With the year reaching its mid-point this week, it’s time to look back at what has happened to this point. While 2011 saw an all-out slugfest between Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo, 2012 has been slightly less eventful. There were no major hacking scandals and no overwhelming first-party support for any platform in particular, but there was a new piece of hardware released in Sony’s camp, and a new console coming soon from Nintendo. E3 brought tons of news for players to salivate over, and holiday 2012 through Q1 2013 are looking as good as the industry has ever looked.
Join us as we go through and take a look at how each of the big three companies are so far this year. At the end, we’ll hand out a letter grade to each company and plot out what the key factors will be for success going forward. Please note that these grades aren’t talking purely on game releases, online capabilities, sales, or hyped-up future prospects. Instead, the grades will combine all of these factors and attempt to answer this question more than any other: what did this company do to make gamers understand that its platform was the one platform that needed to be owned, and further, how did this company keep its consumer-base engaged and excited?
Check out how we graded them below and chime in with your own thoughts in the comments section.
Microsoft is a strange case this year, mainly because there hasn’t been too much to talk about with the Xbox brand. Sure, rumors are constantly swirling regarding the Xbox 720/Durango, but nothing has come out from Microsoft itself. Without any official word, gamers are left guessing when Microsoft will announce its next gaming console.
Until then, Xbox players are left enjoying the offerings found on Xbox Live Arcade. The biggest success was clearly the highly anticipated Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition, which shattered Xbox Live Arcade sales records, but it would be difficult to forget the outstanding experience brought by Trials Evolution. Unfortunately, for every smashing success, there was a pretty big failure to counteract it. The exciting “Arcade Next” promotion, which featured the two previously mentioned successes, was rounded out by the poorly received Bloodforge and Fable Heroes. Add into the mix Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, which proved to be divisive in its reception, as well as the quirky mind-bending antics of Fez, and Xbox Live Arcade players have experienced the full spectrum of acclaim so far. If they run out of titles to play, however, Xbox Live will have its annual “Summer of Arcade” promotion coming up in July and August, which will feature such titles as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD, Deadlight, and more.
Microsoft also furthered its cause of telling gamers that the Xbox is the platform to play games on by securing timed-exclusive downloadable content for major games like Skyrim, South Park: The Stick of Truth, Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 6, and Black Ops 2. Beginning soon, players will also be able to earn actual digital currency for achievement points, a tactical decision that will surely see many players deciding to go with the Xbox 360 version of multiplatform games in the future. Xbox Live again continued its dominance in the realm of online service, as gamers enjoyed much less downtime than those playing on PlayStation Network, but Sony certainly started closing the gap with its “instant game collection” benefit of being a paying PlayStation Plus member.
As far as major retail exclusives are concerned, Microsoft may have actually had the most anemic lineup of the big three in 2012 so far. Perhaps the biggest exclusive title to date was a re-release of one of PC’s biggest games of 2011, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings. Aside from that, there weren’t many exclusive retail titles to get all that excited about. The Kinect platform continued to struggle as well, with two of the biggest releases, Kinect Star Wars and Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor, proving to be monumental flops. While the first six months of 2012 were busy for gaming in general, Microsoft didn’t exactly have the best lineup of retail launches.
At E3, Microsoft had a pretty strong presence. By showing off upcoming titles like Halo 4, Gears of War Judgment, and Forza Horizon, Microsoft ensured that its retail release schedule would be much stronger in the second half of 2012 than it was in the first half. The integration of the SmartGlass app suite will look to steal the thunder of Nintendo’s Wii U by providing a similar experience using technology that is already owned by the player. The low cost of admission for players that already own a tablet and Xbox 360 will be a huge deterrent for those that might have been interested in the gaming capabilities of the Wii U GamePad. It will be interesting to see when Microsoft decides to unveil its upcoming console, as many are predicting that it will try to beat Sony to the punch again. Until then, second half 2012 is looking quite bright for Microsoft, but first half 2012 was merely slightly above average.
First Half Grade: C+
Nintendo’s 2012 lineup started off somewhat strong with Capcom’s well-received Resident Evil: Revelations for the 3DS, and continued with the localization of Xenoblade Chronicles for the Wii, but outside of the exciting Kid Icarus: Uprising, 2012 has been a fairly bland year for Nintendo. First-party titles, Nintendo’s strong suit, have been sparse, and the fact that the Wii is still seeing such little support is largely inexcusable.
Nintendo all but giving up on the Wii to ready consumers for the Wii U was inevitable, but considering how far in advance they did so was inexcusable. Several years into the lifecycle of the PlayStation 3, high-quality titles in the PlayStation 2 library were still being released. Why couldn’t Nintendo have kept the momentum going after starting off the generation so successfully? It’s disheartening that the company (and really, most publishers) would so blatantly abandon a platform with nearly two years (dating back to early 2011) remaining in its life.
The scene on the 3DS hasn’t been much better than the Wii. Sure, sales have been kinder since last year’s 3DS Ambassador Program and necessary price-drop, but the games just haven’t been there. As mentioned earlier, titles like Kid Icarus: Uprising and Resident Evil: Revelations were big selling points for the handheld in 2012, but there’s a growing sentiment that dedicated handheld devices are on their way out, and Nintendo is doing little to change the mindset of the masses.
Nintendo also couldn’t resist participating in its usual antics by releasing a new piece of hardware for its 3DS. The Circle Pad Pro showed that Nintendo understood what a second control stick could mean for Sony’s Vita, but when the gaming giant decided to announce the new, larger version of the 3DS, gamers were shocked to learn that the extra real estate would not be used to add that second control stick, but rather increase the screen size.
