2013: Microsoft cements games lead, Apple joins in

11 Jan

Gamescom Cologen trade fair - Microsoft Xbox 360 with KinectIt’s not much of a stretch to predict that we’re going to see some new video game consoles this year. It might be a little surprising, however, to suggest that Microsoft is going to jump to a commanding lead in this ongoing console war and that the battle may go from the current three players to four – at least for the time being.

Firstly, the writing on the wall couldn’t be more obvious in regards to new consoles from at least Microsoft and likely Sony as well. Slowing console sales are one indicator, but perhaps the most telling hint is Microsoft’s first-party release schedule.

The company has typically rotated its two biggest franchises, Halo and Gears of War, over successive holiday periods, with the former coming one year and the latter the next. Yet this time around, Halo 4 saw its release this past September while Gears of War: Judgment is scheduled for a March, 2013 launch. The two biggest franchises released within months of each other? What’s going on?

What big game does Microsoft have left for the holiday 2013 season? Could it be something new?

It’s going to have to be. Wouldn’t it be a hoot if Bungie, the developer that effectively launched the first Xbox with the inaugural Halo game, was working on a flagship title for the new console? That’s pure speculation, of course.

But given all that, why would Microsoft jump to a lead? Well, to start with, the Xbox 360 already holds a few advantages over rivals, including a more advanced online store and gaming, plus its Smartglass second-screen app that holds a world of potential. Kinect, for all its flaws, is also a far better motion gaming system than either of its rivals. Second-generation technology will doubtlessly make it even more impressive.

Microsoft’s real advantage over Sony and Nintendo, however, comes down to a simple concept: ecosystem. As in Microsoft has one while its rivals do not.

The software giant has correctly identified a unified operating system as the current holy grail of technology. With computing now happening on computers, smartphones and tablets, the company that can provide the smoothest and simplest experience for apps across that range is going to be very popular with developers. And where developers go, consumers follow.

The major operating system makers, including Google and Apple, are striving toward this ideal. While Microsoft’s Windows 8 hasn’t exactly caught fire yet, it is the closest effort so far in achieving it.

Now add the fourth screen – the television – to the equation. Television makers including Samsung and LG have tried to create “smart” displays, but for the most part the results have been lackluster, which means the field is ripe for someone who can do it right. And if that someone can bring that unified experience from computers, phones and tablets – with all those app developers in tow – that’s even better.

Microsoft has been working towards this convergence for years, with the Xbox interface slowly morphing into the Windows 8 interface (or is it vice versa?). The company is trying and to some extent succeeding in creating a single environment for developers, wherein they can create apps and games that can go out to four screens with a minimum amount of additional work needed to tailor to specific categories of devices.

Sony and Nintendo, not being software experts, simply aren’t positioned for this kind of convergence. There is, in fact, only one other player that is: Apple.

Apple isn’t as far along in unifying its operating systems as Microsoft, but it too is inching in that direction. Apple’s big advantage, however, is that it already has a huge ecosystem of app developers who are finding it relatively easy to create across its slate of devices.

Most estimates figure that a good chunk – up to 75 per cent – of the money Apple makes through its app store is thanks to games. Combine that with the long-simmering quote from the departed Steve Jobs about how he had “finally cracked” how to do television and it seems like a no-brainer that the company will eventually enter the market for home games.

Whether this is done through a set-top box like a new-and-improved Apple TV or through a full-blown Apple flat panel itself is almost irrelevant, because it makes all kind of sense regardless of how it’s done. However it’s done, my money is on it happening this year, for reasons explained in my separate predictions on Apple.

This would be the worst news for Nintendo, which has already lost plenty of its portable gaming business to Apple and its iPhones and iPads. While tablet and smartphone games generally can’t match the quality of dedicated devices like Nintendo’s 3DS, many gamers are finding it more economical and equally satisfying to play something simple like Angry Birds on the subway for a few dollars, rather than shelling out $40 for a full portable game.

That same trend would likely replicate itself on television, where Apple could chew up much of the casual gaming audience that is Nintendo’s bread and butter.

