Editorial – Xbox One & PS4 Some Thoughts
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.
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.
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