Could a new console compete with PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo?
For a very long time, Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo have had a strong hold on the console race. The PlayStation and Xbox line of video game systems cater to that crowd of purists who want the best-looking console games, access to their favorite online shooters, and a couple neat exclusives. Meanwhile Nintendo's platforms push for innovation while giving us a long list of familiar and beloved franchises. That likely won't change for some time, but the question still begs to be asked: Would a fourth console be viable in the current — or a future — landscape?
You'd think the answer would be simple, but it's really not. At least not without first looking at a multitude of variables.
Looking at the Past
History tends to repeat itself all too often. We can't look at the future of console gaming without first analyzing the past. Sega was once considered one of two big dogs alongside Nintendo when it came to consoles. We all know what happened, though — and if you don't (you do, though), just Wikipedia it. Then there was Sony with the PlayStation and, a few years later, Microsoft with the Xbox.
In the years after Nintendo and Sega went head-to-head, we got a bunch of other consoles. Some were great machines like the TurboGrafx-16, while others were duds like the Philips CDi. We also saw Valve do a little experimentation with its Steam Machines. After all that, though, there were three — the same three that have stood tall, even despite some fumbles along the road, for the better part of a decade-and-a-half: Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.
Is the Idea of a New Console Absolute... Madness?
Most recently, Slightly Mad Studios — also known as that company that's made a few racing games — threw its name in the console manufacturer hat. The company's CEO Ian Bell stated that there were plans to release a new console in three years. Said console would compete with PlayStation and Xbox, a feat that could be taken by many as utterly ludacris.
Some folks think the addition of a fourth console is sheer madness — no, I'm not above abysmal puns — while others welcome the competition. I mean, I personally know a crazy person who thinks Sega should enter the console race yet again, so the idea of a developer like Slightly Mad Studios planning something like Mad Box isn't the most insane thing I've heard. While competition is definitely healthy for big businesses, what would a fourth platform need to do to properly compete with the standard bearers?
All we know so far about the still mysterious Mad Box is that Slightly Mad wants the console's biggest features to focus on performance. That means, according to the company, 120 FPS, massive VR support, and native 4K. In terms of exclusives, Slightly Mad has specifically stated that the console won't be about console-specific content so much as it will be about having the console open to any devs that want to release content for it.
Actually, all of that sounds pretty great. Whether Mad Box will ultimately deliver all of this and more, well, only time will tell.
Walking a Fine Line Between Innovation and Familiarity
No other company has made bigger attempts at innovation than Nintendo. Virtual Boy jokes aside, the company has brought in big money by thinking outside the box. Sure, there were countless dump trucks of shovelware on the Wii, but the experimental nature of that platform piqued people's curiosity. Hell, even Sony and Microsoft tried getting in on the fad with the Move and Kinect, respectively.
The Wii was, for all intents and purposes, filled with hit-or-miss content that either utilized the wacky motion controllers in fun ways, in really dumb ways, or not at all. Then there was the Wii U, which these days feels like a tech demo for the Switch. Even though the Wii U never hit its stride, the games on that console that used the tech — ZombiU is a huge standout, as is Super Mario Maker — were absolutely incredible.
Nintendo has continuously relied on experimentation. The DS and 3DS are two of the greatest handhelds ever, and the Switch successfully marries portable and home gaming. Do we need more of this kind of experimentation? I want to say no, because experimentation has a huge chance of failing. But I also can't give a hard pass, because if a new console comes around, what's it going to do to stand out among the competition? Should it do something crazy and new, or stick with what works? Maybe a little bit of both.
The Value of the Dollar
The idea of a new console is certainly curious. Slightly Mad is doing a good job by not revealing too much, and comparing its upcoming console to a powerful PC is a smart move. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One run like pretty decent PCs, so if another console enters the race, it's going to have to do the same or better. If it does better, that brings up a huge question mark:
If a potential fourth platform looks to stand a chance, it needs to be priced competitively. If we're getting a new console that features powerful PC specs but is priced upward of $700 or more while still being just a console with no PC features, it very well could be dead on arrival. As a consumer, I will gladly take the PlayStation 5 for, say, $400 over the (completely fictional) Sega MegaDreamCD if that console is priced at $800 but boasts VR connectivity and super-fast processing power. I can just build my own computer!
Are You Ready?
We'll probably never have more than three — maybe, maybe four — home consoles dominating the market at any given time. We'll see how Slightly Mad Studios and Mad Box affect the landscape in three years. For now, though, we bring the question back to you, the consumer. Do you want a fourth console? A fifth?! Do you think we need something new? Are Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo the be-all-end-all of console gaming? Should they be? Right now, they most certainly are.