After years of positioning and triangulating, the battle lines for the next-generation console war were drawn this week. We have heard plenty of talk about strategic vision, but this week, Sony and Microsoft named launch titles and revealed tech specs and online features, as well as some online restrictions.
Perhaps most importantly, we got pricing for thePlayStation 4$399.99 at Amazon - Pre-Order Yours Now and Xbox One.$499.96 at Amazon - Pre-Order Yours Now On the show floor, the crowd of hardcore gamers and industry insiders generally thought Sony came out on top. But to my eyes, this is still Microsoft's battle to lose.
This isn't easy for me to say. I'm a dedicated PlayStation guy. Indeed I bought the original PlayStation 3 as soon as it was released and short of one, scary disc jam, the box has given me untold hours of button-mashing joy and pleasure. Over time, however, my gaming has become more casual. I still buy most of the hot titles, but I rarely finish a game these days. My 18-year-old often mocks the pile of shrink-wrapped games that stack up next to the TV. He is an Xbox kid who finishes games the weekend he buys them and then trades them in at GameStop for even more games. (For now, kid, for now.)
Undoubtedly, my status as a casual gamer explains the gap between my perception and those of the rest of the E3 rank and file. Sony had one message to send at E3: we are all about gaming. And then it did everything it could to back that up. It announced a powerful gaming box with big titles like Destiny, Final Fantasy XV, Assassins Creed IV, Watch Dogs and more. It also stated unequivocally that the PS4 would work without an Internet connection and play used games. This sparked entirely predictable applause from the E3 audience. Finally, it came out with an aggressive $399 price point that undercuts the Xbox One by a full $100. (Interestingly, this is the opposite of what Sony and Microsoft did with their last generation launches, where the PS3 was $599 and the Xbox 360 was $399.)
In other words, Sony delivered a message perfectly tuned to the developers, gamers, and costumed fanatics at E3. And yet when Sony says it is all about gaming, it is also saying it isjust about gaming. Microsoft is going bigger.
Microsoft's press conference was the first of E3 and at the time the crowd was totally on its side. It too offered a powerful gaming box with big titles like Halo, Forza Mortosports 5, Rare, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Titanfall. You will have to be connected to the Internet and developers may be able to restrict the ability to resell discs. This is annoying for sure, but when was the last time you went 24 hours without connecting to the Internet or bought a used game? My son is pissed, but it will make little difference to casual gamers like me. Finally there is the price difference; at $499, the Xbox One costs a good deal more than the PS4. The difference being, the Xbox One gives you more than just a game box.
Every Xbox will come with a Kinect, Microsoft's revolutionary gesture interface. At E3 Microsoft was demoing the Kinect recognizing no less than six individual players in the room. The ability to use speech recognition and hand gestures to change channels and navigate through content is extraordinary. Hardcore gamers shun the Kinect, but there is no doubt it is a promising technology.
Perhaps even more significant is the opportunity for the Xbox to change the way we watch TV. There hasn't been a serious disruption in the TV interface since the TiVo. We have massive digital displays in our living rooms connected to an endless online world of content, and we are still pointing and clicking our way through menus. If the demos are to be believed, the Xbox One could make it possible to watch a live HD broadcast of the football game while getting live updates from your fantasy football team. Football fan or not, this has been the unfulfilled promise of interactive TV since the dawn of broadband.
None of this impresses the crowd at E3, of course. Microsoft didn't even mention these features here; it was announced back at the Microsoft Reveal a few weeks ago. But the features show just how ambitious the Xbox One is compared to the PlayStation 4. That ambition comes with risks; this stuff needs to work. But if it does, I think Microsoft will have the best digital entertainment system on the market.
If Sony still has the best, most affordable game system, so be it. Sony won the E3 battle for the hearts and minds of gamers, but Microsoft is still in a better position to win casual gamers and early adopters like me. And when it comes to its current user base, I don't think many lifelong Xbox fans are going to jump ship over $100 and an Internet access requirement. Halo fans? Seriously?
Thinking about it now, the built-in Blu-ray player was a big reason I bought my PS3 since back then it was the only way I could watch HD video. I rarely use it now because there are so many decent streaming options.
The Xbox one could offer a similar advantage this November, providing a truly next-generation entertainment experience based on Kinect and some ambitious hybrid programming.
If, you know, Microsoft can make it work.
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