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THE WAR FOR America's thumbs (Rebuttal)


First off, I have to say that this is, as most mainstream video game articles tend to be, a rather poorly researched article. I found the bias towards Sony so silly that it makes me laugh... Also, did this article really need to be four pages long? Or is Salon paying per page? If you cut out the speculation about Microsoft, this thing could have stayed under three, easily.

Do to the nature of the original article, I felt the need to reproduce most of it here in order to clearly respond to the statements made. My comments follow...

Original article presented at:
http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/1999/10/21/console_wars/index.html

       THE WAR FOR America's thumbs 
       The stakes are huge and the combatants are mighty 
       -- who will win the war for video-game console supremacy?

       - - - - - - - - - - - -
       By Greg Costikyan 

Let's start off with the author... He seems to be a talented writer based on his bio (http://www.crossover.com/~costik/home.html), but beyond that his expertise in games really seems to shine best in his work on various GURPS, or pen and paper type games. As for videogame related work, I think it is interesting to note that he is currently developing a title for "Sony Online Entertainment", which may or may not give him experience in the video game industry, but does make one wonder about many of the comments made in this article. Clearly he has experience with on-line gaming, but given the fact that nobody I've talked to has really heard about any of the titles he's worked on, it's hard to say just what kind of value that offers to his opinions.

       Oct. 21, 1999 | In offices across the globe, sober-suited
       businessmen are preparing for an apocalyptic, trillion-dollar clash
       of business titans, a conflict that will mean soaring wealth for
       some and possible bankruptcy for others. But what will determine
       the outcome of this desperate struggle? Just this: the fickle tastes
       of teenage boys. The endless battle for video-game console
       supremacy is heating up again. 

No, actually these days, it's not fickle teenage boys. It's males 14-28 who are the primary console gamer market. In fact for the PlayStation, the demographics run predominately in the 16+ group. Also, "fickle" has nothing to do with it. The consumers in this market are some of the most highly informed consumers you can find in the world. They stay on top of "who's who" in the industry, who's working on what games, and every ounce of system specs that they can find out about a new system. Three things get a new system sold out the door; Price, Specs, and launch titles. These three things dictate to what extent "early adopters" jump to the new platform. Following that, three additional factors count for the remaining sales; "Coolness factor" (frequently this ranks even higher than the next item), regular quality title releases, and regularly dropping prices on the hardware.

       In the next year and a half, no fewer than four big companies --
       Sony, Sega, Nintendo and Microsoft -- are planning the release
       of (or have already launched) "next-generation" systems
       fantastically more powerful than the groundbreaking Sony
       Playstation, boasting graphic images that approach photorealism.
       But conventional wisdom says that at most only two systems can
       coexist at any one time. Gamers flock to the console with the
       most and best games; game developers want to produce games
       for the system with the largest base of customers. More games
       means more customers means more games -- a virtuous cycle, if
       you're winning, a fatal one if you're losing the market-share war.

Actually the market historically supports three platforms. Two dominant systems and a third underdog. The third system MUST have a loyal fan base to survive though. This has been proven, with past systems such as the 3DO, and the Turbografx-16/TurboDuo. Two systems that might have fared quite well if it hadn't been for management problems and poor corporate direction. (more on this later)

       In the early '90s, Sega's Genesis and Nintendo's SNES shared
       the market after crushing the Atari Lynx; in 1996, Sony's
       Playstation blew away the 3DO and Sega Saturn, relegating the
       Nintendo64 to also-ran status. The console market has always
       had either a single big winner or two competing systems crowding
       out the others. But now there are four pegs and only two holes;
       some of these forthcoming systems will die.

Errr... wrong... I'm going to assume that you mean Atari Jaguar. The Lynx was a handheld and suffered the same poor management as did all Atari products under the Tramiel's in the 90's. Also, the Jag never really reached competition stage due to poor management, poor dev tools, and a weak software library.