And where does all of this leave Sony? Given the company’s reliance on Android in tablets and smartphones, it wouldn’t be surprising to see it develop even closer ties to Google in order to make up for its ecosystem shortfall. Could the PlayStation 4 run on Android? Don’t bet against it.


Posted by on January 11, 2013 in apple, microsoft, nintendo, sony, video games


6 responses to “2013: Microsoft cements games lead, Apple joins in

  1. Jason Koblovsky

    January 11, 2013 at 1:21 am

    Actually I think there are going to be a lot more players than just the fab 4 mentioned in here. Nvidia just showcased it’s handheld gaming device at CES 2013, which runs on Android, which pretty much signals Nvidia’s move towards taking on the consoles

    The problem I see with consoles though, is that they maybe coming obsolete with the expansion of cloud gaming on the horizon. Then there’s the issue of a closed environment that consoles are know for. Both Sony and Microsoft seem to be signalling that the next gen consoles will not play used games. Sony filed a patent a few weeks ago on the tech. XBOX 720 has long been rumored to be going in that direction too.

    From the looks at the technical specs of the patent, if this tech is applied to the PS4, backwards compatibility will be non-existent as well in the next gen console. Backwards compatibility along with playing used games are 2 major issues that gamers care about, and have for a long time. That could be the start a post-console era. I think this is going to really rev up in 2014 with a significant about of android and IOS devices made by different manufactures, not just the traditional industry.

    What that could also do is put the mobile gaming industry in direct competition with console developers. Something I hope will happen. There’s a lot more developers in the mobile gaming sector then there are in the console sector. A big win for consumers if that happens. We’re going to see I think a lot more attention on quality rather than quantity if that happens from the big game developers.

    I think rather than looking at physical consoles, that we’re going to see a lot more smart devices that are all in one entertainment devices, that eventually you’ll be able to connect through wifi to your TV’s. Exciting time to be a gamer, but I have some reservations as to whether or not the next gen consoles will be all that successful, especially if they don’t follow market demands and needs.

  2. Justin Amirkhani

    January 11, 2013 at 1:34 am

    “Smartglass second-screen app that holds a world of potential”

    Ugh, c’mon Pete don’t drink the Kool-Aid on this thing.

  3. Justin Amirkhani

    January 11, 2013 at 1:35 am

    Also, whutt?!

    “Kinect, for all its flaws, is also a far better motion gaming system than either of its rivals.”

    Name one game on Kinect that’s as fun as Wii Sports.

    • petenowak2000

      January 11, 2013 at 4:07 am

      Dance Central. Done.

  4. Justin Amirkhani

    January 11, 2013 at 1:46 am

    Now that I’m done being a smartass, I’m going to retort appropriately.

    The only Microsoft products I can see myself continue to use in the future is Windows and Office. It’ll take one hell of an impressive console and a lot of fantastic exclusive games to convince me a new system is worth purchasing when Steam and the Big Picture mode kind of make the proprietary apps and other nonsense Microsoft peddles through Xbox Live worth anything to me. It’s just not a smart consumer choice when I can get a fantastic living room experience that extends to my phone, my desktop, my laptop, and my television all through the basic features a normal desktop PC is capable of providing.

    I’m aware this solution isn’t for everyone because it’s not perfectly plug-and-play, but it’s so easy now that I have a hard time believing there aren’t more people out there thinking along these lines. The cost of consoles, console games, and the ludicrous “service” Microsoft charges for through Xbox Live far offsets the minor inconveniences or required knowledge of setting up your own custom entertainment infrastructure.

    I hope they’re well armed this E3.

  5. Marc Venot

    January 11, 2013 at 2:55 am

    There are many contenders (even RIM may surprise soon) and people are not attached by their previous programs.
    Microsoft have the trouble of the legacy of the .dll
    Sony and Nintendo are not really in desarray yet since they even push to lock a program to its original owner (no resale).
    What would be great is to place filter but politically those who govern would probably not like it.

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