Roundup: The three different strategies of the console makers

Los Angeles (CA) - Preceding the official Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) tradeshow, the big three console makers used their keynote strategies to create appetite for their next-generation consoles by trying to differentiate themselves from each other and painting a near-term business strategy onto the wall. These strategies hold some interesting implications for gamers as we hurtle towards the 2006 holiday season and the much vaunted "next generation" (well, the 2006 next generation at any rate.)

Sony on Monday put itself squarely in the "High Definition" camp. Basically, the company promises us more of what we've come to expect from the Playstation stable, but with the graphical detail notched up to 11. Sony showed us some very impressive demos, albeit prepared ones, and one would be hard pressed not to drool at the prospect of playing those titles - such as the all-time favourite Gran Turismo - in 1080p and in real time on a HDTV.

Of course at $500/€500 (at minimum) for the console, a couple of grand for the TV and then whatever else it costs for the proper connectors (for, in the small print, Sony failed to tell us in quite so big letters that the basic console is not quite as HD Ready as one might expect, being minus the HDMI) and accessories, the next generation won't come cheap. You also have the problem that Sony is counting on Blu-ray as an integral part of its console, while Microsoft has HD DVD as an optional extra dangling on its contender. If Blu-ray fails, then the future of the Sony version of the next generation might not be quite as diverse as one might hope.

Microsoft would not at first appear to be too far away from this high-def strategy. Certainly the company is touting the graphical muscle of their console, but HD is not the central tenant of the Microsoft world view. Microsoft has been exploring more of a quality over quantity approach, after finding that the opposite does not work for its market position, and has a few advantages that none of the other players have: First pick of the Windows (particularly Vista) crowd, and the bonus of an (unexpectedly large) lead in the field, with 5 million units of the Xbox 360 already released into the wild.

Microsoft will be releasing quality titles such as Halo 3 (alright, debatable point there, but the pedigree certainly couldn't be better) and then tying everything into Windows Vista, which the firms seems to be getting serious about from a video gaming point of view. Especially, if one considers access to services like MSN (soon to be renamed "Live" with the new Microsoft branding strategy) and the before mentioned games strategy.

Nintendo is, at first sight, doing its usual thing: It is off in the distance, innovating, and attracting a very "Nintendo" crowd with Mario Tennis and racing games. Family orientation will always be a major part of the Nintendo strategy; and combined with what they're hoping will be a controller that anyone, gamer or non-gamer alike, can pick up, Nintendo is hoping to attract a lot of new, more casual gamers.

As well as this, however, Nintendo is also, perhaps for the first time ever, seriously going to Wii all over the other guys parades. Apart from the fact that it has Sony reacting to them by coming out with their own motion sensitive controller to counter that of the Wii, Nintendo is moving swiftly in on the other guys territories. It is offering up credible looking shooters like Red Steel that don't pull many punches for the sake of family viewing, and they're moving into sports titles and even a Wii exclusive iteration of the once Sony-exclusive Final Fantasy series.

Combined with what we expect to be a more palatable price point than either Microsoft or Sony are offering their wares at, Nintendo is looking like it has the most to gain in the next round of the console wars. The Wii will appeal to casual, core Nintendo and "hardcore" gamers alike, and speaking as a man who likes his Grand Theft Auto I'd have to say that the Wii looks the most attractive for combining these markets - some tennis with the kids in the afternoon and some shooting in the evening, all with what looks to be the most engaging controller ever seen in mass video gaming.

As with all things, ultimately it will be consumers who will vote the winner of this race with their feet and their cash, but the three main contenders have stuck their colours to the mast and all we can do now is sit through the salvos of PR buzz wording until the holiday season.

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