MCV’s Review of the Year – Part 1: Hardware of 2016

Here’s our take on the big events in the games industry this year.

It seems to have been a year dominated by hardware rather than software, with lots of new devices in the shape of VR headsets, updated consoles, new reveals and a smash hit retro revival.

Lots of ‘new’ consoles…

In a disruption of the traditional console cycle, both Sony and Microsoft announced mid-gen hardware. The PS4 Pro came out in November and boasted twice the graphics power of the standard PS4. It runs the same games but with prettier graphics, though Sony did struggle to explain exactly what the difference was without resorting to the phrase ‘Dynamic 4K’ and quite a lot of small print.

Despite that, PS4 sales tripled when the hardware debuted, with a reported 42,000 Pro units sold in that week.

Meanwhile Microsoft announced its even-more-powerful Project Scorpio at E3, to be released late next year. Price estimates of around 600 may put it more in contention with gaming PCs than consoles.

Meanwhile, updated consoles also hit shelves. The Xbox One S was arguably the standout device, massively improving on the original’s design and adding an Ultra HD Blu-ray player. While the PS4 Slim was a more modest update by comparison.

…And the death of legacy platforms

Microsoft, in April, announced it was ending production of the Xbox 360. The console originally launched back in 2005, back when a measly 20GB hard disk and a wireless controller were still considered to be deluxe options.

It went on to dominate its generation in the UK, selling 8m consoles by 2013 and 84m worldwide. With a whopping eight-year gap before its successor arrived and bolstered by the popular Kinect add-on, it was a gaming colossus.

While the PlayStation 3 remains in production, it too showed its age this November, as numerous major franchises launched without support for legacy hardware, with FIFA 17, LEGO Dimensions and Skylanders being a notable set of exceptions.

Virtual reality arrives

After years of hype, and delays, all three major VR platforms hit the market in 2016. Oculus had promoted the format as a whole and its Rift headset went on sale in March. At 549 it’s an expensive item, even for serious PC gamers. This week it’s finally getting its Touch controllers, which cost another 189.

In April, HTC launched its Vive headset, which is compatible with the Steam VR platform. This came with handheld controllers and a laser-based positional system to track motions, putting it technically ahead of its rival. Again, though, a price of 760 and the need for a powerful gaming PC mean it only appealed to the keenest.

Skip on to October and the PlayStation VR launch had more consumer appeal. With a price of just 350, plus a PS4 console, the headset flew off shelves, with Sony apparently unable to satisfy immediate demand. The device does need a PlayStation camera, plus Move controllers, to fully exploit its capabilities, though. The big test will come next year, when we’ll see if there’s enough quality software to help shift a more generous allocation of units.

Nintendo switches

With the Wii U failing to replicate the Wii’s success, Nintendo took the console-tablet hybrid to the next logical step and unveiled a truly mobile device in October. As per rumours prior to thehe tablet-like console, with slot-on controllers, should leverage Nintendo’s huge experience in portable gaming hardware.

The new console will launch in March 2017, with more details and previews coming in January. The reveal teased brand new Super Mario and Mario Kart titles, but the launch lineup is yet to be confirmed. The trailer also teased third-party support from the likes of Bethesda and 2K Games – with Nintendo later announcing a large slate of third-parties on board with the machine – which could be vital to the new hardware’s success.

No prices have yet been revealed, with rumours putting it around $250, though the accuracy of that figure and fluctuations in exchange rates make it hard to predict.

With mobile games in their ascendancy, and Xbox and PlayStation arguably courting the same core market segment, the success of the Switch could be a huge upswing for the industry as a whole in 2017.

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