If winners can be declared for console generations, the last generation was undeniably ruled by the Wii. It’s a success so great, arguably the moment where console gaming broke into a new level of mainstream success, that it’s overshadowing the Wii U. And that should worry Sony and Microsoft both.
Why? A few reasons, but it really boils down to this: The casual electronics consumer is a very different beast from the hardcore gamer.
Casual Gamers Don’t Care About Upgrading Their Consoles
The Wii barely sold a console to “hardcore” gamers, not least because nobody was catering to them. And that’s fine: Nintendo sold over ninety million of the things at a profit. But then Nintendo rolled out the Wii U, and, well, it’s still being outsold by the Wii.
True, Nintendo isn’t aggressively promoting the Wii U just yet, although that’s going to change in a hurry. But it’s also clear that Nintendo was expecting every Wii owner to rush out and buy a Wii U. That hasn’t happened, and it’s not clear that Sony and Microsoft will do any better with casual owners of a PS3 or 360.
TV Features Do Not Cause A Rush To Upgrade
Nintendo TVii is pretty damn amazing. Seriously. It has some flaws, but it’s gorgeous, smooth, simple, and a great way to watch television. Here’s a fun game you can play with it, too: See if you can find five people who care.
Therein lies the problem. The main goal for Sony and Microsoft was always to use gamers as a back door to control the set-top box market, and Sony, of all people, actually managed to pull that one off to the degree that any of them were successful.
But, speaking as somebody who uses the PS3 as his primary TV device, there’s just no reason to upgrade to the PS4 in that respect. I already have a device that plays back DVDs and Blu-Rays and can find any piece of digitized content on the planet. I don’t spend new-car money on TVs, so 4K isn’t compelling. It’s hard to imagine I’m alone in this respect, either.
Similarly, what compelling reason is there for people who use the 360 primarily to work out and watch TV to upgrade? It’s a newer, fancier camera? So what? If it works well, and there are compelling reasons against trading up… why bother?
It’s Hard To Turn Casual Gamers Into Hardcore Gamers
As a lot of companies have learned the hard way, translating a casual game success into a devoted following is harder than it looks. It’s not impossible, but the reality is, gaming is a hobby that requires time, money, and patience, and it’s hard to get all three out of people on a consistent basis. Every gaming journalist will eventually write an article about how hard it is to play hardcore games now that they have a spouse, a kid, and a day job, and it’s difficult to see how to make those forces work in a game company, any game company’s, favor.
There’s No Way To Force An Upgrade
Say Sony and Microsoft decide to deploy the nuclear option in 2014 and just shut the damn servers down. This is incredibly unlikely, mind you, but it could happen. All you casual gamers and TV-watchers, you have to get a new device! Resistance is futile!
Is there a particular reason these people won’t just, say… buy one of the dozens of Android-based set-top boxes, or a Roku, or a home theater PC? They have plenty of options, and if they use multiple services they can easily cobble together a viewing solution for half of what a new console would cost. These things cost so much because the games on them will be stunning… but if your audience doesn’t play games, they don’t need those features.
The more you look at it, the more Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all have the same problem on their hands: The consumer and the companies are speaking entirely different languages. The hardcore may still save their bacon, but it seems likely that people will cling to their older consoles for a much longer time than their manufacturers were hoping.
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