An Industry At The Mercy Of The Inevitable
|Article By: BAD|
The industry is about to experience a landslide in variety, yet the systems that make it are about to take a surprising and unpredictable fate. As of now, there are four systems fighting valiantly against one another; the DreamCast, PlayStation2, Nintendo 64, and PlayStation. In the coming year, Nintendo and Microsoft will release their new contenders into the fray of video gaming madness that has overwhelmed retailers all over the world. When they do happen to release their new consoles, the industry will be forced to support not four, but six systems. This is not counting the aging Gameboy Color or the upcoming Gameboy Advance, the WonderSwan, or the cheated Neo-Geo Pocket (I'll get into the portable systems later). Though the industry will be forced to support these systems, how much will it actually support? By the end of the year, the industry will consist of the DreamCast, GameCube, Xbox, PlayStation2, Nintendo 64, PlayStation, GameBoy Advance, Neo-Geo Pocket, GameBoy Color, and WonderSwan (Japan). Looking at all these systems, would one think the industry could support this much at this time in the industry? No, not at all. Unfortunately, one to think that would be rather naive and deny the cold facts we will soon play a big part of. The industry, especially in the states, will not be able to support the overflowing amount of console weight upon it's shoulders. Why? Simply because it is all based on profit, which will in the end determine if a system follows in the footsteps of the 3DO or PC Engine (which was a GREAT system, by the way). Knowing the industry will not support all systems generously, many often wonder which company will make it through battle-torn, into the next generation of gaming. Will it be Sony with their PlayStation 2 because it plays DVDs, Sega and their DreamCast with it's fantastic first-party and third-party games, Microsoft with their new mystery system, or will it be Nintendo backed by their new system with an easier (and cheaper) software format? Some say it will be Sony, with their PlayStation 2 because their PlayStation succeeded, while some say GameCube will mark Nintendo's 'return' to the gaming populace and show us what 'real' gaming is all over again. Then, you get the other crowd, who look more into Sega dominating the market with their online potential and first-party support. Still, though, there's that percentage that believe the Xbox will massacre what we have built in the video game industry, or that the GameBoy Advance will trump the WonderSwan and Neo-Geo Pocket in sales. With so many systems and so many games, who will ultimately stagger, tattered and torn, from the brutal wasteland that is about to be the console market?
For many reasons, I think it will be a good year for Sega, a bad year for Sony (regardless of what EGM or GamePro tell you), a new year for Microsoft, and a another beginning for Nintendo. Well, we'll start with Sega and their plan for the next year, as well as their game and peripheral line-up. A significant percentage still thinks that Sega isn't serious about gaming, and continue to throw "look at the Sega CD and 32X and Saturn" into their face, but the truth is that like it or not the DreamCast is here to stay. With online gaming and a strong third party support plan, Sega is not only covering it's bases for this point in the industry, but also for the next point in the industry by introducing a broadband modem. Read the interviews with Peter Moore, look at the games coming up, and look at the games out, as well as the games planned by second and third party developers; there's no sign of Sega giving up their spot in the industry. With an insanely great first-party development schedule (Virtua Fighter X and Fighting Vipers 2, in addition to Crazy Taxi 2), Sega has a plan that will keep gamers glued to the DC for a while. With Phantasy Star Online on the horizon, there are many roads for Sega to take; all of which seem bright. Into this new year, we can expect to see even more online titles, and maybe even some online fighters from Capcom if we're lucky and enough people subscribe to SegaNet. After Phantsy Star Online, prepare to see a floodgate open for online games, with more than just a handful of developers interested in a piece of the SegaNet pie. With SegaNet already up and running, Sega's far ahead of the game compared to what Microsoft and Sony have going as of now. With Sega Net and the broadband modem Sega is releasing (which sold out in Japan on launch day), there is a bright future in not only the world of gaming, but also for Sega as well. At last, Sega will get their much deserved (and long-awaited) respect...
