Opinion – Sony and Microsoft Don’t Understand Themselves

If this year’s E3 was proof of anything, it’s that most of the major players in the gaming world don’t understand what consoles are. Everyone from Microsoft to Ubisoft kept referring to their content as pushing the boundaries, cutting edge, “next gen,” and exclusive, despite most of their games not even running at 1080p/60FPS or being exclusive to any console. Everyone, that is, except for Nintendo.

Say what you will about the Wii U. It’s still a console that people are buying and it’s still a product Nintendo deeply understands how to develop for. When a single game increases your hardware sales by 666%, it’s safe to say you know what you’re doing.

If you want a Nintendo experience, you have to buy Nintendo’s hardware. More to the point, however, is that the Nintendo experience is a premium one that delivers a consistently fun and satisfying gaming experience free of technical issues like sub par resolutions and frame rates or design that doesn’t suit the console experience.

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Some games just aren’t console friendly, and it seems like despite knowing that, Sony and Microsoft are hedging their bets that they can compete with PCs without the hardware or direction to drive their products successfully. People are quickly coming to terms with the fact that PC gaming offers a subjectively better experience to the PS4 and Xbox One. The question isn’t which platform is better for gamers or gaming in general, it’s why doesn’t Sony and Microsoft makes games specifically for their consoles?

Play any AAA multi-platform title like Watch Dogs or Battlefield 4 on PC and you’ll see and feel the difference adequate hardware makes in how a game plays. Just like no $400 PC is going to run BF4 on max settings very well, no $400 console is going to run games like BF4, Watch Dogs, Farcry 4, The Division, Destiny, or The Crew in a way that will stand the test of time. Sure, Ryse: Son of Rome and Killzone: Shadow Fall look good now, but with such forgettable gameplay, who will remember these titles when they become visually dated? Sub 1080p/60FPS games are already a commonplace eyesore, and graphically fidelity that tries to simulate photo-realism will be quickly outdated by the next leap in graphically fidelity.

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This is what separates Nintendo from the rest of the pack. In 10 years, Super Mario 3D is still going to look great and be a joy to play. Will we be able to say that about Watch Dogs? What happens when the next ambitious open world game looks better than Crysis 3 and has a world the size of a country instead of just a city? Will people really want to go back and play a game like Watch Dogs with it’s relatively scaled down graphics, mediocre story, lifeless-feeling environments, and “push one button to win” gameplay? To me, the answer is clearly a resounding no.

What Sony and Microsoft need to comes to terms with is that their hardware isn’t at the bleeding edge of gaming technology. It simply can’t compete from a technical standpoint with PC, nor should it or have to. Console gaming is regarded by most gamers as the pickup-and-play living room gaming experience, so why aren’t Sony and Microsoft making games like Super Mario 3D? Where are the Crash Bandicoot, Spyro, Goldeneye, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, and Shadow of the Colossus games of the “next-gen” consoles? You know, the well made, beautifully designed, exclusive titles with memorable characters and original stories that are made to be fun, not mindless Michael Bay movies. I’ll tell you where – on the WiiU.

You can argue that people have moved on or grown up from Spyro the Dragon or Jak and Daxter all you want, but Mario Party 8 is proof that a well made game that’s fun to play and actually suits the hardware it’s running on is what gamers really want. Sony and Microsoft need titles that innovate in gameplay and story, because trying to win the war on a graphical level is a losing battle.

For me, only two console exclusives in the past three years come to mind when it comes to games that tell original and compelling stories with meaningful characters; The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto 5. Neither TLOU or GTA 5 are the best looking games ever, but if their sales prove one thing, it’s that gamers don’t want Ryse, they want Trevor, Joel and Ellie, and a story that will entertain them by being intelligent, not just “exciting” or “shocking.” GTA 5 is also coming to PC anyway.

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Sony and Microsoft need to stop assuming gamers only think with their eyes and start making games that stimulate their minds and create gameplay that’s actually engaging and does not simply require gamers to push “X” to win. They need to make games that don’t have to be scaled down and held back just to run at 900p or 30FPS. They need to understand their hardware and customers as well as Nintendo does. Unfortunately, they don’t.

Maybe the combination of “once every five years” games like The Last of Us or GTA 5 and annually regurgitated Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed titles are enough to keep Sony and Microsoft’s gaming endeavors profitable. But as it stands, Sony and Microsoft are content to pretend that games like The Order: 1886 and Ryse are anything more than cutscenes with limited player interaction in between. If that’s enough to keep gamers lining up for more, then I don’t know what to feel worse about; the state of game development or the consumers buying these “cutting edge” quick time event simulators.

Instead of constantly wrestling with hardware limitations, it’s time Sony and Microsoft take notes from great game makers like Nintendo and start creating memorable experiences that go above and beyond just fancy visuals. Maybe then gamers won’t make such a big fuss about what sort of resolution and frame rate that next AAA title might run at.

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