John Siracusa’s take on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Wii U so far is worth a read. I’d like to add a bit more perspective on why this generation’s hardware design is so different.
The Xbox 360 was released on November 22, 2005, and the Wii and PlayStation 3 were released in 2006. Their hardware was presumably designed over a few years before that. To give you some idea of how long ago that was, and how much has happened in the meantime, here’s a partial list of notable things released after the Xbox 360:
- Ruby on Rails: December 13, 2005
- Amazon S3: March 14, 2006
- Twitter: March 21, 2006
- HD-DVD: March 31, 2006 (died in 2008)
- Blu-ray: June 2006
- Snakes on a Plane: August 17, 2006
- Windows Vista: November 8, 2006
- PlayStation 3: November 11, 2006
- Nintendo Wii: November 19, 2006
- Tumblr: December 2006
- Apple TV: January 8, 2007
- Netflix Streaming: January 2007
- 1 TB hard drives: January 2007
- Hacker News: February 19, 2007
- Desktop Tower Defense: March 3, 2007
- Flight of the Conchords: June 17, 2007
- iPhone: June 29, 2007
- iPod Touch: September 14, 2007
- Asus Eee PC: October 16, 2007
- Amazon Kindle: November 19, 2007
- Instapaper: January 28, 2008
- GitHub: April 2008
- iOS App Store: July 10, 2008
- Google Chrome: September 2, 2008
- Stack Overflow: September 15, 2008
- Canon 5D Mark II: September 17, 2008
- Android: September 23, 2008
- Bing: June 1, 2009
- iPad: April 3, 2010
And that’s just through early 2010. It was a very different world in 2005, and our current game consoles were designed without knowing any of these changes were coming.
Game consoles are being attacked and marginalized by cheaper, simpler smartphone and tablet games, and many people are reallocating former game-playing time to social networking. But consoles are also being pushed harder than ever into being media players and offering easy social gameplay, and they’ll likely remain far more popular as TV-connected computing devices than media-only boxes such as the Apple TV and Roku.
Given the dramatically different landscape today, it’s interesting to see the strategic changes made with the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Wii U:
- The Wii U has changed almost nothing, and is selling very poorly.
- The PlayStation 4 is pushing slightly toward a media-center role, but is mostly still a hardcore gaming system.
- The Xbox One is pushing heavily into a media-center role, but is compromising slightly on raw gaming power.
I see problems with all three approaches. The Wii U depends mostly on casual gamers, but the best casual gaming device for most people is the iPad Mini. The PS4 might be neglecting media roles too much, although it will probably still succeed. And the Xbox One’s heavily pushed smart-TV integration features seem to be designed for an imaginary world in which people browse the web on their TVs instead of the (non-Microsoft) smartphone in their pocket. Only the Wii U’s strategy seems fatal.
I expect the PS4 and Xbox One to both sell well. But I can’t confidently predict that either will outsell its predecessor.