Nintendo could beat Sony in the battle for control of the Japanese console market.
This article appears in the December 06 issue of PC Advisor. Available now in all good newsagents.
Last month’s Tokyo Game Show was the first opportunity for gamers to get their hands on the console guaranteed to become one of this Christmas’s hot-ticket items.
Although Sony's PlayStation 3 had been shown in prototype form at events for more than a year, most sightings were of development kits, so it was a long-anticipated moment when we finally grasped the real thing.
Move along, now
Naturally, the biggest draw was Sony's booth, where a dozen games were playable, with more on display. The titles drawing the most attention were the racing title Gran Turismo HD and Minna no Golf 5.
Sega had the best line-up of games for the PS3. In particular, Power Smash 3, a tennis game presented in full 1,080p HD (high-definition) resolution, which makes it closer to a simulation than a traditional game.
HD gaming may take some getting used to, but gameplay was surprisingly simple and easy to grasp, and players quickly became hooked.
Other Sega standards were out in impressive force, including Virtua Fighter 5 and Sega Golf Club. The former couldn't fail to impress, with beautifully rendered blizzards of cherry blossom falling from background trees and realistic-looking Japanese temples adding to the atmosphere. Sega's golf title, on the other hand, looked slightly dated, especially compared with Sony’s offering.
Not all PS3 games on show were complete. One of the most interesting games was previewed under the working title of Lair – surely the first HD fire-breathing dragon game. However, the low price (¥25,000, about £115) and innovative controller could push Nintendo’s Wii console to the top spot in Japan’s multibillion-dollar video gaming market.
The Wii goes on sale in Japan on 2 December, a few weeks after the 11 November launch of the PS3.
The PlayStation 3 oozes powerful, cutting-edge technology. It promises to deliver unprecedented graphics, and it packs a Blu-ray Disc drive.
Shake it all about
The Wii is an altogether different machine. It runs on lower-spec hardware and won't do HD, but it has an ace up its sleeve: its controller, fitted with motion sensors and a wireless link, can be waved about to control the game. This creates an entirely new type of gaming experience.
Hirokazu Hamamura, president of Enterbrain – which publishes Japan’s leading gaming magazine, Famitsu – reckons the Wii controller’s intuitive handling is likely to attract people who've never played on a console before.
"I believe there will be big sales from the very beginning. I feel this growth will slow a little from the third year, but altogether the sales will exceed 10 million units," he said. The figures are based on an Enterbrain survey of 2,500 people in Japan.
"Brand image for the PS3 is very high, and half the people we surveyed said they wanted one. But when we ask if they will buy one, many say it's too expensive and that they'll wait until the price drops," Hamamura added.
However, Sony has since cut the price of the PlayStation 3 from ¥62,790 (about £283) to ¥49,980 (£225). The bad news is consumers in Europe and the US won’t see similar reductions – Sony plans to stick with a tags of $499 (£262) for the US and £335 in Europe.
Microsoft's Xbox 360 was launched last year. It will get a boost from software titles and a low-price HD DVD drive add-on. But total sales are likely to lag behind competitors, according to Enterbrain.
"It looks like Nintendo is giving everything it possibly can for the Wii," said Hiroshi Kamide, director of the research department at KBC Securities.
“Nintendo hasn’t had a successful machine for 10 years, so for analysts it’s quite difficult to imagine Nintendo winning. But for me right now, especially in Japan, Nintendo does seem to have the upper hand.”
Will Apple join the market?
Apple's decision to make games available through iTunes 7.0 may be more significant than first thought – the company may have its eyes on the games console market.
Business Week recently looked at Apple's many moves to make its technologies part of front room culture, as consumers respond to the popularity of the iPod.
It considered Apple's iTV in conjunction with iTunes games downloads, speculating on a console market land grab. And it looked at Microsoft and Sony's attempt to become part of a converged living-room ecosystem.
The report then speculated on the possibility that when it eventually ships, iTV may be capable of streaming Mac and Windows games (through Boot Camp) to a TV.
"Instead of using games to gain convergence, Jobs and company may just use music and video to wrap games into a neat set-top bundle," the report concluded.