Ruminations on the Console Wars

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Mon Nov 23, 2020

2020 was a year ravaged by a global pandemic, a divisive election, wildfires, riots and looting, and all out war. But not the lame kind of war with guns, ideological conflicts, and crimes against humanity. No, the real kind of war. The console wars. A name that brings to my mind the fierce battle between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, back when it was actually a competition. The generation before the PlayStation 2 was just the obvious choice, and this past gen was clearly ruled by the PlayStation 4 (PS4). Microsoft really isn’t helping themselves with the naming scheme either. Xbox, a bit on the nose but whatever. Xbox 360, ok fine. Xbox One, why? And now Xbox Series X? At least Sony keeps it straightforward, if boring. It seems only fitting that 2020, the year that has taken so much from us, has the game industry seeking to take yet more, because neither of the next gen consoles are worth your time. 

The story of late has been lacking. With both consoles having released this past week, consumers have been scrambling to purchase theirs, only to find empty shelves if they arrived later than a day in advance. Naturally, a global pandemic and nationwide quarantine has contributed to some shortages. To be honest I’m not totally clear why it sold that much at all. I mean, I know that people are excited about the new games, but almost all of them are available on current gen consoles with at worst slight graphical downgrades. Many are following Activision's model for “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War” where players can purchase the game for $60 on current gen and then “upgrade” them for $10 to play next gen. This makes next gen triple-A games functionally $70, which companies have been trying to push as the new standard in a year when nobody has any money. 

The one thing that has been refreshing to see is how cynical general attitudes have become towards the next gen consoles. Not that we need any more cynicism, but it is preferable to the die hard fanaticism of the console wars of old. Even back when the Xbox One and PS4 were making headway, players from either side would cling to their preferred brand while refusing to admit any degree of fault with it. Now attitudes have taken more to trying to figure out which is the least terrible. It also doesn’t help that launch titles have been extremely underwhelming. “Halo Infinite” made a big stir when the teaser first dropped, but after an extremely disappointing gameplay trailer it has been pushed back to 2021. PlayStation 5 (PS5), on the other hand, has “Bugsnax” so I guess it wins. The only real “next-gen” ish game there happens to be is “Call of Duty,” a franchise people have been souring on for nearly a generation.

This has also been potentially the most controversy ridden console generation on top of everything else. Sony caught a lot of flak for how it opted to do pre-orders, where people could submit a request to have the opportunity to preorder their PS5 after they’d been vetted. Needless to say Sony intended to approve people who were unlikely to criticize their system. And just this week rumors have been swirling around showcasing Xboxes that have supposedly caught fire and begun smoking, though there has been no proof as to these claims. 

With the mess that has been this console generation, increasing allegations of excessive crunch among game development, the continued propagation of monetization I talked about in an article last year, with a shifting to a $70 price tag norm on top of monetization features, it’s not easy to see why so many have become disillusioned with their favorite pastime. This generation has been characterized, perhaps accused, of being excessively cynical and jaded. But with what’s going on in the video game industry alone, it’s easy to see why. Honestly, there is little reason not to go PC now. It’s a bit more demanding, and depending on your tastes a bit more expensive, but for what you’d pay for a PS5 or Xbox series X, PC is just a better alternative now. Steam isn’t perfect, but it's been solid, and has a far more robust library than any next gen console, and failing that there is always Good Old Games (GoG).

There is, however, one exception. A clear winner of the console wars, despite having only just begun as far as I and many others are concerned a ceasefire has been called. It’s only fitting that the winner of a war of consoles released in 2020 was released in 2017. Even funnier that it’s the only console to have broken from horrible naming convention. Thank goodness it’s not called the Wii 3 or the Wii U&Mii or something. The Nintendo Switch is here, and it’s already leagues above what either console dropped this week has to offer. While not necessarily as powerful, it still has more than enough to competently run any modern game at reasonable settings. And you can pick it up and play on the train, giving it an actual niche to fill outside of what PC can already accomplish better. It already has a robust game’s library, a number of worthwhile exclusives, and what has been a far more benign company behind the wheel. The only thing the switch isn’t great at is online, which PC does better than all three consoles already. Nintendo won this generation in a landslide before the battles had even begun.

 

 

Appears in
2020 - Fall - Issue 10
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