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June 11, 2013

11

Editorial – Xbox One & PS4 Some Thoughts

by Master Pillow

Everyone who knows me understands that I am a diehard gamer.  Starting from the Atari 400 and Apple II+ way back in the early 1980s I’ve basically been blessed to own every single major console released since then along with most of the handhelds.  Therefore, this time of year has always been great to be a gamer as the big guns come out at E3 to show upcoming games as well as periodically releasing new hardware.  It is that last point that I want to focus on today.

I really am not going to get into a long blog post as I’m writing this at around 1am so I apologize if I sound like I am rambling but suffice it to say I am the type of gamer who is going to buy both the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 regardless of what was announced today.  I also have a MBA and from time to time I like to look at events like today from a leadership/business perspective and leave my gamer cred buried so that it doesn’t get in the way of cogent analysis.

That said I have to say that both Microsoft and Sony did an admirable job presenting their vision of the future for gaming today although for totally different reasons.  Microsoft had the much tougher sell since they basically shot themselves ten times in their feet a few weeks ago with their initial Xbox One reveal that did not go over well with core gamers everywhere.  With a strong focus on the entertainment aspect of the system, Kinect integration along with sports games and fantasy leagues the system felt totally out of touch with mainstream gamers.  That’s not even mentioning the biggest disaster which was a PR nightmare considering the lack of information and downright baffling mismanagement of their message revolving around used games and their draconian DRM policy.

xbox_one_logo

I’m not going to bother to talk about DRM today but from a business point of view whoever was in charge of PR at Microsoft should have been severely reprimanded that day because they allowed their message to be totally distorted and left in tatters due to having many of their execs give conflicting and downright vague information.  This is Communication 101 people and I really have to wonder if every exec was properly prepped in how to answer the tough questions.  If you have to deliver tough information that will probably not be well liked you have to treat the situation like a crisis much like David Letterman did so well when he came forward out of the blue to reveal he was being blackmailed.

You need to be in control of the message and provide clear coherent information so that the public will understand where you are coming from even though you might be communicating less than desirable things.  By the same token it would have been much better if Microsoft just issued a detailed press release during or shortly after the conference so that it appeared as if they were in total control of their destiny and were not scared of hiding pertinent information.  Instead, by losing control of their message Microsoft spent weeks wallowing in bad press as gamers everywhere eviscerated them without remorse and it took them far too long to own up to these issues.

Fast-forward to today and Microsoft did about everything right this time out by spending virtually every second focused on games, games and more games.  This is what the diehard gamers were expecting a few weeks ago yet the bad taste they felt probably made this conference bittersweet.  Today’s Microsoft conference had a fast pace and a high degree of energy that made it easy to watch and digest.  By its end we had a good idea what the console was capable of as well as the short-term and long-term games that were on their way.  In fact everything was going so well you almost wanted to run out to your nearest gaming store to plop down a pre-order when all of a sudden the price was announced ($499) and you could hear the collective gasp go out amongst the crowd.  This felt like the PS3 reveal all over again and you know how that went over.

Still, the rest of the conference was well managed and executed and I have a feeling that it placated many of the diehard Xbox fans who were wavering in their commitment.  I can’t say that all of them would be happy but at least it didn’t look as if Microsoft had somehow forgotten that their console could play games and were concentrating on snappy voice commands instead.

ps4_logo

Fast-forward to Sony’s conference.  Admittedly, the pace was all over the map with an awfully dull and plodding first fifty minutes that served well as a kind of sedative yet when all the Vita and PS3 announcements were removed the conference shifted into high gear and culminated in one of those moments where you could feel as if the company had regained all that lost swagger they had at the height of the PS2 when they not only one-upped Microsoft’s draconian DRM and used games strategy but also announced that the PS4 would be launching at $399, a full $100 less than the Xbox One.

Mission accomplished indeed.  Well done Sony.  They played the part of the underdog without fault here coming directly at Microsoft’s weakness and exploiting it without remorse.  This was a ballsy in-you-face move that will surely cement their #1 position with diehard gamers everywhere plus it acts as a giant middle finger to their competition that they are playing to win.

However, what does this all mean?

