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The Future of The Console Market

by Daniel Kaszor

The only way to predict the future is to look at the past. And when looking at the past there, is one thing that you can tell for sure about the console market-in any given market, you can only have two dominant systems. In the 8-bit console race there was no room in for anyone but Nintendo and Sega (and even then Sega barely made it). In the 16-bit console race, the Turbo Graphix-16 was a strong contender until Nintendo released the Super Nes and the competition was reduced to two systems, the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo. Of course, the clearest example of all was in the next generation system wars, where three very strong contenders had competing consoles and in each major market one of those systems was eliminated. The Saturn in the United States and, for the most part, the N64 in Japan (the reason why the N64 is still in Japan is a rant all of its own). The question now is which of the main contenders in the new 128-bit war is going to go the way of the dodo. We have three main contenders, the Sega Dreamcast, the PlayStation 2, and the Nintendo Dolphin, with a fourth unknown factor being MircoSoftās X-Box.

Most people would answer this question quite easily. Itās Sega thatās screwed; they have a tarnished rep after the consumer fiascoes with the Sega CD, 32-X and the Saturn and the machine that they have put out on the market is severely underpowered compared to some of itās peers. Itās not quite that simple however. First of all, in Japan the Saturn was very popular, and Sega grew in popularity during the 32-bit era. Secondly, the Dreamcast is off to a great start in the States where the DC had so many launch titles. Thirdly, the Dreamcast has a year head start on the other systems, so that when they come out the DC will already have an installed base from which work. I personally feel that if Sega doesnāt screw up to badly that they will be able to keep a niche in the video game market even if their machine is underpowered.

A small number of naysayers say that even though the PlayStation 2 (PS2) will be an impressive machine, it is too expensive, it lacks the now standard four controller ports, it isnāt internet ready out of the box and the look of the console is just downright ugly. Well I agree, but I think that these are minor flaws and will not bring down what will be the ubŸer machine. First, the price isnāt all that high, in fact itās the same price as the first PlayStation was when it first came out. Also, you get a whole lot for the price-a whole home entertainment center, a video game system (including games for the old PlayStation), a CD player and a DVD player. As for the lack of four controller ports, this does hurt the system a little bit. You get a catch 22 happening (which happens with all peripherals, again a subject for another rant) where less four player games are made because of the lack of controller ports. However I donāt think that this is fatal flaw, and that itās worth losing the ports for a lower console price. As for the internet, it all depends on the spread of broadband networks and the ease (and price) of hooking them up to the PS2. Iām sort of glad that Sony didnāt tie the PS2 to an old school dial-up modem, because I can tell you as a proud owner of a cable modem, you can never go back. As for the look of the machine, it doesnāt really matter. It doesnāt affect the gameplay and I feel that machine look doesnāt really affect sales (both the Saturn and the N64 look alot better than the first PlayStation). When it comes down to it the PlayStation 2 has just so much backing (over 100 games in development) and so much stuff in one box, not to be successful.

The Nintendo Dolphin is hard to call at the moment. A full list of system specs arenāt out yet and we still donāt know the asking price of the system. What Nintendo has going for them is their strong name brand recognition, developer god Miamoto (and all franchises associated with him), and the super seller PokŽmon. All of these things are chips in Nintendoās corner and are what lead them to their arrogant ćwait and seeä attitude. To those unfamiliar with the wait and see attitude, here goes: When it comes time for companies to release new systems, Nintendo takesās its strong market position with its old system and releases its new system last, so it is the most technologically advanced console on the market. They did this successfully with the Super Nintendo which creeped ahead of the Genesis as the dominant 16-bit system. They did this again with much less success, in the following system war. For several reasons, among them the defection of several key developers to Sony (Square, Capcom, Enix, etc), and the decision to stay with the archaic cartridge technology (to please Miamoto San), the N64 had to fight to survive among a competition that was much stronger and diverse than in the 16-bit days. Sony who had released its system earlier, had a large installed base of consoles and games when the N64 came on the market. The ćwait and seeä policy had backfired. Unfortunately Nintendo is repeating the same mistake with the Dolphin. They are going to wait almost a year after the PlayStation 2 is released to release the Dolphin. By then the PlayStation2 and the Dreamcast will be ingrained into households. I feel that the Dolphin will take the fall in the 128-bit wars, which is a shame because very few of us will be able to play the next Zelda or Mario game, sure to be masterpieces.

What of some of the other systems that are planned? Well the Microsoft X-Box is the only one that probably has any chance at all and the X-Box plan sounds to ambitious for even Satan, oh I mean Bill Gates, to pull off. It still a little early in the race to make any final judgments just yet. Iām sure some unknown variable is going to factor into the whole equation.

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