Page last updated at 09:31 GMT, Friday, 25 September 2009 10:31 UK

Video game console wars reignite

By Daniel Emery
Technology reporter, BBC News

HMV store in Liverpool

Walk into any music, electrical, or department store over the next few months and the odds are you will find yourself facing piles of game hardware, promising "better graphics, better games, and better controllers".

The games industry is in a bullish mood, with manufacturers working hard to showcase improvements to their game systems.

The most obvious extras to emerge in the last year have been in ways to interact with a console. At the E3 Expo in Los Angeles in May, Microsoft unveiled "Natal", a fully hands-free control system and Sony demoed a novel control system that works with the Sony PlayStation Eye. Both took gamers and industry experts by surprise as they revealed that both firms expected many more years of life out of their respective console systems.

By contrast Nintendo's Wii MotionPlus - an expansion device to the old Wii Remote controller, and Wii Vitality - a clip that measures oxygen content of a players blood - did not generate the same excitement.

Now, after the hype of future technology, the business of selling consoles in the run up to Christmas begins in earnest.

The gloves are off and, significantly, so are the prices. Manufacturers hope that by cutting the cost to consumers, they can tempt more people to try gaming and thus increase their market share.

Xbox 360 console

Nintendo is the last of the three to cut prices, slashing the cost of its popular Wii console by 20%.


At present, the recommended retail price (RRP) of the Wii is £199. If the 20% reduction in price is passed on (at present the discount is to retail, not consumers) then that would cut the RRP to £159.

By contrast the Sony PlayStation 3 costs £249, the XBox 360 Elite £199 and the Xbox 360 Arcade £159.

Of course, consumers need to consider more than just price.

Both the 360 and PS3 have a good future. It is unlikely either will be replaced by a new system in the next five years and the manufacturers have been keen to emphasise new developments in their control system as well as showcasing a range of future games.

Slim PS3 console

The future of the Nintendo Wii, in its current form, is less certain. In the past, Nintendo has declined to comment on the Wii's future, saying that it was focusing on "taking all the experience we gained over the past five years and applying that in a way that creates extremely deep game play experiences that takes advantage of motion control".

Eye candy

Visually, the 360 and PS3 have a significant lead over the Wii. But, for the most part, the consoles have been competing for different sectors of the market.

In the past, Microsoft and Sony have pitched their machines primarily at keener gamers while Nintendo's approach was to target so called "casual gamers" and families.

To date, Nintendo is still the best selling machine, with more than 52 million consoles sold worldwide - more than the combined global sales of Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 combined.

Nintendo Wii console

However, Wii sales are down more than 50% in 2009, while both PlayStation and Xbox are going up, especially in light of recent price cuts.

Movie buffs

One edge the PlayStation 3 has over its rivals is the ability to play Blu-ray DVDs - a high density storage DVD allowing high-definition video - the format is growing in popularity, especially after the demise of rival format HD DVD.

But for many, one of the deciding factors will be the games, with the manufacturers vying for exclusive deals on blockbuster titles.

The biggest brand on the Xbox 360 is Halo - the first person shooter that launched the console and ranks as one of the biggest selling games of all time.

Sony used to have a plethora of exclusives, but its grip on many is slipping. That said, the firm still has God of War - a hack and slash action adventure - and MAG, a massively multi-layer shooter due for release in early 2010.

However, many of the biggest games, from Call of Duty to Grand Theft Auto are multi-platform releases, meaning they are published for PlayStation, Xbox 360 and usually PC.

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