Going into 2013, we weren’t so sure that it would be a strong year. We knew a few things for certain — like the fact that BioShock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto 5, and The Last of Us would release, and that Sony and Microsoft would probably announce new consoles for release later in the year — but there was no guarantee that the year would turn out as amazing as it did. Luckily, with two strong console launches and an absolute onslaught of great releases, 2013 turned out to be one of the best years in recent memory.
In case this is the first time you’re joining us for this semi-annual VGW tradition, the grades you see below are not based solely on sales, hype, critical reception, or fan reception. Instead, these grades take the culmination of all of those things into consideration and rate each of the “big three” based on how strong of a case they made that their consoles and handhelds were the devices to own this past year and for the foreseeable future. Check out what conclusions we came to and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
After an extremely rough start to the year, Microsoft recovered ever so slightly. The reveal of the Xbox One was far from smooth, and it’s pretty common knowledge that Sony completely embarrassed Microsoft on the biggest stage at E3, but Microsoft began clawing its way back onto the good graces of gamers by reversing many of the controversial policies that were put in place, and by the time the Xbox One released Microsoft had made it a real competition with Sony.
Microsoft’s story in 2013 revolved around its new hardware: the Xbox One. Launching on November 22, the Xbox One is a beyond impressive console. Featuring an integrated voice control option, as well as a well-executed multitask ability, a game DVR, day-one digital releases, and an integrated television experience, the Xbox One introduced many features that could very well become mainstays in the games industry going forward.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t until only recently that many casual gamers figured out that the controversial policies had been reversed, thanks to the unclear communication coming from Microsoft itself. By the time the company had announced that it was backpedaling on the used game and required online connectivity policies, many average consumers had already made up their minds about Microsoft’s upcoming hardware. But unlike Nintendo in 2012, Microsoft was able to dash many of the misconceptions prior to launch through a renewed sense of communication with its user base, including infographics, trailers, in-store appearances by representatives, and much more.
Sadly, the Xbox One’s operating system and feature suite wasn’t quite where gamers wanted it to be when it launched. Nearly every aspect of the OS has loads of potential, but many of the functions that existed on Xbox 360 feel more convoluted on Xbox One while retaining less functionality than the previous generation. This is perfectly exemplified through the party system on Xbox One, which can potentially see the player bouncing back and forth between the game, the Home screen, and the Party screen. With other issues involving the Marketplace navigation and voice controls, as well as things like the Twitch app not being fully functional at launch, it’s clear that the Xbox One isn’t where it needs to be yet, but it does have a very bright future.
Despite the ancillary issues of the console, at the end of the day it’s all about the games, and Xbox One featured undoubtedly the strongest launch lineup of the three consoles that launched in the past 13 months. Boasting exclusive titles like Ryse: Son of Rome, Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsport 5, and Peggle 2 within a month of release, owners of the Xbox One had a diverse list of games of choose from.
Sadly, this was not the case for the Xbox 360, as the lineup hardly gave players any reason to own an Xbox 360. While the major headliner was the People Can Fly-developed Gears of War spinoff, Judgment, Xbox owners likely had more fun exploring the digital options like BattleBlock Theater and Charlie Murder.
Microsoft attempted to show a furthered commitment to the digital realm and Xbox Live, but in many regards fell short. With Steam showing off some of the most insane sales ever seen in the games industry, and PlayStation Plus offering exponentially more value through its Instant Game Collection downloads, Microsoft was left with very little to offer players aside from having the strongest online multiplayer infrastructure of all the consoles. To top it all off, Microsoft continued locking many of its features behind the Xbox Live Gold paywall, while Sony and Nintendo offered use of apps like Netflix and Amazon Instant Video to free users.
While Xbox 360 experienced an incredible amount of outstanding digital sales, several first-party Xbox One titles saw discounts at retailers like Amazon and Best Buy within a week of launch, giving players very little incentive to go digital with their purchases. In addition, while PlayStation Plus members enjoyed free downloads of fairly recent games like Sleeping Dogs, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and Uncharted 3 in 2013, Microsoft offered players an outdated selection of games like Gears of War, Halo 3, and Crackdown through its Games with Gold program. However, Microsoft does plan to remedy this in 2014 with titles like Sleeping Dogs coming to Xbox 360 Gold Subscribers in January, plus free games to Xbox One owners throughout the year.
If Microsoft wants to continue its U.S. market dominance, it needs to keep going with its recent goodwill-building efforts. By improving on the services offered by the Xbox One, and keeping up the pace of releases with titles like Titanfall and the upcoming Halo title, Microsoft could very well cement the Xbox One as the console to own. Sadly the Xbox One isn’t there yet, and the Xbox 360 is already showing signs of a floundering exclusive library.
2013 Mid-Year Grade: C-
2013 Final Grade: C+
Heading into the midway point, 2013 was Sony’s to lose. The PlayStation 3 was offering the best lineup in the industry, the PlayStation 4 was outright smacking down the Xbox One in the court of popular opinion, and while the Vita was still struggling it had a very promising lineup for the second half of the year. Unfortunately for Sony, it lost some of that steam as the PlayStation 4 launch neared, but that didn’t stop it from posting extraordinary sales numbers and releasing the most sought after “next-gen” console of the year.
