The End of the Console War: AAAs, Motion Control and Other Tragedies

How we went from “all or nothing” to “this town is indeed big enough for the two of us”.

Posted By | On 23rd, Nov. 2012 Under Editorials

As much as I loathe the fact that Bioware had to bow down to fan reactions and come up with a new set of endings to appease those who were disappointed by Mass Effect 3’s original climax, one particular ending piqued my interest. Of course, it was the middle road, the choice of Synthesis, where Shepard sacrifices himself to make both synthetics and organics like him. This thus creates a universal race that is equal in every way – the final stage of evolution, the end of the Reapers’ harvesting and the unification of entire solar systems.

It was interesting because it suggests an alternative to all-out winners and losers. If anything, it showed the Reapers as individuals built on purpose, rather than existing for war. And where ever necessary, they will evolve rather than just die, all to ensure the future survival of all life.

As we see the closure of several development studios, the slow trickle of hardcore console exclusives from Microsoft and the push for new, indie-style games from Sony, the inclusion of motion control on every single console, the rise of mobile and “casual” gaming and gaming being an understatement rather than a privilege thanks to a new generation of powerful smartphones, does the much-fabled console war still have any legs left to it?

For the longest time, Sony and Microsoft (because Nintendo had already run away with success and the “mainstream” audience) were embroiled in a brutal battle to determine whose was the best console for the hardcore gamer. Did you prefer Kratos or Master Chief? That moron from Killzone or Marcus Fenix?

Truth be told, Sony had a leg up on its rival with more unique and exclusive IPs while Microsoft benefited from better versions of multiplatform titles (not to mention timed exclusive DLC). And the fanboys reacted accordingly, continuously baying for blood if you went to the right places.

But then something happened in the past year or two. Microsoft found success with the mainstream thanks to it’s motion sensing Kinect device, while Sony… well, Sony is still in pretty much the same spot as before, it’s Move device still targeted for hardcore gamers.

In fact, you could say it diverged a bit, since it also had the PlayStation Vita to worry about. Regardless, you’ll still get your off-beat titles to go with the next God of War.

However, while both are still trying to outdo each other, there’s no intense, neck-to-neck insanity like you’d see between, say, Samsung and Apple nowadays. There’s no more “stealing” of exclusives, as Microsoft had apparently done with Final Fantasy XIII and so many others. Many big-name PS3 exclusives like Final Fantasy Versus XIII, The Last Guardian and the long-rumoured Kingdom Hearts 3 have still failed to materialize. The top franchises these days are no longer God of War or Halo; they’re Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed.

There are many reasons why we can perceive this to be the end of the console war. For one thing, in an age where it’s just not financially viable to develop for one console due to the massive amount of lay-offs and instability, to even neglect a platform like the Wii U would be bad business.

More and more developers are striving to create AAA blockbusters to take in the dollars, while we have more independent developers content to ply their trade on Steam. The middle-ground developers are quickly being phased out – Vigil Games, for instance, is in big trouble due to THQ suffering heavy losses from Darksiders 2’s disappointing sales.

Some developers like Square Enix, who’s always sided with Sony, have long since branched out to other consoles. Nowadays, they’re looking past their Japanese roots and increasingly publishing more Western titles to expand their profits. The same goes for Capcom, who decided to appeal to Western gamers and take a more Call of Duty like approach for Resident Evil 6 (didn’t work out so well).

You either go big or you go home these days – and you do it to appeal to the lowest common denominator.

How many games are starting to look more and more like their predecessors anyway? Just one look at the core gameplay of Assassin’s Creed, Watch Dogs and Remember Me is a dead enough giveaway.

With a mind-set of appealing more to living room entertainment, Microsoft even launched the new SmartGlass, which integrates several devices together, allowing them to communicate with each other. Heck, with the success they’ve had on Kinect, Microsoft has pretty much found a winning formula where brands like Kinect Sports and Kinectimals can receive sequels that will cost significantly less to develop compared to insuring the next Mass Effect stays platform-exclusive.

And though we’ll inevitably see a new wave of consoles coming soon, there’s no denying that’s it’s taken twice as long for the next generation to come calling as compared to, for example, the four year gap between Xbox and Xbox 360. Heck, it’s even allowed people to buy more than one console for their use.

Don’t be surprised then if each console has more in common with each other in the next generation, like motion control, more living-room centric features and maybe even cross-play across different devices (though the odd next generation version of a popular franchise is a given).

The future is uncertain and while we still have heaps of innovation in today’s age, it’s a given that more and more effort will be made to broaden the user base.

Either way, the days of companies totally dominating and retiring others, as what happened to Sega when it bowed out of the console business, are long past. And while a war may still be happening, it’s no longer with the voracious desire for domination as before.

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