XBOX vs GAMECUBE - THE FIGHT FOR SECOND PLACE
The arrival of Microsoft and Nintendo’s new consoles in Europe during spring 2002 (after a late 2001 North America roll-out) wasn’t ever going to dominate when PS2 was doing so well. But that didn’t stop the two getting locked in a bitter battle to become the nation’s second-favourite console.
Both made some ridiculous claims; Microsoft with its pointlessly long controller cables, and Nintendo saying its joypad’s many buttons made it highly versatile (a far cry from its Wii strategy a few years later). But both had some surprises up their sleeves, as we outline below…
FEBRUARY 2002: A month ahead of the Xbox rollout Nintendo drastically undercut the Xbox’s £299 RRP by telling retailers its console would be around £150. It was a huge statement of intent, and despite sparking some stores’ ire it was wisely timed; Retailers had just found out they were also having to pay extra delivery costs on Xbox shipments as the hardware was so heavy...
MARCH 2002: But Xbox managed to get its moment in the sun on launch, however, with a respectable launch where 48,000 consoles were sold at £299.
APRIL 2002: But £299 was too much money to ask – and Microsoft knew it. So it quickly shaved £100 off the price to make the desirable console more accessible.
MAY 2002: The price cut didn’t make much immediate difference for Xbox, however – and when GameCube officially launched, Nintendo sold 400,000 across Europe. That was almost ten times more than Xbox could muster on its debut, and twice the (at the time) Microsoft installed base for Europe of 200,000.
JUNE 2002: Publishers knew another way Microsoft could cut prices to keep punters happy – and called on the format-holder to lower the RRP of software to £39.99.
SEPTEMBER 2002: But one thing Microsoft understood about making headway in the games industry was that real success lies in currying developer favour – and using that to win over hardcore gamers. So at its X02 event it detailed a raft of studios on board, including plenty of UK teams. Oh, and Rare – it spent $375m on buying the studio Nintendo owned a key stake in. Fanboys went wild – but Xbox had proven it knew what had to be done to stay competitive.
Even Microsoft dabbled in controversial marketing. Its TV ad for the Xbox launch featured a new born child shooting from between his mother’s legs, and drastically aging as he sailed through the air – before landing in his early grave.
‘Life’s short, play more’ said the slogan – a they-thought-it-was-clever-at-the-time way to show why people should be buying Xbox. Complaints to the Independent Television Commission that it was distasteful and scary promptly led to it being pulled. A bit of an over-reaction really – the only frightening thing about the Xbox launch was the stupidly high £299 price tag.
If there's one thing the industry prides itself on today, it’s the fact so many publishers, retailers and developers claim to have an open dialogue with consumers. So when a small lobbying group of gamers started the Fair Play campaign for cheaper video games in late 2002, what did the industry do? Go mental, slag them off and try and shut them down of course! Sure, it was run by lunatics from the internet, and they were making spurious claims – but in retrospect the industry’s old dinosaur reaction hardly characterises the trade of days gone by as confident.
One of the big drivers for PlayStation 2 was the Grand Theft Auto franchise, which Sony scored as a timed platform exclusive in 2001. By November 2002 GTAIII had sold over a million units in a year in the UK (a considerable feat back then). Its follow up Vice City debuted during the same month selling over 300,000 in two days on sale in the UK. Sony managed to secure further exclusivity on future GTAs - although the follow-up San Andreas didn’t appear until 2004, leaving GTAIII and Vice City to dominate in the meantime.
PLAYSTATION STEALS THE SHOW
No matter what Microsoft and Nintendo tried, there was no catching Sony. In 2002 its PS2 had hit a UK installed base of 2m, driven by 2001 releases GT3 and GTAIII and 2002’s Metal Gear Solid 2.
Even the PSone was outselling the GameCube and Xbox. In August, Sony made it very clear the throne would not be relinquished: it cut the price to £169.99, driving its software catalogue of 145 available games further.
THE ART OF THE INDUSTRY
2002 was a watershed year for hardware, but arguably the real winners were third party publishers, who were faced with a wider market than ever. EA specifically had reason to cheer – it broke industry records by generative over $1.7bn in revenues during the year. “The industry is full of pretenders trying to mimic what they perceive to be EA’s strategy, but it took us 20 years to get here,” a bullish CEO John Riccitiello (pictured) told MCV at the time.
2002: THE TOP TEN GAMES
1. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (Take 2)
2. FIFA 2003 (EA)
3. Grand Theft Auto 3 (Rockstar)
4. Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets (EA)
5. Medal of Honor: Frontline (EA)
6. LOTR: The Two Towers (EA)
7. Metal Gear Solid 2 (Konami)
8. Gran Turismo 3 (Sony)
9. Spider-Man (Activision)
10. Monsters Inc (Disney)