The Destiny of Console Gaming

Sony May be Ahead on Points, But the Fight’s Not Over Yet

When Sony announced the PlayStation 4 last year, it came out with guns blazing in the hope of avoiding the mistakes it made with the PS3.

One announcement that caught my eye was a game called Destiny, from Bungie, the creators of Halo. Even though Destiny is also coming to Xbox systems, Sony scored a huge win by getting to announce the title and associating it more strongly with the PlayStation brand. But it goes even further than this. Bungie is focusing more development on the PS4 version of the game. Gamers will naturally want to play the best version of Destiny; if Sony’s console offers the better experience, it should mean more sales of the PS4.

Bungie opened up beta testing for PlayStation users on 17 July, but Xbox users had to wait almost a week longer to play Destiny. The PS4 version already runs in 1080p; Bungie claims the Xbox One version will do the same, although it’s clearly been a struggle, perhaps owing to hardware limitations on the Xbox. These things show how even though Destiny isn’t an exclusive, there are advantages to choosing Sony’s hardware to play the game.

Additionally, the PS4’s specs are quite a bit better than those of the Xbox One, at least on paper. Sony has opted for more “normal” silicon, making the PS4 easier to develop for than its predecessor, which sported a complex Cell processor. Both of these factors are important because they influence third-party development. Even though many developers have moved from producing exclusive titles to multiplatform efforts, different versions of games aren’t created equally.

For example, even though the PS3 had generally better hardware than the Xbox 360, Microsoft’s console was much easier to develop for and thus the best versions of console games were typically on the Xbox 360. Take a popular game like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, for instance. The PS3 version was notorious for suffering from glitches. I’d imagine that more than a few people who were curious about this hit game were steered toward the Xbox 360 version as a result.

This time around, Sony has made it much easier to develop games for its hardware, and combined this with more computing horsepower than its main rival. I think it’s clear which console will get the best versions of popular multiplatform games in the current battle.

With the previous generation of consoles, many formerly exclusive titles went multiplatform to improve sales and cope with rapidly rising development costs. Exclusive games are very important to console companies: consumers have no choice but to buy a system if they want to play a particular title. As third-party developers mostly bowed out from this model, the “big three” console manufacturers have adapted their strategies.

One approach has been to develop a strong library of exclusive in-house titles. This has suited Nintendo well. Its recent Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World have garnered some interest from gamers and that’s helped keep the Wii platform relevant. The much-loved Super Smash Bros series is likely to reach the Wii U by the end of this year and many curious hold-outs may purchase Nintendo’s system. Nintendo has other interesting products in the pipeline, like Hyrule Warriors, a new Star Fox title and the Amiibo range, which combines collectable figures and video games in a fashion similar to Skylanders.

Microsoft isn’t giving the competition an easy ride. It’s developing new titles for the popular Halo and Gears of War series, it has a visually stunning shooter called Sunset Overdrive, and the new Tomb Raider as a timed exclusive. Under the leadership of Phil Spencer, the Xbox vision is clearly more focused on having the best possible line-up of games. This is a major turn-around from the PR disasters that characterised the reign of Mr Spencer’s predecessor.

Mr Spencer recently hinted that he wanted developer Rare to do more than Kinect games. I think this would be a great move — Rare has produced classic titles like Goldeneye, Perfect Dark and Conker’s Bad Fur Day. If Rare could return to its glory days, Microsoft would have some spectacular exclusives for the Xbox One. In addition, the financial woes of famed developer Capcom make it a potential acquisition target, giving any buyer a handful of solid exclusives like Megaman and Resident Evil.

At this point in the console wars, the key to success is getting as many good games as possible on your platform, hopefully only on yours, but if not, ensuring yours is the best place to play games. With this in mind Sony’s set itself up as the leading contender, but I wouldn’t bet against Microsoft or Nintendo based on their current positions. Both are clearly are trying to turn things around in big ways.