Console Christmas

I hate Christmas. I’ll give you a second to recover from your immense surprise at that statement. To me, Christmas is less a time of peace and love and more a time of immense commercial success. Yeah, I hate this time of year. I’m the kind of guy who thinks fairy lights are a waste of electricity and that anyone wanting to play Santa in a shopping centre is a danger to children.

If there is one small, tiny, minuscule benefit to Christmas it is that it’s a perfect time to get into gaming. As far as software and hardware sales go they are almost always highest around November to January (and of the big three companies Nintendo is usually the one that performs best). While the sales post – New Year are decent, it pays to keep an eye on online and in-store retailer bundle deals during December if you are thinking of getting a console for yourself or as a gift.

To a tight-fisted Scot like myself, giving a console as a gift seems pretty surreal. I mean, I can see it from the point of view of a generous parent giving to their child but that’s about it. It seems to be getting pushed particularly hard as the gift of choice this year, if the consumer surveys I’ve taken part in over the last thirty days or so are any indication. This does seem a little strange given how cash strapped many of us are (from the point of view of the buyer I mean, I can understand the seller wanting to get more out the door).

Regardless of my opinion on giving a console as a gift, the fact remains that people do. Christmas is a time for gaming and that’s even if you only look at software sales and not hardware. Young people probably make up their own mind about what they want before they ask their parents, but it might be helpful to give a little run down of your gift options this holiday season and what you can expect as a result.

Let’s start with the black tombstone of gaming consoles; the PS3. Now available in super deluxe weight loss edition. More importantly, it now has a slightly less intimidating RRP that puts it on par with an Elite 360 package. There’s a frankly bizarre assumption that because the PS3 is (or was) the most expensive console that it is in some way the best, by whatever standards people choose to judge ‘bestestness’.

The obvious benefits to a PS3 is getting a blu-ray player for your trouble and no additional costs to use online functions. My own problem with the PS3 (which I do own) is the poor exclusives it is able to secure and the quality of multi-system ports. I certainly don’t blame publishers for avoiding PS3 exclusivity (because that is like signing a death warrant as far as total sales are concerned), but as a result it does reduce the value you get from your purchase.

Microsoft likes to offer choice when it comes to their consoles. I’m sure you could argue it’s choice comparable to different shades of grey, but that’s another story. As I already mentioned, the PS3 now has the same price point as an Elite model 360 (the difference between an Elite and standard model being a larger hard drive and stylish colours – like my own crimson red one). There are also the Arcade editions which are low price 360s missing all the important things a 360 needs and should be avoided like they were street carollers on the prowl for people to annoy.

Getting an Xbox360 is like getting into the standard of proper gaming (by proper I mean when compared to what can be called casual gaming platforms). It is extremely disappointing that to make the most of 360 online functions an entirely greed based monthly fee is required. The balance between gamers sticking with Microsoft and sticking with Sony may start to tip now the prices are closer together and that’s not a bad thing. Quite frankly console wars are embarrassing at best, a bit like modern ‘whose is bigger’ contests if anything, but if the PS3 does become more accessible then Microsoft might need to rethink charging for something that should be free.

Whether you were to get a PS3 or an Xbox360 they both roughly achieve the same outcome when placed in front of a non-casual gamer. It will keep them entertained and out the way and that’s perhaps exactly what you want to happen at Christmas. I’ve christened this Christmas for myself as an RPG-binge, getting as many games with hefty completion times as I can so I can lock myself in a room until January.

For the casual market, or the market that wants the person receiving the console to actually get off their backside and do things, there is of course Nintendo’s Wii. If I’m sounding negative about this console, I don’t really mean to be. When I say casual that isn’t code for bad. There is a place for this console and sales figures clearly show this. It is my opinion that these will continue to drop off however as the novelty to the casual market wanes and Nintendo will need to try and get back into the next-gen market and the more hardcore fan base that it’s ignored for three years.

The Wii has a fair price point and retailers usually bring out fairly good Wii deals at this time of year (especially when compared to the kind of deals you might see at other times in the year, more often than not the games included in them are so utterly terrible that throwing them away is more fun than the five minutes you’ll spend playing them). The Wii is a good party console as well, if you’re the type of person who would play party games – you can probably guess by now that I am not. It’s also the best choice for much younger gamers, with an impressive selection of games for early teens and below and very few with questionable content.

Other than the main consoles you have hand-held options. Earlier in the year, Channel 5’s The Gadget Show (which is by no means biased towards a particular company) voted the iPod Touch as the best hand-held gaming console in the world. Now, if they mean as a hand-held that’s actually played on the go then I would probably agree. I’d love to see a comprehensive year long study on how many PSP and DS owners actually play them in a situation where the fact they are portable is at all relevant.

While I prefer the PSP when it comes to power and what you can do with it, if I were advising someone on a gift and getting value out of the gift it would be the DS every single time. The blame for this I place firmly in Sony’s court having neglected the PSP like an unwanted child while Nintendo continues to nurture their effort, putting it on a par with the original Gameboy. I’d avoid the newer models though as the DSi is one of the worst innovations I’ve seen in recent years. The reduced battery life makes a mockery of portable gaming for the sake of a camera with such a low pixel count that I’m surprised it doesn’t produce 8-bit sprites instead of photographs, and the loss of backwards compatibility is a high price to pay for that.

To recap; for the casual gamer or the gamer you wouldn’t want to encourage sitting around for long periods of time you have the Wii. For those who like to pretend they play games on the move you have the DS or PSP. For the normal or hardcore gamer you have the Xbox360 and PS3. Like I said at the start though; this is if you’re mad enough to actually want to get someone a game console for Christmas. Instead of some penny sweets. Or a lump of coal.

Merry Christmas.

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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.


  1. The perfect Christmas present for 2009 will be a PS3!

  2. Adam R. /


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