Actually you might want to change that to the "Turbografx-16/TurboDuo" Also, using the term "blew away" is misleading. The PlayStation took this market on some excellent software releases, locking down Psygnosis to their platform (and having them do the dev kit), and pure "Coolness factor" marketing. The 3DO died because 3DO wouldn't admit the system was a console and lower the price. The Saturn while unquestioningly superior to the PlayStation in 2-D games, lacked in 3-D horsepower. The other problem was that the system was far more difficult to program for than the PlayStation, thereby increasing the development cycle for titles, and overall reducing the profit from the release (if you question the ability of the Saturn to run competitive games, just check out the final releases "Burning Rangers", "Sonic R", "Sega Touring Car Championship", "Nights: Into Dreams", and "DarkStalkers 3"--import release) The other nail in the coffin for the Saturn was the "Genesis factor" (explained in detail at the end).

And last but not least, N64... No, you really can't use the term "also-ran" here. This system has been a great success for Nintendo, and it is clear that they have completely taken a strong lead in the demographics they are targeting; children 12 and under, boys and GIRLS 12-16, and families who play video games together.

       But who? Sega is back -- it launched its comeback try on Sept. 9
       in the United States with the 128-bit Dreamcast console. In
       March, Sony will release its Playstation 2 in Japan, with a U.S.
       launch targeted for next fall. Nintendo claims its next-generation
       console, code-named Dolphin, will appear in the States next
       winter. And the real wild-card, Microsoft's mysterious X-Box,
       may also appear in fall 2000.

       The elements of victory are straightforward -- technology, price,
       game availability and speed to market. But the stakes are greater
       than mere console market share. For at least two combatants --
       Sony and Microsoft -- the ultimate goal is not just to grab your
       gaming hardware dollars, but to control the very center of your
       entire electronic life.

Speed to market is really irrelevant, look at the Saturn launch. They pushed their release ahead by several months, and it actually hurt them as a system. Also, waiting that extra few months/year for the hardware you need to drop in price can make a difference in cost of production that can run into the millions. Nintendo has learned this lesson the best.

       Why will gamers buy next-gen consoles at all? Ultimately,
       because all four systems offer staggering advances in speed and
       graphics. They all make Playstation games look like cartoons.

Early adopters will frequently buy every system released. It's just a question of "will they buy it the day it comes out, or wait a couple months?", or the even bigger question is, "how long will they wait before they sell it?". A good portion of the hard-core audience will hold onto an older system, no matter how good/bad it looks if they have favorite games on that system... look at the NES for instance.

       Playstation was a big advance over earlier consoles because it
       could display 3-D images rendered on the fly, allowing a much
       greater sense of immersion and illusion of space than possible
       with previous machines. Artists define 3-D models as a series of
       connected polygons, with "bones" that control how they can
       move and "textures" that paint over these polygons to give them
       visual detail and depth. Playstation can display no more than a
       few hundred polygons on the screen at one time; if you try to do
       more, you get jerky action.

Duh... where is this guy getting his info? Both the SNES with Mode 7 and the Sega 32X platforms offered games that displayed 3-D images on the fly. The reason that it became so prominent with the PlayStation is because Sony required all developers to do games in "3-D". 2-D games were rejected flat out. And maybe you don't remember it, but I sure remember all of the developers I spoke with being really pissed that Sony wouldn't let then work on 2-D titles. It took almost two years to get Sony to finally concede and allow a few 2-D titles to start coming out. Most notably behind the push for 2-D allowance were Capcom and Working Designs to name a few.

       All the new systems boast the ability to display millions of
       polygons simultaneously. They offer something close to
       photorealism. A gamer walking into a store and watching a demo
       is going to be blown away.

I can vouch for this having been tricked by NHL2K on the Dreamcast from across the room for the first time in a game store...

       But which system offers the best performance? Which hardware
       is the best?

       The Dreamcast and Playstation 2 specifications are fixed.
       Nintendo has revealed only a few bits of information about
       Dolphin, probably because it knows it has to one-up Playstation
       2, and hasn't decided on the system's details yet. X-Box's specs
       are all "per rumor" -- Microsoft won't even confirm the existence
       of the X-Box program. 