Ah, this is the real question isn’t it?  Regardless of price both systems are sure to sell out this holiday season of this there is no doubt.  Diehard gamers might be cheering Sony on and throwing daggers at Microsoft but here’s the bottom line – diehard gamers alone cannot propel a system to #1.  That requires the broader casual audience that the Nintendo Wii so aptly tapped into last generation.  Today’s conferences might have allowed most Xbox fans to at least feel better about the Xbox One than previously due to their strong upcoming lineup while Sony fans will surely feel elated about their own titles and the lack of DRM but there’s really no way of knowing how casual gamers are going to feel about both systems at this early date.

A $100 price tag difference is no joke and Sony will surely look like the better deal in this regard to moms and dads who are cash constrained yet it also has to be said that the Xbox One’s initial focus on entertainment through smart TV and fantasy league kinds of integration are also great points in Microsoft’s favour to draw casuals to their platform.

It might sound trite but it has to be said that we’re seeing two different visions here with Sony positioning the PS4 as a gamer first system while Microsoft is casting a much broader net and is obviously transitioning the Xbox into an entertainment brand that encompasses much more than just games.

Also, don’t be mistaken, TV viewership is down but it is far from going the way of the dodo.  If casuals see how well-integrated the Xbox One is and its unique features it might be enough to sway them.  We haven’t seen how Kinect 2.0 only features such as its ability to read heartbeats can be implemented in games but the potential is certainly there for developers to tap.  Now that Kinect comes in each box it will allow developers to utilize it more as every unit has one.

One can only imagine how a survival horror game might work by reading your heartbeat and intuiting what you are feeling and then changing the gameplay on the fly to either scale back the difficulty or else go the opposite route and frighten you even more.  On the flipside, it is obvious someone will use it as a way like the Wii fit was to make a better fitness simulator and though core gamers might scoff at this, casuals might just think it is cool.  In other words, it is far too early to tell which system will truly break out and capture the broader audience as there’s just so much we don’t know about either system and how well it can translate into compelling software experiences.

People tend to forget that although casual gamers propelled the Wii to great heights that they didn’t buy much software beyond a few units.  If the Xbox One has some compelling software that is targeted well to them it might cause them to pick one up and research says that once that happens it is unlikely that they will ever buy another system.  From that point on the system is a Trojan Horse as the individuals will discover its TV and other entertainment features which will enable Microsoft to cement its place as the all-in-one set top box.  This doesn’t mean the PS4 can’t do this as well but by focusing on gamers first there is always the possibility that the broader audience ignores it because they perceive it isn’t “speaking” to them but only to gamers.

Explaining DRM to a casual gamer is probably going to be an exercise in frustration but I think Microsoft should be somewhat worried here as it is going to be explained by Gamestop/EBgames staff which are probably far more likely to be in Sony’s camp after today’s conferences.  Having a salesperson bash Microsoft’s DRM at the point of sale is going to be tough to overcome.  Then again perhaps Microsoft doesn’t care and hopes that big box stores like Walmart which drive most sales will once again come through for the Xbox One.

Nevertheless, for me it will inevitably come down to the same thing it always has – games.  Both systems seem to have a good selection of exclusive software and it is going to obviously play a huge part in a consumer’s decision on which console to buy.  If you love Halo you have no choice but to buy a Xbox One and conversely if you want Infamous you’ll throw money at the PS4.  I’m probably in the minority but DRM doesn’t really bother me nor does a once per 24 hour Internet connection yet I obviously understand that most gamers will hate it till they die.

I have no horse in this race as I love playing games no matter the platform but I will end with this – regardless of which company you decide to give your cash to just remember that their bottom line will always be profits.  It might be cool to say “death to Microsoft” right now but remember that it really is not in anyone’s best interest if any of these three companies leaves the console business.  People forget all three console makers, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo all have a long history of innovation and it would not be a good thing to celebrate if any of them decide to throw in the towel DRM scandal or not.

Excuse me while I go place a pre-order for a Xbox One and PS4.

What about everyone else?  Are you excited that the next generation of console gaming has arrived?  Drop a comment or two below.

PS.  Dammit, Bioware, I know it’s too early for this but I would have loved a title card for Mass Effect 4…oh well.  Now that Dragon Age 3 has been postponed till Fall 2014 it probably means Mass Effect 4 comes out in 2015 or later….boo. 

