The changing faces of the big three

It's not just technology that moves the games industry along. Company rivalries, sales pressure, ego, image and all kinds of other increasingly messy factors are constantly screwing with the ways the big three platform holders conduct themselves. So much so that not one of them is now recognisable compared to how it was when it started out. It's been a fun, infuriating, hilarious, miserable, frustrating and exciting ride, and here's how it all happened.

Where Sony had established itself as the new king of videogame cool and Nintendo was still the big old bundle of fun we'd loved since the '80s, in 2001 MS presented us with a bunch of grinning suits and a perpetual insistence on talking about tech specs. The fact that the machine's name derived from the company's original idea of a "DirectXbox" said it all. That sort of stuff might have excited the back room nerds and boardroom bosses at Redwood, but out in the real console gaming world, no-one cared about that sh*t at all. Still, the ads were cool, funny and weird, and while undoubtedly aping Sony's model in addressing an older gamer, unlike the PS2 adverts, they actually had a point.

Other than that though, we got a bunch of grinning suits, a box that looked like a VCR, a controller that, for all of J Allard's talk of discussion with gamers, seemed woefully out of touch with any of the practicalities of gaming (unless you were this guy) and overall, a console that excited developers more than it did gamers, attracting stacks of shiny third-party releases but not really selling any more hardware than the Gamecube. Oh, and speaking of J Allard, the Xbox's frontman looked like this:

E3 2005: The year Microsoft sorted its sh*t right out with the reveal of the 360. They had a sleek, sexy new console, one of the most inviting controllers in gaming history (we hadn't tried to play Street Fighter with it at that point), and a whole new persona for the machine, eulogised as a revolutionary, all-encompassing piece of multimedia entertainment heaven for (and possibly from) the future. It was a vast change from the tech stat-focused, pure gaming approach taken by the first attempt.

Where the first machine was a bulky, intimidating, convex matte black behemoth, the 360's concave curves, light colouring and chrome finishings immediately made it an infinitely more tactile device, as well as something which could proudly and cohesively take its place in tasteful middle-class suburban living rooms just as well as in a stinking teenager's bedroom pit.

The E3 press conference made barely any reference to specifications, instead discussing power only in terms of the holistic experience the machine would give owners. It was a launch which focused on emotion rather than numbers. It was about shared fun and discovery. Where Allard had talked about the first machine as a pure gaming device, things couldn't have been more different with the 360. Perhaps in an early reaction to the direction Nintendo seemed to be taking (and an attempt to side-step Sony), or perhaps just as a result of finally being in a position to properly leverage Microsoft's inherent strengths, the 360 was to be all things to all people. It was connected, it was creative, it brought people together and it enhanced every part of entertainment and family life. Oh, and J Allard had miraculously morphed into his own, much cooler son.

The ads emphasised this new approach, blending Sony cool with Nintendo fun and accessibility. They were still amusing and visually striking, but were also lighter and more whimsical, and the rebranded tagline of "Jump in" encompassed all of that pretty damn well.

The 360's new persona had been doing very well for Microsoft for a couple of years. Allard had disappeared back into Microsoft to manage the machine from the background and tinker around with the Zune, but Peter Moore had been doing a good job as the public face of the console. He was old enough to appear reassuring and approachable to parents, but to younger gamers he had the persona of the crazy old uncle you could duck out of family parties with for a sneaky special cigarette. It also helped that he looked a bit like a wily 17th century alchemist or wizard who had stumbled upon the secret of immortality during his experiments in the mid 1600s.

But while the 360 had been marketed for everyone from the start, the success of first-party published games like Gears of War had nevertheless landed the machine the reputation of being a shooter box. At E3 2008, Microsoft's original "Buy a Wii as well" philosophy had fallen by the wayside following a couple of years of unexpectedly immense Wii dominance. In retaliation, we got the New Xbox Experience. We got a more ambient, feature-rich interface. We got the more sociable party system and Primetime. We even got Rare-developed Mii clones, the Eyetoy-style cheese of You're in the Movies and Xbox karaoke, for God's sake. Cynical? Probably. Derivative? Definitely. But the evolution was certainly a necessity given the new state of the market.