This is generally true.

       Graphics Processing

       The next-gen consoles are all blazing-fast machines, as powerful
       as supercomputers from a couple of years ago. Dreamcast's
       processors achieve 1.4 billion floating-point operations per
       second, Playstation 2 gets 6.2 billion. Sega likes to say that
       Dreamcast is 15 times as powerful as a Playstation and has four
       times the graphic processing power of a Pentium II (although
       that's a somewhat misleading comparison, since any serious PC
       gamer has a 3-D card in his or her machine that handles
       extra-speedy graphic processing).

Well considering that the Dreamcast IS using one of those 3-D cards as well (NEC's PowerVR2 128-bit 3-D accelerated video card), I'm not sure what the point of this misleading comment is?

       Obviously, Playstation 2 is a more powerful machine than
       Dreamcast -- and Dolphin is likely to be faster yet. X-Box --
       who knows? But rumor has it that the X-Box will incorporate
       nVidia's GeForce 256 chip -- the most powerful graphics
       processing hardware yet developed on the personal computer
       side. Exactly how that stacks up against the consoles remains to
       be seen -- people don't normally compare PC 3-D boards to
       console systems.

Actually it remains to be seen what will happen with the Dolphin. Nintendo is notorious for publishing information years ahead of a platform release (a case in point would be were we physically saw a Nintendo CD-ROM prototype as early as mid-92', yet no CD for SNES or N64). The reality with Nintendo is believe it when you see it, and don't expect to see it until about 5 years from the launch of the previous system... no matter what they say.

As for Microsoft, given that this will be their third attempt with a consumer appliance (Web TV, and in many respects the Dreamcast), following the "MS Rule of Threes" (see below), their system might actually be pretty good if they ever release it... unfortunately if it is programmed by Windows programmers, it will unquestionably be big, bloated, crash frequently, and require a MSN subscription.

       Sony claims Playstation 2 can process 75 million polygons per
       second (Sega claims 3 million for Dreamcast). The claim is greatly
       exaggerated. It's true only for small polygons, and only if all three
       of the machine's co-processors are doing nothing but geometry
       computations -- in other words, no textures; no physics; no
       lighting or other effects; no artificial intelligence; no gameplay. The
       Playstation 2 is a faster machine than Dreamcast -- two to four
       times -- but nowhere near the 25 times that a direct comparison
       of peak rendering rates implies.

Numbers... numbers... numbers... in the real world, these numbers are all meaningless... Everyone knows that peak throughput benchmark test have nothing to do with real-world performance, and even less to do with the ability of the programmers to develop for the system. If the development environment is poor or the hardware is difficult to work with, the developers will never reach that peak performance. An optimized game on the crappiest system will out play and sometimes outsell an un-optimized game on a stellar system.

Besides, polygon count alone doesn't make a great game or a number one seller. Case in point: Pokémon. A black-and-white LCD game running on a 4 Mhz processor with only a few megaBITS of ROM that outsells 10:1 nearly every PlayStation game out there. In fact, last Christmas, more people bought a Pokémon game than *ANY* next generation title on the market. (ref: GameWeek/GameDaily's top 10 or Nintendo's web site.) Pokémon Blue and Red each individually outsold both Crash Bandicoot Warp and Metal Gear Solid, two of the hottest games last year.

       Online Play

       Dreamcast is the first console to contain a built-in modem.
       There's a Web browser available for Dreamcast (it sucks) -- but
       so far, the only Net-playable game is Sonic Adventure. Sega will
       be launching "classic" card and board games in an online-only
       format, and has announced plans for other Net-playable games,
       including a massively multiplayer game  la Ultima Online, but that
       project has been delayed. Developer Team 17, which is porting
       its Net-playable PC game Worms Armageddon to Dreamcast,
       says Sega is disorganized and confused about online gaming.

I can totally believe this about Sega and most game companies based on my personal experiences with people in the industry, but that subject is almost an entire article in and of itself.