© 2013 The Galactic Pillow

Xbox One

Playstation 4

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Timmaaaaaaaay
    Jun 11 2013

    As someone else with no real vested interest in either brand, I can’t really understand all the negative hype surrounding Xbox One. I mean, the PS4 ain’t backwards compatible either and although the constant internet connection is an issue for some, is it really that evil? OK, the PS4 price is lower which is great, but the Xbox One seems to have a lot more potential as far as features go. I have a 360 with Kinect and while it isn’t perfect, it’s great for families with kids (like mine). An improved Kinect experience could open up a lot of interesting possibilities – on top of just gaming there’s Skype and other stuff. I dunno…

    I think the 15 year-old hardcore gamers need to come out of their parents’ basements and realize that there is a much bigger market out there. I think Microsoft sees this and wants to try and exploit it. Good luck to them.

    Reply
    • Master Pillow
      Jun 11 2013

      You hit the nail on the head as I feel many gamers are instinctively having a knee-jerk reaction which is raising the profile of the PS4 at the expense of the Xbox One. All the more power to individuals who feel DRM and “always on” are anti-consumer policies as they can use their wallets to show their displeasure in supporting one platform over the other. These people have already made up their minds to support the PS4 so there’s no point in them throwing insults at those other gamers who want to buy a Xbox One instead. What many fail to understand is that one day Sony is going to do the same thing especially as the market moves away from disc-based games to a purely digital form of download. It might not happen with the PS4 but people shouldn’t fool themselves into thinking that when the PS5 appears and it is an only-digital system that Sony will still allow full used games sales and have no DRM requirements.

      The fact is that for many the Xbox One will still look attractive because of the reasons you mentioned. Kinect might be hated by core gamers but titles such as Just Dance, Dance Central, Kinect Sports and others appeal to the casual crowd who use it for family fun or for parties. I don’t really use my Kinect much but when I have many relatives or friends over I pop on Dance Central and everyone has a blast looking like a total idiot yet that is the point. The PS4 might have better core games but without a pack in camera which is on par with Kinect 2.0 it won’t have equal functionality. A 1080p hi-res Skype feed that can be multi-tasked on the Xbox One so that you can play a game and chat at the same time might not sound “sexy cool” to gamers yet what perfect way to connect friends and family in different parts of the world and for once the video feed has the potential to be crystal clear instead of looking like some sort of CIA footage of terrorist activity. It’s way too early to tell which system will catch on with the broader audience but it is plain as day that Microsoft has pivoted to targeting that market whereas Sony is focused on core gamers. Only time will tell if either tactic pans out.

      Reply
  2. Timmaaaaaaaay
    Jun 12 2013

    This crappiest thing about both consoles is the lack of backwards compatibility. A lot of people have sizable 360 and PS3 libraries which will go the way of the dodo very soon, especially once support ceases for those machines (which will be soon, let’s face it). Everything else is just part of the evolution of consoles. If they blend seamlessly into living rooms as do-everything machines then great – who cares if the games are good? It seems to me that kicking and screaming about having a purely games-driven machine is short-sighted… maybe I’m just too old!

    I know I’m probably preaching to the choir on this one. Oh well. I just hope to get another couple of good years out of my 360 before it joins Intellivison, Megadrive and Turbografx 16 (and let’s not forget the 3DO Chin!) on the pile of has-been consoles.

    Reply
    • Timmaaaaaaaay
      Jun 12 2013

      PS: I’m drunk!

      Reply
      • Timmaaaaaaaay
        Jun 12 2013

        (Only kidding!)

      • Master Pillow
        Jun 12 2013

        Dammit, keep drinking!

      • Master Pillow
        Jun 12 2013

        By the way, what are you currently playing on your 360?

    • Master Pillow
      Jun 12 2013

      Generally people might hate the 3DO but I think we all had a blast playing some of those games. Remember the hours we spent doing nothing but honking the f**king horn at cars in Need for Speed? How about racing in Road Rage? Dammit, where’s my next generation Road Rage?!?! There’s a franchise that needs to come back. My 3DO is packed up in its original box and is sitting in my closet so maybe one day I’ll hook it up just for laughs.