The ads followed suit, but mercifully didn't go completely down Nintendo's route of gurning cretins in contrived lifestyle scenarios. MS' wider spread of gamers might also have looked a bit brain-wrong, but it was only because they'd been partially lobotomised in order to install theatrical equipment and sofas into the backs of their heads. Which at least gave them an excuse.

Next up, Sony. Brace yourselves...

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  • Mackster-901 - March 9, 2009 4:37 p.m.

    ur all fukin stupid i admit ps3 controlers brake easily and they cost 2 much but u get alot more stuff 4 da ps3 than the 360 and its jus a betta console
  • LinkSceptile333 - March 9, 2009 3:33 a.m.

    The only game I still play on the Wii is Super Smash Bros. Brawl (I've been a tourneyfag since Melee), but it is true that Nintendo isn't strong. But each console has their fault and I believe Nintendo will make a come back. And LOL at fanboys like Dawgsfan117. I fail to see how a video game console can have a sexual preference.
  • hairy truman - March 9, 2009 1:46 a.m.

    oooohhh, nintendo... i loved you so much. im quite ashamed to say now that i play COD WaW more than mario kart... i still wanna be a nintendo fanboy, because the nintendo64 pretty much changed my life, but it is sooooo hard. if i didnt get a n64 for my 6th birthday, i would probably be doing something constructive right now *shivers*. i feel like nintendo kinda abandoned me... nintendo changed(theres no doubt about that), for the worse, i painfully say
  • jtslugmaster10 - March 9, 2009 1:28 a.m.

    i also think that microsoft or apple should have been added as well for pc surely they must have changed or went a different direction in gaming especially since they have been around the longest
  • ReaperOfDarkness - March 8, 2009 9:41 p.m.

    Maybe somebody should merge these companies. Hardware specs of the ps3 without the elitist crap and outrageous price. Innovation of the wii and controller without the bucketloads of "family" crap fests and shovelware. Good licenses and good games overall of the 360 without microsofts license based fascism. Seems to me each of these 3 companies screwed up or headed in a wrong direction. The wii went ina good direction and then crashed into a wall of terrible games and "casual" BS. Sony doesnt seem to understand that a 600 dollar console makes it out of reach for many people no matter how good it is. They apparently havent learned their lesson that the most expensive top of the line product frequently loses out to the slightly lower quality product set at a reasonable price. Microsoft seems to have started to wake up from their previous mistakes at least and are turning around (hopefully). Only time will tell how this is going to turn around. My bet is that the wii is going to sharply decline as all the fans leave feeling abandoned by nintendo and everyone else will be distracted by the next fad and the hype of the wii disappears. Sony needs to realize that catering only to those with large amounts of disposable income in this type of business is frequently a losing strategy. Hardcore only means only hardcore players will buy your product and they dont provide enough business to keep you afloat in electronics.
  • sprog - March 8, 2009 8:38 p.m.

    Ah i love the smell of a fanboy bitchslapfest in the evening. I'm one of the lucky ones who own all three and for me it's 360 for general gaming, PS3 for blu ray, LBP and MGS and wii to get the missus to shut the f up. I'll never forgive sony for making me pay again for a pad that rumbles. Good article btw.
  • rogue9494 - March 8, 2009 5:27 p.m.

    I definitely think the 360 controller is way better than the ps3 controller. its a piece of junk
  • Metallica - March 8, 2009 1:57 p.m.

    Ah, Sony... Tsk, tsk, tsk...
  • noogy18 - March 8, 2009 1:48 p.m.

    Those pics of J. Allard made me lol. Nice article.
  • jackrabbitslims - March 8, 2009 11:42 a.m.

    @ phoenix_wings: you know they have begun to replace the older motherboards that were the cause of overheating (which leads to the RROD) so that won't be much of a problem now. well, for people that didn't buy at launch anyway. If you bought at launch, u=fool. I always wait a year, see if there is any bugs that need to be worked out (ps2 i-phone etc.) As for Nintendo, they dug themselves a hole using shovel-ware. I can't help but feel like they encouraged badly made games being made, maybe that's just me...
  • Gene - March 8, 2009 9:48 a.m.