The launch of the PlayStation 4 was by far the most complete hardware launch of the year. Aside from offering the most extensive list of apps available (including a fully functional Twitch app for streaming), the PlayStation 4 also provided many of them to gamers without the Xbox Live Gold-esque paywall. By doing this, consumers who want to use their consoles as a movie streamer could do so without paying the cost of the premium subscription in addition to the subscription fees associated with the services themselves.
Sadly for the PlayStation 4, the launch lineup wasn’t outstanding, as both Driveclub (exclusive title) and Watch Dogs (featuring exclusive content) were delayed into 2014, and the two anticipated retail exclusives (Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall) received lukewarm reviews. Sony remedied this by providing digital titles not on the Xbox One. Unfortunately, only Resogun ended up impressing, as Contrast released with numerous glitches. The best part of this situation might be that the platform’s best release of the year, Resogun, is actually free for all PlayStation Plus subscribers.
The good news is that while it lacked in strong exclusive titles in 2013, the PlayStation 4 did feature the same multiplatform launch lineup as the Xbox One, so PS4 owners only missed out on the big exclusives from Microsoft. 2014 does paint a much brighter picture for the PlayStation 4 exclusive library, however, as games like Transistor, The Order: 1886, and Infamous: Second Son all hit next year.
Unlike Microsoft, Sony didn’t ignore its previous generation console while it prepared to launch its next device. In 2013, the PlayStation 3 brought gamers exclusive titles like God of War: Ascension, Gran Turismo 6, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, MLB 13: The Show, Beyond: Two Souls, Dynasty Warriors 8, Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD Remix, Final Fantasy 14: A Realm Reborn (also available on PC), Puppeteer, and VGW’s 2013 Game of the Year, The Last of Us. The sheer volume of exclusive titles that Sony released on a console that was supposedly on its way out is admirable, especially considering Sony could have probably requested that Quantic Dream, Polyphony Digital, or Naughty Dog release their games on PlayStation 4 instead in order to boost sales of the console.
The one spot that Sony really struggled this year was with the PlayStation Vita. The handheld had some notable releases like Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate and Killzone: Mercenary, but the most important release on the platform was the delightful Tearaway. While the lineup was made considerably stronger in 2013, the Vita still has a long way to go in order to be able to compete with Nintendo’s 3DS for the handheld gaming device crown.
The main case that could be made for owning a Vita at this point is the astoundingly good value that Sony brings gamers with its PlayStation Plus subscription service. In addition to offering PlayStation 4 owners the ability to play games online, it also provides PS3, PS4, and PS Vita owners an “Instant Game Collection,” plus exclusive digital sales which, together, provide extraordinary value that is unmatched in the console world.
Once Sony releases a few more strong exclusive titles for PlayStation 4 in early 2014, the only real weak spot in the lineup will be, unsurprisingly, the Vita. For some reason, Sony just cannot get the traction needed to come anywhere near what the 3DS is accomplishing for Nintendo’s camp. If Sony could somehow figure out the Vita puzzle, it would be able to make a nearly indisputable case that it is the number one video game company in the world.
2013 Mid-Year Grade: A-
2013 Final Grade: B
Ever since VGW was founded in 2010, Nintendo has been playing catch-up to Sony and Microsoft due to the late tapering out of the Wii and the slow start of the Wii U, but in 2013, Nintendo had an outstanding run. While this run has not been reflected through Wii U sales, the 3DS is soaring higher than ever thanks to an unprecedented high-quality schedule of releases.
In 2013 alone, 3DS owners received The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Pokemon X/Y, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Dual Destinies, Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers, Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, Project X Zone, Mario Party: Island Tour, as well as a ton of eShop, Virtual Console, and StreetPass titles. It’s no wonder that the 3DS has continued squashing the Vita in terms of popularity and sales.
As mentioned before, the Wii U has continued to struggle in terms of sales, but 2013 was the year that the console finally became one that should be a part of every serious gamer’s entertainment system. The most important addition to the Wii U library was the critically acclaimed Super Mario 3D World, but with other strong additions like Wonderful 101, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, LEGO City Undercover, and NES Remix, Nintendo has made it clear that Wii U is on the upswing. Unfortunately for Nintendo, one of its only exclusive third-party titles, Sonic Lost World, was a critical flop on both 3DS and Wii U.
Speaking of third-party flops, following strong support from EA, Warner Bros., and Ubisoft at launch, third-party support has taken a nosedive for the Wii U. After Ubisoft rescinded the exclusivity of Rayman Legends, EA announced that it would not be supporting the Wii U due to abysmal software sales (it has since backpedaled on that announcement, but it still says a lot about the console’s lack of success), and various multiplatform games from different publishers have released missing popular online features.
It’s no secret that Wii U is the least powerful of the three most recent consoles, but the lack of a real online infrastructure is quickly becoming Nintendo’s MO. While the Wii U and 3DS are certainly more competent in the online realm than their older predecessors, Nintendo’s platforms, particularly Wii U, still lag significantly behind the competition. The one thing Nintendo does have going for it, however, is that the Wii U is the only “next-gen” console that offers free online play.
Whether you’re a die-hard Nintendo fan or someone who thinks that Nintendo should quit making consoles and go the third-party developer route of Sega, there is little denying that the iconic video game company had a stellar year. Sure, the online components could certainly be improved upon, but that’s only a portion of the overall gaming experience. While only the 3DS flourished in 2013 as far as sales are concerned, the Wii U now has a strong argument for being a “must-own” for serious gamers; an argument that looks to be built upon with another strong year in 2014.