Sure, the PlayStation 2 is a bit newer and uses DVD technology to power some of it's games, and the PlayStation was a huge success, but that does not actually signify instant success for the PlayStation 2. Despite the stellar sales of the Super Nintendo, sales of the Nintendo 64 were less-than-desirable, and despite sales of the Genesis, sales of the Saturn were not high. Examples like this are what the industry will soon become; a living (and dying) proof of what the industry is. And unfortunately, the industry is not too forgiving and very unpredictable. I think the PlayStation 2 has a ways to go, because not only is it so difficult to develop for, but it's also showing signs of the rush-job Sony did in developing the system itself. For as new as it is, it has an insanely low amount of RAM compared to the DreamCast, which was released nearly a year before the PlayStation 2; wouldn't you expect the latter to be a bit more powerful, being the later release? One other strike against the PlayStation 2 in the eyes of developers and gamers, among many, is the lack of two more controller ports. Why did Sony decide to go with a multi-tap instead of a built in system of four controller ports? To empty our wallets even more so than they already have, or to prove a point? If it was to prove a point, it was definitely a stubborn point to prove that not every console needs a front full of controller ports. Though the industry and gamers may have wanted four controller ports, it certainly does not mean the system needed it to succeed, as online accessibility and software will ultimately tell the potential of two controller ports. As a result, we will (and are witnessing such now) see a ton of 'survival horror' type games on the PS2, in addition to many other single-player franchises like Final Fantasy (due to the lack of four controller ports). No doubt we will continue to see an array of one-player madness coming to that system.
The PlayStation, or PSone (for those who can't say just 'PlayStation') continues to get developer support, but at a drastically slowing rate. This 5-year old system can be found in nearly every household, and is just now starting to see a bit of it's fate on the horizon. Several of the huge developers have slowed development and the small developers will continue to make terrible games for the system until it's death. With Megaman X5, and a few other games by third party developers, great games will come to a trickle. All the big companies like Capcom, Konami, Namco, and Square, have began development on other systems which results in less development for the PS. Konami plans to re-release a handful of Castlevania games that are rare to the PS, but after that and the handful of games Capcom, Namco, and Square release, what more is there to look forward to on the PlayStation?
The GameCube is on it's way, but is quickly (by the media) being pinned as the 'middle-child' between the strange 'power' (more like power of the media, if you ask me) of the PlayStation2, and the much talked about powerful Xbox. The GameCube itself is said to be powerful, but if developers decide that Sony has a nice looking wallet that talks with the voice of God, Nintendo might be in a bad situation. But, then again, the GameCube has a much simpler, developer-friendly architecture than the PS2, with great first-party support and already announced third party support from Capcom and Konami, not to mention no 'official' denial or acceptance from Square or Namco. Other worse-case scenarios might be the plague of the disease known as 'ports-only', which can hurt a system's sales immensely (look at the N64 sales). I personally do not think the GC will get that treatment from developers, and for a few reasons. The GameCube, much like the DreamCast, has a focus on the importance of online gaming, and the emphasis of developer-friendliness (as opposed to the complicated PS2 guts). Nintendo also decided to take it farther by making the GameCube compatible with the Gameboy Advance; a move like this could mean endless possibilities if developers take an advantage of it. Though just a thought, maybe in the future Nintendo will bless us with the ability to download Gameboy games through the modem on the GameCube to play on the GameBoy Advance (since the GBA plays GB games too). Things like this are all possibilities, and Nintendo is keeping tight-lipped about everything, from the actual game betas themselves to the functioning of the modem in the system. The GameCube is still in development, but specs have been revealed; and just specs, to remind you. Though the cube is already a powerful piece of purple, the GameCube, if Nintendo feels the need, can be upgraded any minute as a result of Microsoft's monster specs for the Xbox. Even if Nintendo doesn't upgrade it though, the system seems and looks very powerful, and together with easy development equals great games from third party and second party developers.
Not only is the focus of Nintendo on the GameCube, but also on the Nintendo 64. Nintendo doesn't plan to let the N64 go out with a fizzle, but more like kicking and screaming. With games like Sin & Punishment, Ogre Battle 64, Dinosaur Planet, and Conker's Bad Fur Day, the Nintendo 64 may be down, but not out. Nintendo says they will continue to develop games for the N64 even when the GameCube is released; the question now is what have they have got planned? With games like Mario Party 3 and Perfect Dark, systems will continue to sell as well as the respective games, but for how long? Though many speculate the N64 can see the sun setting at last, Nintendo refuses to let it go out insignificantly. Within the next year, we could begin to see above above average titles on the N64, depending on what Nintendo's got planned. But, until then, the fate of the Nintendo 64 looks a bit predictable, and many developers have pulled out and went onto the next big consoles in the market.