       Playstation 2 will not include a modem. Nintendo at one point
       said that Dolphin would, but now wavers on the issue. X-Box --
       who knows? Of course, it remains to be proven that console
       gamers want to play online at all; previous attempts to get them
       to do so (Sega's Saturn NetLink, Catapult's X-Band for the Sega
       Genesis and SNES, the Sega Channel and Sony's Net Yaroze)
       all failed miserably. Online gaming is, so far, an exclusively PC
       phenomenon.

As for the PS2/Dolphin having modems... believe it when you see it (either way). It's to early to know what these companies will do, and it will also depend on just how successful the feature is on the Dreamcast. As for previous attempts, the NetLink was too late in the life of the Saturn to really have a chance.

The X-Band system was actually quite successful, but due to constant problems with players "cheating" (killing their modem connection whenever it looked like they would loose so as to preserve their point rankings), sometimes confusing billing/pricing, poor marketing at times, and most importantly, lack of companies supporting the platform (X-Band usually had to reverse engineer games to get them to work with the system since most developers wouldn't pre-build their game with X-Band support, thus running up X-Band's development cost and keeping the amount of playable games at a minimum). The final killer for X-Band was the fact that Sony refused to co-operate with them on developing a system for the PS. The Saturn X-Band never made it much out of the beta stage in Japan before the company was bought by another firm and closed shop.

The Net Yaroze from everything I've heard did extremely well in Japan. It failed in the US because it was 1) to damn expensive, and 2) Sony felt that US consumers weren't savvy enough to write homebrew games, therefor they felt they wouldn't generate enough sales here to make it worth their time (two of many reasons I've heard at least).

       DVDs

       Dreamcast uses its own disc format, "GD-ROM," essentially a
       CD-ROM with one gigabyte of storage, rather than the standard
       660 megabytes. All the other systems will use DVD-ROMs
       (although they'll also read CD-ROMs). Playstation 2, in fact, will
       be able to play movie DVDs -- meaning that for $299, you get a
       machine that works as a DVD player and a game box and will
       also play audio CDs. For someone contemplating the purchase of
       both a next-gen console and a DVD, that may be a compelling
       proposition. 

Let's not forget that there may actually be DVD CD playback support available under the Dreamcast in the future... that's still up in the air as well, and just as much a reality as DVD under an unreleased PS2.

       Nintendo has decided that keeping its system's launch price low is
       of primary importance, even if that means it can't play DVDs or
       audio CDs. Interestingly, Nintendo has partnered with
       Matsushita, which will probably manufacture a more pricey box
       (under its Panasonic label) that plays Dolphin titles and does play
       movies and audio. So you'll have a choice.

This would not be all that surprising... let's face it, most kids could care less about DVD, and since that is the core Nintendo audience... you do the math.

       The X-Box will basically be a sealed-box personal computer with
       high-end graphic hardware and a DVD-ROM drive; the
       operating system may well be a modified version of Windows
       2000. It would be trivial to make such a system play movie
       DVDs and audio CDs.

I've also heard from sources that MS will potentially use this box to push their "lease" model of usage for Windows/Windows Applications. I generally put all of the MS news on the "could be" stack since all of this could change based on what happens with the DOJ anti-trust case.

       In sum, as graded on pure technology, Playstation 2 clearly beats
       Dreamcast. Dolphin looks comparable to Playstation 2, but will
       probably be superior, because Nintendo knows what it has to
       beat. And the X-Box is a wild card.

       But technology isn't everything. 

Agreed on something at last!

       One of the most egregious failures in console history was the
       3DO REAL Multiplayer, a machine roughly comparable to the
       Playstation that launched two years earlier, in 1993 -- at $700. It
       was an impressive machine; but it died. People will pay that much
       and more for a personal computer that can do many things; they
       won't pay it for a game box. Typically, sales of a console system
       really take off when the price falls below $150; Playstation and
       Nintendo64 can now both be found for $99.

