Nearly two years ago I wrote my first piece on the next-gen console war. Back then it was only a war of statements : the Xbox 360 was to be launched one moth later; the PlayStation 3 and the Wii one year later.

Back then I was willing to bet that the 360 was in for a hard battle, eager to use every ace up its digital sleeve to ease its way on Sony turf and lure away its PlayStation fans. Most thought it to be an uphill battle, because PS2 was still king of the charts back then and one would think that Sony already knew its lesson by heart when it came to launching a successful gaming device. Then again…

You all know the story. Sony came one year later, it was way too expensive for most people’s taste, most of its games were also available on Xbox 360, technical issues drove to production shortages (but no shortages in stores, which sure says a lot about its early success), its release was delayed everywhere but in Japan and the US (which also drove people to really “love” Sony)… all in all it went worse than most of us expected. Right now the console is still struggling to build a serious user base and seems to be in the same position the original Xbox was when fighting PlayStation 2.

Now the shopping season is in view and Microsoft is taking out the big guns to blow its direct competitor away. Basically, Halo 3 is just the means to keep current Xbox 360 fans happy and prevent others from joining the PlayStation 3 side. Because, in the end, it all comes to who’s got the bigger user base.

Microsoft holds the upper ground in the US, due to its earlier release and the solid line up. The release of Halo 3 is thought to be the final push for those yet undecided. I’m talking about Halo fans who haven’t made the switch to 360 or current PS2 users who might find that the new game is reason enough to upgrade. Also, there’s a new generation eager to start its gaming career, but wondering which console to choose.

However, the US market is just one battle and will certainly not win the war for Microsoft. The 360 needs world domination in order to win. The Japanese market remains a fortress impossible to conquer and Halo 3 assault is unlikely to produce a dent where other, more Japan-oriented strategies have failed. In fact, I’m sure that Microsoft is either cooking something special for the Land of the Rising Sun or has given up the idea of making Japan its turf altogether.

This leaves Europe as the only important market left to conquer for both competitors. Hopefully, this would lead both competitors to alter their marketing strategies and treat Europeans the same way they treat US customers. First of all there’s th matter of price. As you may know, both consoles retails for a higher price in Europe than in the US, which is everything but fair. Online content is also more expensive and the offer is much less than was US consumers get. The release of Halo 3 might be enough for Microsoft for the time being, but I’m willing to bet that significant price drops for both hardware and content, as well as a increased offer are to be expected in the long run.

Rumor has it that such a plan is already on the waiting list and will kick in once the Halo 3 frenzy dies off.

I, for one, don’t think that Halo 3 will finish the job for Microsoft. It will, however, boost Xbox 360 sales and ensure a loyal user base (after all, Halo 2 is still the most played game on Xbox Live, so go figure what a new installment in the series means for these guys). And with these two in its bag, Microsoft can go on fighting for a long time, perhaps much longer than Sony will.

I left the Wii out of the discussion and I owe you an explanation. First of all, the console has a broader target, much broader than the typical (more or less) hardcore gamers. Many Wii owners didn’t give a second thought to the idea of buying a PS3/ Xbox 360. Others already have one of the two or, if they don’t, they will eventually make their choice and having a Wii will not affect their decision in any way.

Second, Wii’s success made it clear that the market won’t be dominated by neither a Sony or a Microsoft product alone. Ever since it was released, the Wii did nothing but embarrass its competitors and win market after market. I have no doubt that the console will continue to top the chats for some time, as long as Nintendo makes sure that quality titles are released constantly. So, no matter which of the two consoles wins the war, it will have to share its market domination with Nintendo.