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State of the Union: Video Games

Overview

2011 was an incredible year for gaming software. The industry’s titans, both indie and corporate, got together and collectively created a slew of unbelievable software that pushed the boundaries of interactive entertainment out on all sides.

Two pieces of brand new gaming hardware also hit the market, albeit one did so only in the Asian part of the world.

The Nintendo 3DS launched in March of 2011 and was met with relatively low sales for several months on end. Nintendo dropped the price of the machine and saw sales fly way, way up. It’s now on pace to outsell the Nintendo DS during its first year at retail.

The PS Vita, Sony’s follow-up to the PSP, released in Japan back on December 17th. It, much like the 3DS, has been met with a low level of sales. In fact, it’s found its way to fourth and fifth place on the weekly sales charts for all gaming hardware in Japan since its first full week available. But, and I’ll get to this, the machine will probably still do very well.

Nintendo’s now poised to launch the Wii U at the end of the year. Sony, Microsoft and PC gaming platforms continue to ride their well oiled machines to the promise land.

Consoles

The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are both in the middle of their hardware life-cycles. Microsoft and Sony haven’t shown any recent inclination that they intend to kill this generation of devices in order to move onto the next big things. Sony’s actually clarified that point most recently. Kazuo Hirai offered this during this year’s CES:

“I’ve always said a 10-year life cycle for PS3, and there is no reason to go away from that.”

10 years means Sony won’t be bringing us a new console until 2016.

And why should they!? Both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 sold very, very well during 2011. In fact, Microsoft recorded its best sales week ever for the Xbox 360 during 2011’s Black Friday madness. Sony and Microsoft are enjoying tremendous success with their current hardware offerings. Expect that to continue in 2012 with no mention of what’s coming from either company.

Nintendo, on the other hand, has been pushed to launch a new console. The Wii’s sales have finally begun to grind to a crawl. The console made the company a tremendous amount of money before it lost its luster, but now Nintendo’s being forced to create something new.

The Wii U will launch this fall. We know it’s graphically superior than the Wii (big accomplishment, right?) and that it makes use of the Wii Remotes alongside a tablet-esque controller capable of streaming gameplay onto its built-in screen. What we don’t know, however, is whether or not it will capture the imagination and interest of gamers around the world.

We also haven’t seen any games running on the new console. That information, we assume, will come in waves during E3 this June.

Portables

For video game dedicated devices, the portable market is about to be split in two. First of all, Nintendo’s latest handheld has actually gained enough traction to be taken seriously. The Nintendo 3DS, after the price cut and the subsequent launch of quality gaming, has become the currently highest selling portable on the market.

People were quick to label it a “failure,” but that’s not the case.

And that’s why, despite the Japanese market’s response to the device, the PS Vita has plenty of room to grow in the western world. If Sony can demonstrate that their machine is worth owning and that their software catalogue is worth buying into, the PS Vita will do wonderfully once it launches in North America and Europe.

However, if the sales performance isn’t there for the device, Sony would be smart to adjust its price quickly. Nintendo took a little egg in the face when they cut the price of the Nintendo 3DS this past August, but look at the system now: It’s selling well. If Sony’s launch follows the same path, they may want to consider the same solution.

Software

Here’s the scary thing about 2012: it might be as good a year for gaming as 2011. We’ll be seeing new entries in the Mass EffectMax Payne, BioShock, Halo and Darksiders worlds, for starters. Then we’ll be getting brand new properties like The Last of Us from companies with fantastic pedigrees like Naughty Dog.

And those are just the games we know about right now… You better believe E3 will bring news of even crazier holiday releases that we’re not even considering up to this point.

The gaming medium has entered a wonderful renaissance of interactivity, art design, storytelling and character creation. The narratives being delivered by some of today’s software rivals that which can be found in film, comics and books. The gaming world is so young, and yet we find ourselves discovering and enjoying brand new stories week after week, month after month.

That’s incredible.

Outlook

While the world economy may make it hard for the gaming industry to report growth across the board, the medium will continue to evolve in 2012. The birth of two new platforms with the Wii U and the PS vita will usher in new ways to game from developers around the globe.

Stalwarts like the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC platforms will continue to enjoy exceptional products worth exploring.

Nintendo will need to continue making strong Nintendo 3DS titles in order to keep the platform relevant; with games like Kid Icarus and Luigi’s Mansion on the horizon, they may be doing just that.

It’s a great time to be a gamer.


Joey Davidson

Joey Davidson leads the gaming department here on TechnoBuffalo. He's been covering games online for more than 10 years, and he's a lover of all...

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