      As for backward compatibility I hear you loud and clear. All I can say is to keep your 360 hooked up anyways as that will take care of backward compatibility! Besides, the damn system is going to drop in price as the Xbox One ramps up so if you have to you can probably pick up a spare for cheap soon enough in case yours blows up like Praxis….

      I really think that the overall market has changed over the past few years and hate them or love them it is because the Apple iPhone ushered in the era of the mobile smartphone that revolutionized electronics in general. Now young kids will want a smartphone instead of a dedicated gaming handheld just because you can do so much more with that phone including playing good games at a much cheaper price. The damn phone has DRM up the wazoo anyways and no used games sales either so I have no idea why some can’t see a correlation in policies between Apple and Microsoft.

      There’s a really good dedicated handheld system which is targeted solely to the core gaming audience with amazing graphics, backward compatibility, two analog sticks and a touchscreen along with an amazing OLED screen. It’s called the Playstation Vita and core gamers love it. I do as well. However, it’s selling like dogpoop to the point of embarrassment. It just goes to show people that just because core gamers love it that it still isn’t enough to make it successful if it cannot appeal to a broader audience. I don’t think the PS4 will be in this position but gamers should not put the blinders on and pretend that it will automatically K.O. Microsoft or Nintendo as the fight for the next-gen has barely begun and there is no indication where the mainstream audience is going to place their chips.

      Reply
  3. Timmaaaaaaaay
    Jun 12 2013

    What am I playing… currently nothing really. I wrestled with Skyrim for over a year and enjoyed it but when I finally got ’round to killing Alduin I felt like I needed a break (almost 100 hours stretched over many, many months). At Christmas time I quickly burned through Far Cry 3. That was fun. Red Dead Redemption is my overall fave. BUT my latest addition pissed me off… AC3. I bought it a couple of months ago because I enjoyed AC2 and maaaaaaan was I disappointed. I just can’t get into it. It’s boring. Waaaay too many cutscenes and not enough gameplay. Very linear. Considering trading it in. I have my eyes set on some older games that are cheap: LA Noire and Fallout 3. So I may snag one of them when I get some free time (which is rare these days).

    Ah, the 3DO. It was great. Road *Rash* (sorry) was pretty fun. Remember FIFA? Wing Commander? And the horrible Way of the Warrior? “Major Gaines wins!”

    Reply
    • Master Pillow
      Jun 13 2013

      Road Rash* Dammit, Jim, I’m going senile! Making matters worse is that the f’ing 3DO box is sitting on a nearby shelf. Go figure.

      I loved Red Dead Redemption. I remember being totally skeptical of that game before it came out just because I am not a big fan of GTAIV so I wasn’t expecting much but it turned out great. I haven’t played Far Cry 3 but I did download Far Cry 3:Blood Dragon from XBLA the other day and I ended up laughing my ass off considering it has Michael Biehn voicing the main character. Funny thing about Assassin’s Creed is that I got the first one, never finished it and then basically ignored the rest of the franchise. I heard AC3 was so-so but there’s always AC4 although the whole Pirates of the Caribbean vibe is weird. The graphics running on PS4/XBox One look nice though.

      I loved Fallout 3 mainly because of the post-apocalyptic setting. If you liked Skyrim you’d probably like that one. LA Noire looked amazing but once again I played it for a while, stopped for a rest and ended up never finishing the damn thing. Lately, I’ve finished the Tomb Raider reboot (pretty good), the awful Star Trek Video Game and Resident Evil Revelations which was not bad. I find that though I still like gaming that it is getting harder and harder for me to stay entertained if it is a long game unless there’s a significant focus on story. Gone are the days when I could just sit for hours and grind crap as now it is just too boring.

      Now that I mentioned that, the newest game that took me forever to finish but was good was that new Xcom: Enemy Unknown one. I thought that was a great tactical game where if you screwed up and one of your teammates died he/she would be dead for good. It was mildly frustrating but it made the game feel more rewarding. Then again if you’ve read my blog posts going back a while you’d figure out quickly that my favorite series lately is Mass Effect. I’ve played each of those games at least 2-3 times each and I really never do that anymore.

      As for 3DO Fifa – I still remember we were playing that one and were down a goal heading into the last minute of regulation time when we tied it and then won it in OT. Good times.

      Reply

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