Hey, What Happened to Video Game Company Rivalries?

By  |  Monday, August 22, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Over the last few months, Electronic Arts and Activision have been fighting a war of words over their respective shooters, Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, which are set for a showdown this holiday season.

A small sampling: EA CEO John Riccitiello said he wants Call of Duty to “rot from the core.” Activision’s publishing boss Eric Hirschberg responded by saying EA’s negativity was “bad for the industry.” Most recently, EA spokesman Jeff Brown fired back: “Welcome to the big leagues Eric — I know you’re new in the job but someone should have told you this is a competitive industry.”

The bad blood has been good publicity for both games, I think (although EA’s Battlefield 3 probably needs it more, hence the harsher attacks). But it makes me wonder, where have the good old game console rivalries gone?

It wasn’t too long ago that Sony and Microsoft were slinging insults back and forth. Before that, Sony and Nintendo traded blows in TV ads. And back in the 16-bit era, Sega used its new mascot Sonic the Hedgehog to diss Mario.

But lately, rivalries between game console makers have toned down. Surely, these companies are competing — they’ll boast when they’re ahead and posture when they’re in trouble — but the good-natured ribbing that used to define the console wars has become harder to find.

I think it’s because the greatest threat to any given gaming system isn’t another gaming system. It’s Apple, Google and Facebook. It’s smartphones, tablets and social networks. Increasingly, game company executives have reserved their harshest words not for their old rivals, but for these new outsiders. To wit: Here’s a Sony PSP ad that suggests smartphones are simply for “texting your grandma.” And here’s Nintendo President Satoru Iwata saying smartphone makers and social networks “have no motivation to maintain the high value of videogame software.”

Still, those attacks don’t even name their targets. No fanboys are born when a Nintendo executive takes a broad swing at Apple and Facebook. When the hottest rivalry between video game companies these days involves two shooter franchises that only come around once a year, it says something: times change.

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