At the beginning of this year, we put our heads together to predict which console would “win” 2010. Not in terms of sales, necessarily, but in terms of who was going to make the strongest showing, and whose machine we were going to want to play the most. Back then, the impending double threat of Kinect (then called Natal) and Halo: Reach prompted us to give it to the 360.
Above: Even so, the fight still rages
Now, however, E3’s over, summer’s in full swing and most publishers have seemingly shot their wads early by delivering some of the year’s best games in its first half. At this point, the competition to win fall 2010 – during which the industry rolls out its biggest guns in preparation for the all-important holiday season – is anyone’s game. Will beloved exclusives or killer hardware win us over this year? Are Microsoft and Sony’s motion-control pushes going to inspire more than another lame fad?
With a much better idea of where the industry is headed (and a healthy margin of error), here’s where we think things are headed for each system over the next few months:
1. Shiny and new
This fall, some customers will carefully weigh their console options, comparing the pros and cons of each before finally deciding which deserves a place in their budget. Other customers, however, are much easier to persuade. They vote with feelings, not facts, and can't help but desire whichever gadget is currently the newest, shiniest and most heavily marketed. At the end of 2010 – months before the launch of the Nintendo 3DS – that gadget will be the slimmer, sleeker Xbox 360.
Even for those smarter shoppers, Microsoft's hardware will now be an easier choice. The famous flaws that scared people away from the 360 and towards the PS3 have been addressed and fixed: it's quieter, it's lighter, it's wireless, it's got more storage and less likelihood to break, and it's $50 cheaper than its 250GB Sony counterpart.
2. Kinect still matters
Okay, so the E3 2010 debut of Microsoft's motion-sensing device didn't go as smoothly or positively as the company might have hoped…
Or did it? Remember, we're not really the target audience for Kinect, just as we weren't for the Wii or the EyeToy. All that matters, at least when figuring out which console will win Fall 2010, is that the mainstream press bought the concept and is now selling that concept to casual gamers everywhere.
For example, while we were ridiculing Kinect's hilariously awful, Cirque du Soleil-directed introduction to the world, The New York Times stated that describing the device as "merely impressive would be an understatement," and predicted that players would find themselves "ducking, dancing, kicking, leaning, waving and pushing, smiling and laughing all the while." On USA Today's story, one of the very first commenters excitedly shared that he and his wife will buy into Kinect "as soon as the Dancing with the Stars game comes out."
Above: Meet your replacement
We may be dubious of Kinect at this point, but as long as these people aren't, the thing will sell.
3. Canceling cable
While I’m stereotyping large swaths of people, here are a couple more of what I'll carelessly refer to as "facts": Men are likely the members of their households who are choosing which console to buy, and men are likely not as thrilled by the existence of a dancing game as the USA today guy above. That's fine, because Microsoft will win this generalized gender over with something else: ESPN. Starting this fall, those who own Xbox 360s and subscribe to Xbox Live Gold will have streaming access to thousands of sporting events – MLB, NBA, soccer, college football – in HD, with trivia and for no extra charge.
Add in the future promise of Hulu and the right-now reality of Netflix, Twitter, Facebook and Last.fm, and suddenly, the Xbox 360 can be marketed as a true multitasking entertainment center to those who aren't completely convinced by the games alone. PS3 and Wii have some of these services, too… but not all of them.
4. Oh, and some games, too
Heard of Halo: Reach? Yeah. To simply say that the game is "releasing" this fall would not do justice to the monumental impact that its hitting store shelves will actually have. If the buildup to Halo 3 is any indication, there will be celebrity galas, television specials, fast food licensing deals, soda brandings, comic book spinoffs, billboards in every major city and endless commercials. There will be many, many, many millions of dollars both spent and earned by Microsoft. This will be more than a release – this will be an Xbox 360-exclusive event.
Plus, Fable III!
But also, the end of this year will feature a bunch of other, non-Halo shooters that, despite being multi-platform, can only help Microsoft's system. Whether rightfully or not, the 360 is generally thought of as the default console for shooter fans and for robust online community. When multiplayer games like Call of Duty: Black Ops, Medal of Honor and Crysis 2 start catching new players' attention, they'll be more inclined to try them on the Xbox 360.