Generally true, but saying that the 3DO and PS are roughly comparable is stretching the 3DO's capabilities a good bit. The price point is generally true, and it's a fact that the exorbitant price of the 3DO, more than anything else, kept it from being anything other than a secondary player.

       Dreamcast costs $199. Playstation 2's Japanese launch price of
       39,800 yen is about $360 at current exchange rates -- and it will
       probably launch for $299 in the United States (although a recent
       story by Nikkei BizTech holds out the possibility that the launch
       price may be as low as $199, which would be extremely
       competitive).

I don't think Sony really has much of a choice but to release at $199, since by then, Sega should be in the position to do a price cut.

       Many gamers have complained that $299 is too much. That's
       probably why Nintendo has backed off from promising DVD
       playability on Dolphin; it's hoping to keep its hardware cheaper,
       looking for a competitive advantage. The X-Box? Even Mr. Bill
       probably doesn't know; per rumor, Microsoft won't manufacture
       the machine itself. Microsoft will probably create what is known
       in the biz as a "reference platform," and personal computer
       manufacturers like Gateway and Dell will be invited to build their
       own machines -- and set the pricing.

This seems the a more likely option than Microsoft doing their own platform, but again this all depends on what happens to Microsoft in their anti-trust case.

       If Playstation 2 does launch at $299, its relatively high price will
       deter some gamers, who will stick with Dreamcast (the price of
       which will steadily drop), at least until Dolphin comes out. But it's
       worth remembering that the original Playstation launched at $299
       too -- and still managed to conquer the world.

And let us not forget that GameBoy systems outnumber PlayStations by a significant margin at $49-$79 a piece... oh but wait you're about to contradict me in the next paragraph.

       But even the cheapest price doesn't always seal the deal.
       Nintendo64 suffered in the battle with Playstation because it was
       the last major 64-bit system to market -- after Sega Saturn and
       long after Playstation. By the time Nintendo launched, Playstation
       had a critical mass of games on the market. Nintendo never
       entirely recovered.

What??? First off, the N64 was the FIRST 64-bit system to market, the PS, Saturn and 3DO are 32-bit systems. Also, since when does over 12 million systems sold, and over 50 million pieces of software (many of which are single titles selling over a million each...) in approximately three years amount to a failure. Oh yeah, and this is the system that just this last Christmas had the release of Legend of Zelda: Ocaerina of Time which was noted as being the fastest selling game in the history of video-game sales... and out grossed Titanic...

Sure Nintendo never entirely recovered... Oh, yeah, let's not forget the stack of games coming down the pike that are sure to be top sellers as well, such as the new Metroid, Donkey Kong, and Banjo Kazooie 2 releases. Sony may have Psygnosis, but Nintendo has Rare! Oh, and my fault, I was hallucinating when I noticed that Nintendo has ALWAYS had several of the top 10 selling console games at any given time. Of course, right now the top 3 selling games on the market are all GameBoy titles... I'd say Nintendo is doing fine.

       Dreamcast is a demonstrably inferior machine to its competition.
       Yet it is out now, close to a year before Playstation 2. Dreamcast
       has sold more than a million copies in Japan, and more than half a
       million in the United States. It launched in Europe on Oct. 14, and
       is already outpacing initial sales projections there. In all likelihood,
       at least 5 million Dreamcasts will be in people's homes worldwide
       before Playstation 2 launches. (By comparison, Playstation has
       sold more than 60 million units to date.)

Who... wait a minute... have you actually played any of the "Next Millennium" consoles other than the Dreamcast? No? Then how can you say "demonstrably". The only hardware that exists right here, right now, is the Dreamcast which technically is in competition with the N64 (on a power level) and the PlayStation (on a marketing level). ...and "By comparison"? Hmm.. If you line up the figures, Nintendo at this point has sold nearly as many systems and pieces of software as Sony did at their three year mark. I still don't see the failure here.

       So Dreamcast has a first-mover advantage -- that may give it
       enough momentum to keep going after Playstation 2 launches.
       Nintendo will be late to market again -- the company will be
       trying to convince people who may already have bought
       Dreamcast or Playstation 2 or both to lay out another couple
       hundred bucks for another machine.