At E3 2012, Nintendo brought perhaps the most underwhelming press conferences in years. Players hoping to learn about the Wii U’s online capabilities, technical specifications, or release information were largely left in the dark. Sure we got the Miiverse and the ways players care able to interact with one another without leaving the game, but how will the network and its revised Friend Code system actually work? For every new piece of information that Nintendo announced at E3, there was at least another question left unanswered. Unless you were interested in the quirky NintendoLand announcement, chances are, Nintendo’s press conference at E3 left you feeling less excited for Wii U than you were prior to the briefing.
Obviously, Nintendo’s fate will rest squarely on its upcoming console. At this point, the console is an absolute wildcard. On one hand, you have a new Nintendo console that will eventually feature all of the beloved franchises like Legend of Zelda, Kirby, Metroid, Pikmin, Star Fox, and, of course, Mario. On the other hand, however, there is some serious confusion surrounding the Wii U in the eyes of the mainstream consumers. Following E3 2012, we’ve seen major outlets such as CNN and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon talk about the Wii U as if it were simply an add-on to the existing Wii console. While all core gamers know this isn’t true, Nintendo’s recent bread and butter has been the casual market; the very same market that is most likely to be confused about the Wii U.
For those not too interested in Wii U, Nintendo does have a decent lineup of titles coming for the 3DS, with the biggest being New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Luigi’s Mansion 2. Add onto that the localization of The Last Story for Wii, and Nintendo has promise in its second-half, but, as mentioned before, all of these small successes are meaningless if the Wii U tanks. It’ll be interesting to follow Nintendo in what could prove to be a very make-or-break second half of this year.
First Half Grade: C-
This time last year, Sony had a plethora of first-party exclusive titles for its PlayStation 3 user-base. From LittleBigPlanet 2 to Motorstorm Apocalypse, and SOCOM 4 to Infamous 2, there was no shortage of games to play. Unfortunately, the enjoyment was greatly limited by the fact that the PlayStation Network was knocked out for several weeks, leaving some of the best features of those aforementioned games completely incapacitated.
Luckily, there has been no long-term PSN outage, but that doesn’t mean the regular stability has gotten much better. The notion of “you get what you paid for” has come up time and time again as PSN servers drop for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance. This is perhaps most unfortunate due to the fact that Sony is pushing its online services now more than ever. With the Vita, one of the key features that Sony has advertised has been its cross-play ability with the PlayStation 3. This feature, which is heavily reliant upon Sony’s cloud services, is completely unavailable when Sony’s online goes down. Sure, it doesn’t happen too frequently, but it has made some gamers question whether it would be worth it to have Sony just switch 100% of users to a paid online system to increase stability.
Looking forward to the inevitable PlayStation 4, it does seem likely that Sony will switch to paid online service. In addition to boosting stability to encourage more users to convert to the paid service, Sony also must show that it has more benefits than the free service that is currently available. Luckily, that happens to be one of the biggest things that Sony has done during 2012 so far; bolstering the benefits of its PlayStation Plus service. At E3, Sony gave all PlayStation Plus subscribers an “instant game collection” consisting of big AAA titles like Infamous 2, LittleBigPlanet 2, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, and Just Cause 2. This is just one step that Sony is taking to communicate to gamers that PlayStation Plus is worth the cost of admission.
Sony also did a decent job at E3 2012, showing off big upcoming exclusives like The Last of Us, PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, and Beyond: Two Souls, but it also largely neglected the struggling Vita. Instead, Sony opted to give an abundance of time to the niche, albeit pretty interesting, Wonderbook title for PlayStation Move. Outside of its press conference, the Vita did have a decent showing at the Expo, bringing potential system sellers like Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and Sound Shapes to gamers on the floor.
On the downside, however, as was mentioned before, the handheld that the company released this year, the PlayStation Vita, has thus far failed to live up to expectations in sales and game library. The price point may be largely to blame, but, as is the case with Nintendo’s 3DS, the dedicated handheld gaming market just isn’t what it used to be. Perhaps the biggest disappointment with the Vita is the overall lack of support following its explosion out of the gate. The very strong launch lineup consisted of new games and remakes from iconic franchises like Marvel vs. Capcom, Ninja Gaiden, Uncharted, and ModNation Racers, but following the brief launch window, not many great games have come to the handheld. The technology is there, but with a limited offerings as far as game library is concerned, the Vita hasn’t had the smoothest first few months of life.
One of those disappointments for the Vita was also one of the most anticipated of 2012: Resistance: Burning Skies. The first-person shooter was set to show off what the Vita was capable off as far as the genre was concerned, but any technical accomplishment was overshadowed by bland level-design, underwhelming multiplayer, and a poorly written story. Fortunately for Sony, the PS3 saw a decent set of exclusive games come out in the first six months of 2012. While games like Twisted Metal and Starhawk failed to live up to the lofty expectations that were set for them, they still came off as very strong entries into the PlayStation 3 library. Yakuza: Dead Souls could also be mentioned as an intriguing addition to PS3′s library, but nothing can compare to the experience brought by Thatgamecompany’s Journey. The artistically beautiful and surprisingly engaging title led the pack and helped PS3 gamers enjoy the best game lineup of any platform in 2012 so far.
The future of the company will, at some point, rely on the PlayStation 4, but for the time being, Sony needs to bring more to the table for its new hardware, the PS Vita. If Sony could get a few more killer titles on the platform, it could eventually evolve into the system we all hoped it would be. Sony also needs to figure out what it wants to do with the largely forgotten PlayStation Move. While many assumed Sony had started to pull Move into the background, Sony continues sporadically announcing new titles that will feature Move features. Sony already has a ridiculously strong lineup of upcoming games on PlayStation 3, but now it needs to focus on the rest of its platforms in order to ensure that it has the most well-rounded set of offerings for gamers.