The Larger Console Cycle

The next generation is almost upon us and every gamer, in every country is excited about what’s to come. The Xbox One and PS4 will both be released within the year and gamer’s minds cannot help but think of what the future of gaming will bring. But for the moment let us look at the past.

Let us look at the major console manufacturers in the past three decades: Nintendo, Sega, Sony and Microsoft; and find the similarities between them. Anyone who listens to the bombcast will have heard the bombers’ thoughts on the positions of Sony and Microsoft, but in short: Sony came into the generation thinking they were unbeatable, and it was this hubris that lead to the PS3 not having as much of an impact as the Xbox 360; Going into the PS4 and Xbox One the tables have flipped: with Microsoft full of hubris and the PS4 set to capitalize on this. This reversal of fortunes is thought of as an incident solely relevant to the Sony and Microsoft, but it seems to me that this is part of a cycle that has been in motion since the NES and Master system.

Console 1: Trepidation

A company’s first console is a foray into the unknown. The company is testing the waters to see if they can survive in the console market. Questions such as “can the likes of Nintendo and Sega renew gamer’s interest in a home console?” and “will Sony and Microsoft be able to compete with established brands?” are asked during this time. The time spent on this console is important, because whether the consoles are successes like those mentioned above or fail such as Atari’s Jaguar or SNK’s Neo Geo, this time will set the stage for Console 2.

Console 2: The Golden Age

So console 1 was a success. The waters have been tested and it’s fine to jump in. The second console is the one with the most potential. In console 1 the groundwork has been laid. Franchises are established and fans continue to grow. Now is the perfect time to capitalize on your first success by taking the lessons learned and making the second console the best it can be. The second console contains the likes of the SNES, Genesis, PS2, and Xbox 360, some of the most popular systems of all time and generally a high point for the company. These second consoles are the pinnacle of both, creativity and sales. A newcomer going up against a second console can find it difficult to come into their own, as was the case with the Jaguar and the Neo Geo who couldn’t compete with both Nintendo and Sega in their prime. All is not perfect though, for it is this amazing success that leads to Console 3.

Console 3: Hubris

You did it. You made a massively successful console and nothing can stop you now, right?

Wrong. You got cocky kid. Sega, you made a 2D console for a 3D world; Nintendo, you partnered with Sony to make a disc based console then walked away leaving with Sony the opportunity to create their own; Sony, you made it so your console was difficult to design for and priced far too steeply. Only time will tell if the Xbox One will suffer the same fate with DRM. The third console can still be a great machine, but never lives up to the plateau that was the second console. N64, Saturn, and PS3 were all great devices, but after the creativity and sales of the previous generation they could be regarded as a fumble for their company. These consoles are where mistakes were made. One can only hope that it isn’t a death sentence.

Console 4: Renewed Effort

An effort is made to make up for the previous generation. This effort comes in a variety of forms, but always goes towards the trends of gaming at the time. Sega not only made the full switch to 3D, but created a console ahead of its time in many ways. Online support, open worlds, and smaller, less mainstream titles are all staples of the Dreamcast. With the Gamecube, Nintendo created the more mature games that had been successful for the Playstation and N64, partnering with the likes of Silicon Knights, and Retro studios to make darker worlds than is typical for Nintendo. In the coming generation Sony is taking a firm stance against issues such as DRM. This is a console that the developer hopes will recreate the success of their second effort, but an ever changing landscape and reliance on old franchises prevent this. The question for the future is whether Sony will follow this trend. After all their big, forthcoming titles are infamous: Second Son, and Killzone: Shadow Fall.

Console 5: F#%k This

The last couple of consoles didn’t quite pan out. Maybe you’re just too old for this and should go your own way. Sure, the only company to get this far is Nintendo with the Wii, but Sega was trending towards this with Dreamcast titles like Samba de Amigo. This console (the Wii) gives up on competition. Like a wise old monk they realise the futility of “Console Wars” and just do what they want. As is known the Wii was a massive success despite low graphical power, unconventional controls, and weak third party support. So maybe there is something to Console 5.

So the timeline goes like this:

Nintendo

Sega

Sony

Microsoft

Other

Trepidation

Trepidation

-

-

Golden Age

Golden Age

-

-

Trepidation (SNK, Atari)

Hubris

Hubris

Trepidation

-

Golden Age (Failed: SNK)

Renewed Effort

Renewed Effort

Golden Age

Trepidation

F#%k this

-

Hubris

Golden Age

?

-

Renewed Effort

Hubris

In the four main companies we see a similar pattern unfold. The 5 stages are in full effect and appear to continue going into the next generation. So even though it’s a little early to be thinking about the end of the coming generation I can’t help but wonder if the consoles are in a cycle that will continue on.

3 Comments