Last Friday, to celebrate the first year of the PlayStation 3's release in North America, Sony sent out birthday cakes to reporters.
Arriving at the MTV offices at 8:30 a.m., along with party hats and noisemakers, was an 11-inch, square yellow cake with vanilla butter icing on the outside, vanilla custard within and topped with a printed, edible image of a PS3.
Monday was the Wii's one-year birthday in America, and Nintendo sent nothing. But who should really be celebrating?
One year later, here's a look at how the two stack up:
Some comparisons are obvious: The Wii has handily outsold Sony's machine, and according to the NPD tracking group, in October there were 519,000 Wiis sold to 121,000 PS3s. The Wii crossed over as a cultural phenomenon, being used as a prop on late-night talk shows, while the PS3 largely went unnoticed.
The Wii has held steady at a retail price of $249. The PS3 has dropped from $599 for a launch model that featured full backward compatibility with PS2, original PlayStation games and a 60GB hard drive, to $399 for a model released last month that has no backward compatibility and a 40GB drive.
Purchasers of either still have reasons to be pleased as this year winds down: Wii owners have their "Wii Sports" and new "Super Mario," "Zelda" and "Metroid" games, among its exclusive software highlights. The PS3 has first-person shooter "Resistance: Fall of Man," a new "Ratchet & Clank" and the "Star Wars"-chess-style, camera-aided "Eye of Judgment" among its software exclusives.
But how about some less obvious comparisons?
Launch versions of Sony's first two consoles were plagued with criticisms of poor manufacturing. But even as the Xbox 360 experienced enough hardware breakdowns for Microsoft to announce a $1 billion warranty extension for every system, Sony's PS3 proved to be a stable, well-made device. For all the knocks Sony took in its first PS3 year, few, if any, seemed to involve the reliability of its hardware.
In the past, Nintendo had been accused of software stinginess, starving owners of the Nintendo 64 and GameCube with too few games. For the second platform in a row, Nintendo executives promised to do better. Still, who would have bet that Sony would publish 14 full-size PS3 games in its new system's first year and that Nintendo would top them with 16? And though few gamers now talk about the likes of "Pokémon Battle Revolution" or "DK: Barrel Blast," they do count. In 2007, Nintendo was not stingy with the Wii games.
Modern game consoles can be improved even after they are bought. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are all capable of offering updates to their systems' firmware to improve what the consoles can do.
The PS3 firmware has been upgraded several times in its first year, for better and for worse. A PSP on the road can now turn on a PS3 at home and access all movies and audio stored within it. But these upgrades have forced system users to update their console regularly before playing new games or accessing the system's online store. The updates come in flurries: In May, version 1.8 added graphics upscaling for DVD; September's 1.92 addressed minor online issues; version 1.93, also released in September, addressed issues with 1.92; version 1.94 arrived in October and made the PS3 compatible with the new DualShock 3 controller, which will include rumble but won't be available in the U.S. until the spring. Since 1.94, Sony has released firmware 2.0 (last week) and firmware 2.01 (this week).
On the plus side, upgrades to the PS3 have also enabled system owners to lend their machine's processing power to Folding@home, the computer-networking project designed to search for a cure for cancer.
Nintendo has released far fewer upgrades to the Wii's core functionality. This has left access to the Wii online shop slower than the speed the company initially promised. Firmware upgrades did add a digital clock to the system's menu screen, along with a few optional channels: a free news channel, a polling channel called Everybody Votes and a Check Mii Out channel for comparing user-designed Mii avatars. Nintendo also offers a $5 Web browser "channel." (The PS3 launched with a Web browser included; the Xbox 360 does not support one.)
Nintendo and Sony both announced plenty of games for their systems, including several big ones for 2008. Nintendo has promised the exercise-based "Wii Fit," a new "Mario Kart" and the recently delayed "Super Smash Bros.: Brawl." Sony has touted the expected 2008 release of first-person-shooter "Killzone 2," world-builder "Little Big Planet" and the Konami-published PS3 exclusive "Metal Gear Solid 4."
That's all well and good, but the companies also went shopping this year. Sony, which in recent years purchased "SOCOM" makers Zipper Interactive and "Killzone" house Guerilla Games, has also added "Motorstorm" makers Evolution Studios and "Pursuit Force" creators Big Big Studios, both based in England. Doubtless, Sony is interested in more driving games, a specialty of both of those studios.
Nintendo made a rare acquisition of its own, purchasing Japanese studio Monolith Soft, makers of the "Baten Kaitos" and "Xenosaga" role-playing game series. The purchase wasn't just unusual in light of Nintendo's usual reluctance to buy companies, but also because Monolith appears to specialize in exactly the kind of long, involved games with which Nintendo's casual, party-game, fun-for-everyone Wii approach is at odds. Monolith Soft is currently developing "Disaster: Day of Crisis" for the Wii — another odd fit, as it appears to be an action game set amid realistic natural disasters, not the character-driven escapades of standard Nintendo-published fare.
Sony used the first year of PS3 to establish its store of downloadable titles as a sort of Sundance Channel of games. Experimental games such as "flOw," "Everyday Shooter" and "Pixel Junk Racers" were the norm, amid a steady stream of novel, downloadable $10-or-less games and only 15 downloadable PSOne classics. Nintendo offered no original downloadable games via the Wii's Virtual Console, but managed to release nearly three games every week from the combined libraries of the NES, SNES, N64, Genesis, TurboGrafx 16 and Neo Geo.
At the end of the first year, there is reason for owners of either machine to celebrate, and there are reasons for owners of either to close their eyes and make a few wishes. With PS3 having dropped in price twice and Nintendo failing to keep up with demand, it does not appear that Year One is what either Sony or Nintendo planned, but at least it was an interesting and unpredictable year.
More from the world of video games:
The cover story of the latest issue of Game Informer magazine announces that the Ghostbusters, the slime-hunting, marshmallow-man-fighting team from the early '80s hit movie, are getting back into video games. The magazine reports that Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and Harold Ramis are "revisiting their roles to make a sequel to 'Ghostbusters' 1 and 2 — in video game form." Aykroyd and Ramis will write the script, the magazine reports, "going far beyond just the typical licensed add-your-voice-to-the-game-you-had-nothing-to-do-with formula." The game is set for a late 2008 release on all major consoles and handheld gaming platforms. For more information, go to ghostbustersgame.com. ...
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