They’re more interested in the prototypical household of a husband, wife, and two kids.
Sony may be doubling down on hardcore gamers. At their launch event in February, Sony spent a surprising amount of time describing video games and gaming features coming to the PS4. The event presented multiple unannounced games, PS4 exclusives, and even nodded to indie development by having Braid developer, Jonathan Blow, on stage to announce his new game, The Witness. Sharing your gameplay, both through social networks and integrated streaming capabilities, became a theme of the event as well. From top to bottom, Sony’s announcement was for gamers first.
Microsoft may have its eyes on a general adult demographic. Like Nintendo, Microsoft seems to be aiming at a broader group than just hardcore gamers. Unlike Nintendo, they may be doing that by focusing on additional media features instead of games. Their May announcement told consumers around the world why they should get an Xbox One: for a simpler, cleaner television viewing experience. For general audiences, I’m confident this is a godsend. Modern cable boxes and televisions are a nightmare to control and interface with. For gaming audiences, though, they walk away disappointed. The reaction reminds me of the Wii’s initial game reveals. Hardcore fans were underwhelmed and apathetic, yet Nintendo dominated the last generation in sales. Perhaps Microsoft can pull off a similar feat this time around.
Why does a heterogeneous approach to target audiences in gaming help hardcore gamers, though? It supports a longer lifespan for each company. If two companies compete over the same specific niche, it splits that niche amongst the consoles. With smaller audiences, each company runs a greater risk of failure in the industry. With gaming costs skyrocketing, I can’t imagine these are risks any company could take. Competing within the niche is a dangerous game of outlasting the other corporations, and the reward is a monopoly over gaming as a whole. That monopoly stifles innovation for consumers, and may backfire for corporations.
Because each console manufacturer appears to be targeting separate audiences, they may each continue making and publishing games alongside one another. For consumers, that means more games, more appealing innovations within a niche, and better experiences overall. If the Xbox One doesn’t appeal to you because of its broad media approach, that’s fine. Maybe the PS4 is up your alley. Maybe Nintendo’s Wii U exclusives are your style. Either way, there are options available to you. An industry without this diversity risks losing all its options.