The Xbox will mark in history, Microsoft's first venture into the world of console gaming, and can also mark either death of or flourishing profit as well. Some say with its brute strength and polygon pushing power, the Xbox will prevail, but is all of that actually means of victory in an industry where a 32-bit system has reigned over a 64-bit system in terms of sales and licensee cooperation? Will the Xbox be all of what the other systems are good at in one box? The Xbox will have immediate (or so they say) connection to their network out of the box, DVD capability and the 'power' of the PS2, four controller ports (yay), third-party and first-party support; but will it succeed in Japan? The major factor in the success of the Xbox, unlike the other systems, lies in it's perception of the Japanese market. As it is now, the perception looks great, with Capcom and Konami already signed as licensees, and Namco 'surprised' by the power of the Xbox and it's capabilities. Although Square hasn't announced support yet (most likely they'll stay with Sony, but I'll stay quiet for now), the same media who scoffs at the DreamCast says Square isn't completely ruling out the possibility. This system, by far, is the most interesting. Why, you ask? Well, for one, it's an American system that actually looks like it's going to deliver (with help from Japanese developers, of course). With licensees like Capcom and Konami, it's hard not to think that this system will not be driven to quality; but then again, Capcom and Konami are also licensees for every other system on the block too. Metal Gear X and Silent Hill X have been announced by Konami, which is impressive, considering how Metal Gear was thought to have been a Sony exclusive for quite some time. What does this mean? This means that now Sony (Metal Gear Solid helped drive sales for the PS) won't get all the profit and credibility from the next Metal Gear games. Though they are said to have minor differences from one another, both games are going to be on PS2 and Xbox, which means that people will choose the version that looks better. Which version will they choose? Well, let's just say that unless something goes wrong (or Sony gets more cash), the Xbox version will look better in just about every aspect, which will draw in more people to buy the Xbox. If all the Xbox is getting are ports of already announced PS2 titles, will there be any reason for those who have a PS2 to purchase a shiny new Xbox? Well, my number two reason for being excited about the American machine is that it has what we have long been waiting for: a controller that features six buttons on the face similar to the Saturn. This, in itself, is a feat because players all over the world have been waiting for this! Microsoft was really generous in making this controller above average, and from what I've heard (and seen) in interviews, Microsoft cares about the gamer, not the money in the gamer's wallet. The things they did to find out what the gamers and developers wanted are just cool; they actually went out of their way and went to the homes of gamers to see what we wanted! The Xbox has no hardware problems, just a small obstacle that happens to rely on the willingness of Japanese developers.
When the cloud of smoke dissolves, and the battlefield is exposed, the masses will be surprised and caught off guard. I think that DreamCast will succeed, driven by SegaNet and a library of 'must-buy' titles and online gaming at it's finest. Though the PS2 will continue to appeal to the vast masses of DVD fans everywhere, the system will not be as successful as it's predecessor, with less support and development due to the 'easy-as-1-2-3' development for the DreamCast, GameCube, and Xbox. And the Xbox, if all goes well in Japan, will thrive on great titles from key developers and online support, just as Sega; not to mention most likely some ports of Capcom fighters for use with the great design of the controller. The N64 will have died not a short death, but a long, fiery death, clawing and screaming into it's grave with support from Nintendo until it's last production day. Development on the PlayStation will be active, but not nearly the caliber of what we were granted back in the days of the system's adolescence. What about the portables?! Well, let's just say the Neo-Geo Pocket, though it might still have continued support, will most likely be overshadowed by the GameBoy Advance. Same with the WonderSwan, which might live a little longer, but just because it has Square supporting it. Needless to say, in the end it seems that the most talk and development will be of the DreamCast, Xbox, GameCube, and GameBoy Advance. Unless, of course, the Xbox doesn't succeed in Japan..............