Actually Nintendo was the earliest to market with the N64. Nintendo will not release a new system until they have run the course with the N64. Technically speaking, the SNES was Nintendo's competition against the Saturn and the PlayStation. Keep in mind that over the life of the SNES, it sold around 50 million units. Sony now boasts current sales figures at 55 million units. And according to Nintendo's figures, the N64 is selling at higher levels than the SNES when compared against time frames.

       But no matter how cool the technology or how cheap the
       hardware, people won't flock to a new console unless the games
       are there. Sega's Saturn died a horrible death because very few
       titles were available when Saturn launched, Sega never got
       enough developers to commit to supporting the platform, and a
       mere handful of titles were published each year.

This is generally accepted as true, but the other big issue that preceded this was the "Genesis factor" which really kept Sega from ever getting off the ground on an even keel to even start thinking about competing with anyone else. In some ways, the "Genesis factor" doomed the Saturn from the day it was conceptualized.

       Sega learned from Saturn; the company had its ducks in a row
       before Dreamcast appeared. When Dreamcast launched in the
       U.S., 17 titles were available; 40 will be available before year end
       and (Sega claims) more than 100 by the end of 2000. So far,
       only one -- Power Stone -- has gotten glowing reviews; Sega
       needs a hit to drive the machine, a Mario Brothers or Zelda or
       Pokemon, all games that spurred sales of their resident hardware.
       But throw enough crap at the wall and something will stick; Sega
       has sterling support from developers. It's cool on this score.

What in the hell is this guy talking about? (Yes, I'm really loosing my patience here.) The Dreamcast has several games that are getting major attention; "Sonic Adventure", "Soul Calibur", "NFL2K", "Real Bout", and "Power Stone" at the least. I'm not sure what press releases this guy is reading, but he surely hasn't dealt with the gaming community, or he got a big check from Sony last week... oh wait, I forgot, he did get a check from Sony, he's programming for them right now. Sega has great support from developers (at least on the console side), as for PC developers, we'll see how long that lasts when they all discover that a Windows CE port of their DirectX based game isn't just as simple as a re-compile (oops!).

       Sony actually has a bit of a problem. Its machine is so novel and
       so powerful that it's quite hard to develop for. Higher polygon
       resolution means more time spent creating images and models.
       Powerful processors enable more complex physical models,
       artificial intelligence and graphic effects -- but those require more
       time programming. And few programming tools -- software
       developer kits, programming libraries -- are available for
       PlayStation 2 yet.

Well, depending on who you talk to, you'll get one extreme or another in response. The reality is that from what we've heard the PS2 architecture is much more difficult than the PS which was pretty much one big honkin' processor. Red Hat requires a fair amount of setup especially for developers who may be unfamiliar with the platform, and the PS2 has three processors running in tandem which you are expected to write assembler or even microcode for. The tools and libraries are still in a very early stage of development at best.

On the other hand however, if you really want to get any performance out of the Dreamcast, it isn't any easier. It has it's own special SH4 assembler calls, multiple processors, a small cache, and many alignment issues if you really want to make it fly. Even if you plan to use DirectX instead of the Sega libraries, you can still expect to deal with many platform-specific issues if you really want to make it go.

In the end though, no matter what system you choose, complex polygon models and high end graphics are an issue for all the "Next Millennium" systems.

       A typical Playstation game costs about $2 million to develop. A
       typical Playstation 2 game is going to cost more -- and one that
       takes full advantage of the hardware's abilities is going to cost a
       lot more. Square, the publisher of the Final Fantasy game series,
       says it expects to spend $40 million on the next installment -- the
       largest game development project in history.

It will cost more because of the increasing dependence on FMV and Motion Capture technologies... the Final Fantasy series is a textbook example of the high end of development costs.

