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|[ 03/15/05 ] = Can Microsoft Take Sony?
Lately, I've noticed that XBox popularity has increased greatly. The XBox started out slow, but through strong first-party support and increased third-party support, the system has steadily gained momentum. So much momentum, in fact, that it has become a direct threat to Sony and the PlayStation 2. While its lacking popularity status hasn't changed much in Japan since its release, in America the system has blown-up; demand for the hardware is growing, retailers can't keep it in-stock, and the consumer is pissed. Sony has a foothold in the market with the PS2, but the gradual success of Microsoft's XBox resembles that of the original PlayStation's success.
When Microsoft released the XBox, the system didn't have much support from Japanese developers. Sure, Tecmo and Capcom used the hardware to make Dead Or Alive 3 and Genma Onimusha, but most Japanese developers were hesitant to develop for the US-branded hardware. But time passed, and after careful consideration Japanese developers started to develop more for it ( of course). Though the XBox hasn't been blessed with all of the same developers that have made the PS2 successful (like Squeenix), several of Japan's "big-gun" developers have been supporting the system; Tecmo sold systems with Ninja Gaiden, Capcom and SNK have greatly increased development, Namco has provided consistent support, Sammy started XBox development with the release of Guilty Gear X2 #Reload, and Konami even brought their highly-successful Metal Gear series to the system. Not only that, but on the arcade front Sega chose the XBox-compatible Chihiro arcade hardware to power Virtua Cop 3, Outrun 2, and House Of The Dead III, and recently Taito has announced that they are developing Shikigami No Shiro III and Raiden III for the XBox-compatible Type-X arcade hardware. A new Giga Wing title for the Type-X arcade hardware has also been announced by Takumi, as well; I am excited about this title in particular, since Giga Wing 2 is one of my favorite games of all-time. Hopefully Taito or Capcom brings it to the XBox so that shooting fans everywhere can enjoy it at home.
In other words, Japanese developers have increased XBox support greatly, and this is why Microsoft has become a threat to Sony. Similar to Sony, Microsoft came into the video game industry "wet behind the ears," but with a lot of money to behind their hardware. With so much money behind the hardware, developers knew that failure of the system would be unlikely (Microsoft just wouldn't have it) and development interest increased. So much in fact, that Microsoft seems to have tapped into some of Sony's third-party support; big-selling bullshit titles like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Mercenaries, and NFL Street 2 (just to name a few) are or will be on both XBox and PlayStation 2 (while most are unfortunately never even considered for the GameCube), which is definitely affecting PlayStation 2 sales. Not to say that third-party support for the PS2 has stopped or even come to a crawl (like that of the GameCube), or that PS2 sales have plummeted, but increased third-party support for the XBox has undoubtedly made an impact on Sony. More than anything though, it is surprising to see an American-branded piece of hardware with such support from Japanese developers. When Atari released the Jaguar, Japanese developers avoided the American-made hardware like the plague, and similarly dismissed the short-lived Jaguar CD. The Jaguar made a bad impression on Japanese developers (the controller was ridiculous), and some even say that it gave American hardware a bad reputation. But the XBox must be different, considering the fact that most Japanese developers opt to make games for the XBox (American hardware) even over the GameCube (Japanese hardware). They must really be impressed.
But it's not just third-party support that is making the XBox popular; much of the hardware's success in America lies in first-party strength. Titles like Halo, Fable, and Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic II are huge, and have helped catapult the system to popularity. Not only that, but there are a ton of big PC-native titles like Counter Strike and Unreal (among many others) that have also ensured the hardware's success in the US. Upcoming releases like Doom 3 and Unreal Championship 2 will no doubt please those who play mostly games of PC origin on their XBox. The XBox owes some of its success to its first-party strength, but that's not to say that its third-party support hasn't gained momentum considerably. One could even say that what the XBox lacks in third-party support (when compared to that of the PS2) it makes-up for by appealing to PC players with its solid PC title support. While Sony and the PS2 definitely have stronger third-party support than Microsoft and the XBox, the XBox is known for games of PC-origin, and that is something Microsoft has to its advantage (in the American market, at least). It may not seem like an advantage, but in places like America, Europe, and South Korea (where PC games are very popular), the XBox can appeal to those who play primarily PC games.
With strong first-party support, a strong PC title base, and growing third-party support, the Microsoft and the XBox are a growing threat to Sony's lead in the market. Like Sony, Microsoft has shown developers enough money; so much, in fact, that even Japanese developers are impressed. And because Microsoft has shown them enough money (probably even more than enough), there's a good chance that the XBox will go out having been successful, and that the next Microsoft system will be even more successful. However, even though this is based on the fact that XBox support (from both developers and the consumer) has grown substantially, it is an American system after all, and the industry can change in the blink of an eye (as seen with developers' ever-changing support for Nintendo). Will the successor to the "Bro Box" fail? There's always the possibility of failure, but it's highly unlikely; Microsoft has too much money behind the system for it to flop, and according to current reports they have already managed to rally-up strong Japanese developer support for the new hardware. Can Microsoft, the XBox, and the successor to the XBox take Sony, the PlayStation 2, and the PlayStation 3? I think it's definitely a possibility. With increasing popularity and support from acclaimed Japanese developers, Microsoft has the potential to become an industry leader with their new hardware. If things continue the way they are now, Microsoft could very well take Sony's place at the top of the industry. Only time will tell...