State of Video Game Consoles, 2009

by Mike Shea on 1 December 2009

30 Second Summary

It's a great time to be a gamer. The PS3 and Xbox 360 are the best consoles we've ever seen. Of the two, the PS3 has the best bang for the buck with built-in wifi and Blue-ray DVD. With 95% of games released for both, there's little reason to worry about which you choose. I predict that it will be another five years before Microsoft or Sony release new consoles. On the other hand, I predict Nintendo will release an HD Wii in 2011. When these new systems DO come out, I predict they'll switch to a download-only market just like we're seeing with the iTunes app store, the Playstation Network Store, Xbox Live, and the Wii Virtual Console. In the mean time, the PS3 and Xbox 360 have some amazing games like Fallout 3, Dragon Age, and Halo ODST, some of the ever games we've ever played.

Wordy Windy Version

I've been a fan of consoles for a long long time. I love the simplicity, I love the focus, and I love the games. For nine years I've written about my love of consoles and my vexation with computer gaming. Now, in December 2009, I felt it's time for my look at the state of consoles and offer some predictions for the future.

The Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 are the best consoles ever made for their time. With high definition graphics, multi-channel digital sound, and built-in networking; these two consoles meet all of my desires and expectations for the best video game consoles. Unlike the Xbox and PS2, I look at these two consoles and I don't see a single missing thing.

The price is also right for these systems, at about $300 for either of them, these systems are affordable and come with just about everything you need.

The PS3 had a rough rough start. It was too expensive and offered too little over an Xbox 360 to make it worth the price. Now, at $300 and often packaged with some good games, the Playstation 3 is the better console for the money for two reasons: it comes with a blue-ray DVD player and it includes built-in wireless networking. The Xbox 360 still hasn't built in wireless networking and charges $70 for the adapter.

Other than that, both systems are just about identical. There are only a handful of system-exclusive games and save a few strong hits like Halo ODST, they don't matter enough to push one system or the other. Because of the much larger number of systems in homes, you're more likely to find your friends on the 360 instead of the PS3 but at this new price, I expect more people will buy the PS3 in time for the same reason I did, the Blue-ray player.

Computer gaming has shrunk to a small niche for the most part except in two major areas: Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs) and Facebook flash gaming. Activition had the right idea when they ignored complaints from PC players angry about the lack of dedicated servers in Modern Warfare 2. The market just isn't big enough to matter to them anymore.

Why do I prefer console games so much? Reliability and stability are the main reasons. I've never spent time tweaking my graphics settings or debugging a driver issue on a console game. I've never worried whether my console was powerful enough to run it at full framerates. Console developers know exactly what they're developing for. As John Carmack remarked long ago, when you're developing for a fixed platform, every framerate jump matters. On a PC, there's just no point in optimizing.

Computer Gaming is Dead, Long Live Computer Gaming!

Unfortunately, something bad has happened as these consoles got better. They became more and more like computers. The Xbox 360 and the PS3 are the first systems to include hard drives in their standard builds. They've begun installing parts or entire games. Instead of just popping in a cart and playing, now you have to wait for installation screens, load times, and patches downloaded over the net. More and more my consoles act like my PC. How soon until I'm back to tweaking graphic settings?

Still, we gain a lot with the power of these systems. We can download hundreds of game demos over the net, giving us hours and hours of time to play some beautiful and excellent games without paying a dime. There's also a lot of quick fun "casual" games available for $10 to $20 on top of the normal $60 games.

With both systems out for about four years now, there is also a huge library of great games for $20 each. If you can wait a year to play today's big hit, you can have that hit for a lot less money.

Some of those "home entertainment center" dreams of the big CEOs ten years ago are also coming true. For the first time I'm using my video game console to watch movies through Netflix's on-demand service. This is a great added benefit on top of the other advantages.

Predictions of the Future

So it's time for some predictions. Given the current market and the great strength of existing consoles, I predict that Sony and Microsoft won't release next-generation consoles for another five years. We won't hear about any new consoles from these two until 2013 and we won't see them in stores until late 2014 and 2015. This is fine for us. We're getting everything we want and need out of our existing systems and can for a long time.

The Wii is a different story. It's still a piece of shit, built on low-def technology they put out in the Gamecube nearly ten years ago. People are going to start realizing what a piece of shit it is and within the next two years Nintendo will release a new high-definition Wii with multi-channel sound and a built-in hard drive. This will happen in 2011.

There's one clear feature I expect from next-generation consoles: they're going to be download-only. All major content producers are watching what Apple has done with the iPhone and are positioning themselves to do the same. All three current console manufacturers have their own online store and I'm guessing they're seeing a lot of profit and a lot of benefit from these stores. Why would they continue to lose money to the used-game market, piracy, and the slice of retail when they can host everything themselves?

This could be good or bad for us customers. If the prices stay low for download-only games, we stand to gain a lot of value. We lose any chance to trade our games or sell them once we're done, though. There are definite tradeoffs to this, but I still expect it to be the future regardless.

But that's the future. Right now we have two awesome game consoles out with a pile of really great games like Fallout 3, Dragon Age, and Halo ODST. It's a really great time to be a console gamer!