       According to Sony, 89 Japanese developers, 46 North American
       developers and 27 in Europe have signed to develop for
       Playstation 2. That sounds impressive, but what it really means is
       that 162 companies have signed a piece of paper that gives them
       access to information about the new system and allows them to
       develop for it if they want. You'd be morons not to sign. How
       many of them will actually bring games to market is another
       question.
True, true, true...
       Nintendo has clearly noticed Sony's problem with developers.
       The company has announced partnerships to "make [Dolphin]
       game development easier, faster" -- with MetroWerks to create a
       version of the CodeWarrior software development environment
       for Dolphin; and with Applied Microsystems to produce the
       development hardware. This is something that ought to reassure
       developers -- but Nintendo won't say who or how many
       companies are working to produce Dolphin titles.

       Of course, Sony has clout -- and more importantly, Playstation 2
       will play old Playstation games. That's certainly comforting to
       people with large libraries of Playstation games -- and it means
       that 3,000-plus existing titles will run on the thing.

I can't really get into figures on this, but the reality of backwards compatibility is something that remains to be seen. From what I understand though, they still have some work to do.

Nintendo has always been good about tools, from what we've heard down the grapevine. On the flip side, what platform *doesn't* have a version of MetroWerks compiler?

As far as dreamy land of freedom, console manufactures may be restrictive on there licensing, but PC game publishers actually have to buy their shelf space. Freedom to those who have the most money, I guess.

... Now, at this point I'm skipping a page or so of the original article for the sake of brevity, suffice it to say that what you're missing can be read at the original location of the article on Salon's site. All you're missing is some speculative spouting about the Microsoft console, bitching about how console manufactures restrict software developers, and how Microsoft will offer some dreamy land of freedom hither-to-undreamed of in the land of console developers.

       Sony makes Microsoft look like the free software operating
       system Linux -- as a result, many developers are unquestionably
       rooting quietly for X-Box.

Ah... what? Sure, from what we've heard, most developers are pissed as hell about Linux. Except for a few hard-core guys who can actually code, most of them have no idea how to use it, and it doesn't work with any of their other existing tools. Use of existing tools is a serious issue for many developers as they may have quite an investment put into custom programmed tools created to speed in-house production.

As far as DirectX, most programmers are glad to have a common interface--*anything* resembling a standard--no matter how bad it is or how erratic the ship dates of the next revision. Granted, quality control in the PC market is another problem altogether, but that has nothing to do with the tools.

From the gamers perspective, quality control is a good thing, at least early on in the life of a console when the manufacturer is the strictest on releases. Later on in the system's life that quality drops, but in the MS universe there is only self-imposed quality control, and we all know where that has gotten us... you can look at the shelves of any PC store and make your own assessment about the "quality" of windows games.

Rooting for the X-Box however? I think not. Developers will root for whatever looks fast and looks like it will make them a buck, which right now is the PS2 because it is shit-hot ("Coolness factor" again). Dreamcast is getting a fair amount of support from PC houses who are console-coder wannabes, and I imagine it is this camp that will move to an X-Box if and when it is released... but that's still making a lot of assumptions about what the X-Box even is or will be.

       Ultimately, the market will decide. But here's the score so far. 

       Dreamcast has taken a beachhead, and is advancing on all
       fronts. It has a year of easy victories before the competition
       attacks -- but Sega's enemies have impressive ammunition.
       Dreamcast has a shot, but the real hostilities have hardly started.

Generally true.

       Playstation 2 boasts the most impressive armament in this war --
       lightning-fast, Playstation-compatible, the ability to play DVDs. It
       has one problem -- its price, higher than any of its competitors --
       but Sony still commands the big battalions. It's hard to imagine
       Playstation 2 failing.

But then again, anything could happen, especially if Sony doesn't get the backwards compatibility sorted out. I imagine they'll still be a success since unlike their competitors, Sony is willing to throw away millions... even billions of dollars on something in order to control a market.

       Dolphin has one advantage: Nintendo is watching the coming
       skirmish between Sega and Sony carefully, and will avoid their
       mistakes. It has one big problem, too; its assault will begin late,
       the last of the three (or four) big marketing attacks. Indeed, few in
       the industry believe Nintendo's launch date of winter 2000; most
       expect Dolpin to appear later. By that time, it may just be too
       late.

