As mentioned in the PS3 post, I’m taking a look at each of the consoles ahead of the E3 event next week and discussing what I perceive to be their weaknesses, and what they could announce at E3 to improve things.
As before, each console will broken down into three categories: hardware (concerning the actual console itself), hardcore software (with “hardcore” being shorthand for the dedicated gamers who read video game news sites and are part of gaming communities) and casual software (with “casual” being used to describe both the gamers who enjoy the hobby but don’t immerse themselves in it, and the expanded audience that has been attracted to gaming by the Wii).
Current Problems: The 360 is still selling quite well despite an absence of major software releases. In the April NPD the 360 saw its first year-on-year decline in its US sales since the price cut, but it was a minor one in a month that saw larger declines for the Wii and PS3. The 360’s main hardware problem is its horrendous failure rate in early models, which will serve as a major deterrence for those gamers yet to purchase the console.
Possible Solutions: Newer hardware models seem to be less prone to the “red ring of death” hardware failure, but it will be a long time before consumers will be confident the 360’s hardware problems are firmly behind it. One possible solution to that would be a redesigned 360, identical in functionality but different enough to allow Microsoft to distance it from the previous model.
Likely E3 Solution: There probably won’t be one. Microsoft will likely be focusing on their new software and doing what they can to just soldier on through with the system’s current reputation, hoping that will be enough to keep consumers interested (which so far has proven to be the case).
Likely Result if No Solution is Announced: Things will continue as they are, with a lot of people still comfortable buying the machine while others are not. It would leave Microsoft a little vulnerable to Sony’s actions though. A PS3 price cut could make it as appealing as the 360, while also having the added benefit of being more reliable.
Current Problems: The 360’s biggest issue with its software line-up is that right now there’s not much of it. Outside of Halo 3: ODST there’s not much that’s confirmed for the 360 at the end of the year, with a couple of games like Lost Planet 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction suspected to be only timed exclusives.
Possible Solutions: Lots of exclusive games being either revealed or confirmed as 2009 releases.
Likely E3 Solution: As above, lots of games should be revealed. Rumours point to things like the long-awaited Alan Wake and an unannounced Lionhead game being announced, but it is uncertain if either will make 2009, while Forza Motorsport 3 looks set to be revealed as a 2009 release. Microsoft could do with revealing much more though, and there are some concerns that they might be heavily focused on the casual audience this year (see the relevant section below for more details) and leave themselves a little thin on hardcore exclusives.
Likely Result if No Solution is Announced: It would be interesting to see just what would happen to the 360 with a shortage of key exclusives. Hardware sales have remained high so far this year while exclusives have been lacking, mostly due to strong marketing and generally good sales of third-party titles, which in the US at least tend to sell higher on 360. It seems unlikely that things could possibly continue like that when up against a strong line-up of PS3 software.
Current Problems: The most significant problem is that the console has very little appeal to the casual audience. Microsoft have tried to attract them with products like Scene It?, You’re in the Movies, Lips, Viva Piñata and Banjo-Kazooie, but these have not sold well, and not to the desired audience.
Possible Solutions: If software alone can’t help then the solution could be to introduce a motion control device of their own. Motion control isn’t the only thing that has helped the Wii succeed, but it’s not an insignificant factor either.
Likely E3 Solution: All signs point to at least one motion control device being unveiled for the 360, with the most likely candidate being a camera device capable of detecting small movements with precision, but there is also talk of a “magic wand” peripheral more in line with the Wii remote. Microsoft might even unveil both, along with games to take advantage of the tech. There could also be an official date for the 1 vs 100 gameshow, and details of additional Primetime games and events.
Likely Result if No Solution is Announced: The 360 would continue to appeal well to its current audience and likely sell well throughout the year, but would still lack appeal to the expanded audience snapping up Wiis in large numbers. If the PS3 gets its own motion control device then the 360 could have lost its chance to appeal to that audience, and given the PS3 a route to overtake it.