Is the console wars over?

Miku g1

In Les Pensées, French philosopher Pascal defines Boredom as man’s great misery. To fill this void within him, the human being deploys a vast array of distractions : sports, picking up girls, gaming and, war. From Pascal’s point of view, the latter is still a distraction on the scale of mankind. But long after Pascal, mankind does realize that war brings only more misery. Then it came up with another kind of war : the console wars, the only world conflict fought 24h/24h without any casuality.

We need to re-define the reasons of the console wars (except the fact the human are liable the compete with each other). I think it’s mostly the invasion or threat directed towards natural domains. For example, the temporary exclusivity of Star Ocean The Last Hope or Tales of Vesperia on X360 ravaged the previous generation and had dramatic consequences on XboxOne’s performance in Japan. Similarly to the invasion of a physical territory, “defenders” won’t stop fighting until the enemy isn’t annihilated.

Is such a thing still possible today? The latest “war effort” form Microsoft, the temporary exclusivity of Rise of the Tomb Raider, is a huge failure. It is likely that we won’t see a similar initiative before long, and that we are entering a new phase, a cold war based on communication, partnership and natural exclusives. No one asks for Halo on PS4 or Uncharted on XboxOne, nor do people want to play Tales of Berseria on a Microsoft system. The offer of games is perfectly rationalized. Besides, as gamers get older, they tend to be able to own several systems.

In Japan, the situation has evolved in the same way. By observing the recent Japanese best sellers charts, we see that offer are more and more segmented between 3DS/WiiU that are mainly focused on kids and the mainstream public, and PS4/PSVita which receive the majority of core gamer titles. There of course are exceptions like Monster Hunter, but this is a solid trend now. Despite its heavy presence in media, Genei Ibun Roku #FE (aka Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem) flopped at home, selling a mere 24’000 copies at launch. This example alone confirms the above-mentioned trend. In 2016, the situation of the market is even clearer : 3DS barely has half a dozen third party exclusives for core gamers besides mainstream/kiddy games like Yôkai Watch 3, all the other (sixty or so) are Playstation exclusives. Needless to say, WiiU has none. Games are therefore developed on adequate systems, for the right audiences. Developers can work serenely, publishers profit, everyone wins.

Which leaves one big question mark : NX. Might Nintendo’s new system(s) rekindle the console wars? Let’s consider the 3 different options. If NX is a home console, it will have quite a hard time competing with PS4 and XboxOne, and eventually bound to become a secondary system. The reality is that PS4 headstart is immense in terms of price (Sony already has leeway to drop the price temporarily), functionalities, technology (Playstation VR) and above all : games. PS4 has the largest array of exclusives since PS2 and odds of developers taking risks on NX is low.

If NX is portable, the problem is not the same but the conclusion is. If we consider that a portable NX takes off during 2017 (most likely scenario), there probably won’t be a Sony handheld competing. Everyone will be on the same “side”, so no conflict. In case of two simultaneous systems (I’d bet on that one), Nintendo can be a lot more dangerous and aggressive, so the flames of war might engulf the industry again. That said, common development would mean games visually inferior to PS4 exclusives.

I think we are for now, if not the console peace, at least in a console armistice. It might be eternal, or short-lived, depending on what Nintendo is planning for 2016-2017. True, some will say their first party games are better than those of the others, but there are good manufacturer games everywhere all that makes no sense. Some will still declare the games of other as worthless, but there is no time to waste when progress is at hand. Without reason to fight, we might as well fight boredom by enjoying our games.

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