You know what... this is all a silly statement. Nintendo does what Nintendo does. They always have, and always will until the day that Yamauchi or more importantly Miyamoto leave the company (retire, etc...). What has always amazed me is that after all of these years people still don't see how Nintendo works. 1st, they decide what their object is for their new system. 2nd, they figure out how to build a machine that will do exactly that, even if it means doing weird things like use Video RAM for the system in order to get better speed performance. At the same time, they figure out just what they think they can do in a game, and what they want to accomplish. Finally they merge all of this together and build their system. The key to making all of this possible is that the senior management at this company knows exactly what they want, they work very closely with their creative teams and don't set unrealistic objectives. Nintendo is Nintendo, they will always be in the game.

       X-Box? High in the fastness of their Pacific Northwest redoubt,
       the secretive forces of Chairman Bill prepare to open their own
       front in the war. Their intentions are unknown; indeed, their
       secretiveness means that, like the Soviets faced with an American
       lunar landing, they can plausibly deny they ever intended to
       compete if they wish. But X-Box, if implemented right -- able to
       play existing PC games, with power comparable to Playstation 2,
       with developer support, with a marketing campaign that (unlike
       Microsoft's normal P.R.) appeals to the intended market -- has
       an outside chance of conquering the world.

Yawn...

       The armies are massing and the first shots have been fired. The
       war has begun. 

No, the next Battle in the war is approaching, the War began over a decade ago when Nintendo released the NES. ...and there's going to be fighting for a long, long time.

-R.I.P.

(10/99)


References:
http://www.crossover.com/~costik/home.html
http://www.station.sony.com/fantasywar/
"Industry Watch" -- Game Developer Magazine (August 1999)
http://www.sega.com/console/index.shtml
http://www.nintendo.com/corp/annual99/busi_pg3.htm
http://www.gamedaily.com/npd_trst/index.shtml
http://www.herring.com/mag/issue05/digital.html
...to list a few...

* "MS Rule of Threes" = Refers to a Windows related "inside-joke" about Microsoft Windows products, where it is generally accepted that the third significant release of any Microsoft product will be solid, reliable, and easy to use. Earlier releases are buggy and unfinished, and later releases will be unstable due to gratuitous feature additions.


* "Genesis factor" = Refers to a mindset created in the console gamer community where gamers became jaded against anything Sega did following the successive releases of the Genesis, SegaCD, and 32X (not to mention the Sega CD-X and JVC X-Eye platforms) where Sega was releasing new hardware almost every year. These three systems would frequently carry cross releases where the only difference would amount to not much more than better music on the SegaCD release. Getting stereo out of this configuration wasn't easy since Sega didn't ship stereo cables with anything, and you needed to dedicate an entire powerstrip to this mess because each component needed it's own powerbrick. It was confusing, expensive, and frequently gamers couldn't understand the value of adding these things onto their Genesis, small as that value was. By the time the Saturn was ready for release, consumers were confused about it possibly being yet another SegaCD type device, or if not that, they surely questioned whether Sega would stick with it, or release yet another piece of hardware next year, and so on... Sega lost a large quantity of loyal customers over this. Customers that refused to buy a Saturn on "general principle" if nothing else.


* "Coolness factor" = Nintendo had it first... "The Nintendo Generation". Sega became the next cool thing when they released Sonic, and pushed their "Welcome To The Next Level" promotion. Sony most recently held the title by being "3-D" and "hip". The GameBoy has always had it because the batteries last 40 hours, and like PDAs, it falls into that "status symbol" category. Right now, among consoles the honors are up in the air, but whoever owns the title clearly benefits from it. Sega is trying to grab the title again, but their past still haunts them. The "Coolness factor" can sell consoles sight unseen because people want "what's cool". People want to "fit in". People want to "belong" to a community. And if a company can convince consumers that "everyone has one", then the average person will go buy one, even if they don't need it, or it's really not right for them.