    @Comatose92 Good lists there, but just two bones to pick: one, the number of brilliant Xbox exclusives was far lower than 100 (it probably had the fewest strong exclusives of all the consoles owing to the games being on the PC/Dreamcast), and the Cube, I think, was a stronger console for games (I love Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life and Paper Mario 2, for example - both exclusive). And the Wii does have a few other good games: SSX Blur is fantastic, and I urge anyone with a Wii to buy it, and on WiiWare there's LostWinds and World of Goo, which are both stunning. Other than that, though, I'm completely in agreement with you.
  • DawgsFan117 - March 8, 2009 7:32 a.m.

    Look the Wii is gay and im pretty sure we can all agree on that unless u ask a seven year olf or a seventy year old. However I own both a PS3 and an Xbox 360 and honestly I like the 360 better for many reasons. The controller has a much better feel to it because of the weight(I always feel like im gonna crush the PS3 controller). Also I dont mind paying for xboxlive because its easier to use than the playstation network. They both have good exclusives and I play abunch of em for both systems but if its a multi platform release Im goin for the 36o version.
  • DJ_Funktris - March 7, 2009 10:50 p.m.

    Playstation 2? Its one of the greatest ever!
  • EvilInkarnate - March 7, 2009 10:26 p.m.

    That thing about Reggie from Nintendo was great!! However, sales have the Wii widely considered to be in the number 1 spot. I have a Wii. Wanted one so bad. Got one. I play Wii Sports and Mario Galaxy. I haven't played either of those in months. This would be longer, but I gotta go dust off my Wii.
  • hdbngr15 - March 7, 2009 8:26 p.m.

    Platypus96, youve sorta got the right idea. if nintendo started to follow through with the older wii games, it would be epic. hopefully madworld can change my mind though
  • Awesomeitude1523 - March 7, 2009 7:27 p.m.

    @ sage62: Yes none of the consoles is perfect. I agree there. But the PS3 actually has a decent line up of exclusives: LBP, MGS 4, UNcharted, ratchet and clank,Gran Turismo, KZ2, Resistance series, and upcoming God of War. But it does have some fundamental flaws. @Levy: Yes the Ps3 controllers are light, but thats one of very few flaws Yeah sorry bout the double post
  • sage62 - March 7, 2009 7:03 p.m.

    All the consoles have flaws and fanboyels can suck it. 360 is the most game heavy and has online well worth the membership which is like 7 bucks, but is the most likely to break, which is unfortunate, other then that it's in the middle of the two extremes, wii and ps3. Ps3 is more powerful, but has a general lack of good exclusives that make the most of it, combine that with mediocre online and you get a console well capable of beating the 360 but with fundamental flaws holding t back. Then the wii has been brought down by all the shovel ware, the motion controls would Be a good pay off for graphcs and stuff, if they couod do it right, most games just come off as gimmicky with few exceptions
  • Mackster-901 - March 7, 2009 6:54 p.m.

    Foolish mortals gaze upon the future and weep this is so tru, nothing can compare 2 da ps3 x-box jus has da same old things were as ps3 has the most up-2-date technolegy
  • Platypus96 - March 7, 2009 11:38 a.m.

    Wii FTW! Am the only person that thinks that? *Hides in corner*
  • phoenix_wings - March 7, 2009 7:56 a.m.

    Yeahhh, everyone that I know that has a 360 has had theirs RROD on them. Explain to me why Microsoft is FTW. Of course you can go anywhere on Craigslist or Kijiji to find the "I'll fix your RROD for $30!" ads. You guys are right about Sony's elitism, they got pretty comfortable in being able to sell The PSOne and the PS2 so well, they were kind of slacking. Like the guy that you punch in the stomach, and it really hurt him but you can see he's trying to play it off as nothing--that must have been what PSP sales were like to Sony. That kid turns around and says "Oh yeah? Well get a load ot THIS!" and he decks you in the face so hard, but he breaks his hand. Sure the PS3 has got a lot of wow-factor, but they only hurt themselves in the end by charging SIX HUNDRED DOLLARS FOR IT. Still glad I have one though ^-^