Update: I had erroneously stated that EA Access costs $2.50 per year. It is actually $30/year. Thanks to the people at Reddit for pointing that out.
More than a few older gamers will recognize that the competition between Nintendo and Sega during the 16-bit generation as the greatest console war in the history of video games so far. Hardware prices kept falling, players reveled in ground-breaking games and decisions made by these companies back then helped to shape the industry as we know it today. Last year a writer named Blake Harris published a recount of this generation in his book, Console Wars. Blake had interviewed over two hundred people who were involved in the gaming industry back then and I think the book is worth a read for those interested in the history of our pasttime.
In some ways I see a number of parallels between that generation and the one we are in now. I would like to quote from page 61 of the Kindle edition of Console Wars. Imagine the president and CEO of Sega of America, Tom Kalinske, learning as much as he could about the video game industry and his biggest competitor, Nintendo.
“…if there was one thing Kalinske had learned about consumers throughout his career, it was this: the only thing they valued more than making the right decision was making their own decision. So if Nintendo represented control, Sega would represent freedom, and this cornerstone of choice would be the foundation of Kalinske’s plan to reboot, rebuild, and rebrand Sega.”
The freedom offered by the Genesis manifested in a number of ways. Sega had paved the way for games with darker and more mature storylines. When the first Mortal Kombat arcade game was ported to the home consoles only Sega offered players the choice of having the game’s infamous blood and fatalities. This ethos of choice even extended to hardware peripherals on occasion. For example, when Galoob released the Game Genie in North America Nintendo had promptly sued the company. Sega gave the product its blessing and the Genesis version of the Game Genie was an officially licensed product.
To be fair, no mainstream console is completely open to the average user. Part of the nature of consoles is the walled garden experience. However, some consoles offer a bit more choice than others. In this generation that would be the Xbox One. Here’s why.
Storage capacity. The Xbox One is the only console on the market that can support two external hard drives for a total of 32 terabytes of space to store your games, clips and media. You can even use an external hard drive to play your games across multiple Xbox One consoles, something that cannot be done on any other current generation console. The extra hard drive space is in addition to the hard drive inside of your console.
EA Access. Electronic Arts offers a subscription service and Xbox One is the only console that offers it to players. For $5 a month or $30 per year gamers can play every EA game five days before it is available to the general public. Other benefits include a 10% discount on EA products in the Xbox Live store and unlimited access to the Vault – a collection of older games that EA has released on Xbox One.
Backwards Compatibility. This one is a bit of a draw as the Wii U offers hardware level backwards compatibility with Wii titles. Xbox One still gets a nod for maintaining system features like broadcasting and online multiplayer for backwards compatible titles and making sure that all current Games with Gold titles for the Xbox 360 are playable on Xbox One. The last console generation saw heavy emphasis placed on downloadable titles but those games cannot be traded away or sold when somebody moves on to the current systems. When I have to choose between buying a digital game on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 I lean towards the company who made an effort to have at least some of my digital games playable on the new system and not the company who says it’s hard.
More ways to play your games. The Wii U allows you to play a lot of its games on the gamepad if your TV is already in use… provided you stay close to the console. The PS4 allows remote play which is an admittedly cool feature but it requires the purchase of a handheld console (or its homebound variant) that not many people are interested in. The Xbox One lets you stream your gameplay to your Windows 10 machine (there are over 200 million of those out there) and even the Oculus Rift VR headset will support the game streaming feature. Why anybody would want to do that is beyond me but the option is there.
Game previews. The Xbox One is the only current console with the option to purchase prerelease games and provide feedback to tbe developers who are working on them. One first party Microsoft studio even invited players to help the development of its game going so far as to let gamers vote on the concept.
Maybe one of the features does not interest you. Maybe none of them interest you. That is absolutely fine. The fact remains that all of these options exist on only one current console. We can’t even have the debate on the other consoles.
The Sega Genesis was significantly outsold by the SNES but over thirty million players stand in testament to the greatness of a console that helped move the industry forward and brought more choices to the consumer. Just as the Xbox One has and will do the same now.
It is very ironic that a console once maligned for a perceived lack of choice now offers console owners an unprecedented amount of options.