Microsoft's Xbox One Reveal Played Right Into Sony's PS4 Plans

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It's no secret that Microsoft has had it's eye on more than just gamers as customers for the future of the Xbox for quite some time.  Throughout the XBox 360's life they've continued to add multimedia apps, channels and features to the console's Xbox Live subscription service. The strategy has brought in more causal gamers over time, especially in the United States. Sony's Playstation 3 had a Blu-Ray player as it's main attraction that also brought in it's fair share of casual and non-gamers as well but they never bit the hand that fed them. Continuously providing a diverse library of critically acclaimed exclusive titles every year that kept serious gamers of all types enthralled and loyal.

Microsoft on the other hand focused on a few core exclusives (Halo, Forza, Fable, Gears of War) while trying to buy content exclusivity from popular 3rd party titles like Call of Duty. Both companies hoped on the motion control gaming bandwagon with Microsoft's bet on Kinect and it's media integration payed off big time and created more overall excitement. Selling over 10 million Kinects, Microsoft shifted a lot of it's 1st party developer muscle behind the device selling software yet creating another chasm between the companies financial goals and the needs of it's most die-hard fans.

Xbox One

Xbox One

Each of the companies differing strategies have worked well for both companies depending on who you ask and how "success" is measured. Xbox came out in 2005, a year earlier than the PS3 but Sony has managed to outsell the Xbox 360 nearly every year worldwide. Closing the gap created by the year head start Microsoft had and now both consoles have sold roughly 77.3 Million consoles apiece. Not counting the millions of consoles Microsoft had to replace or were replaced by users during the "Red Ring of Death" disaster during the early years of the Xbox 360. On the contrary, Sony's Entertainment division has lost billions of dollars due to the initial high cost of the console and the lack of 3rd party game sales that troubled the system in the beginning due to the difficult development learning curve. Microsoft on the other hand has made tons of money from the revenues of their Xbox Live subscription service and the ability to get the price of the Xbox 360 down quickly. Even though Sony managed to sell just as many PS3's as Xbox's worldwide, Microsoft clearly holds the mind share lead in the U.S. as the XBox 360 has outsold it almost 2:1.

It was clear this generation Microsoft was going to go all-in on turning the XBox brand into a full-fledged entertainment hub that encompassed more than just video games. With a goal to ultimately unify their Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Windows 8 Tablet businesses with the popularity of Xbox. Sony (and many others) anticipated this move and doubled down on games and gamers with the Playstation 4. If you ask PS3 fans, Sony has the best 1st party line up of games out of any system since the console launched. Franchises like Uncharted, God of War, Gran Turismo, Infamous and art-house titles like Journey, Flower and Heavy Rain not only push the graphical capabilities of the system but are critically acclaimed as well. Sony has a proud heritage of delivering great games and that doesn't seem to be changing with the next generation of consoles. 

PS4 Controller

PS4 Controller

Sony's Playstation 4's reveal was part mea culpa for the mistakes made with the Playstation 3 around difficulties with development and online network missteps that plagued Sony during the early years of the PS3. The other part was a progressive vision of gaming in a world now dominated now by smartphones, tablets and social media. At the reveal, Sony spoke passionately about talking with developers (large and independent) and getting a sense of what they wanted and needed out of a next generation gaming machine. They talked about the importance of community and sharing in gaming and showed ways they will enable gamers to be able to share their experiences easily with each other seamlessly. They touched on the importance of instantaneous access to games by eliminating loading in games and download times by streaming, and most importantly they showed games. They not only showed people actually playing games, they brought out some of their most creative game developers to show off lofty ideas of what would be possible on the Playstation 4.

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Contrast that to the Xbox One reveal that took place on Tuesday. Microsoft didn't even mention that their device played games until over halfway through the event. Instead they decided to focus on Xbox One's integration with (live) television, a concept that's increasingly becoming foreign to young people today. They oddly spent a lot of time trumpeting a delivery system (cable) many believe has worn out it's welcome and will soon be replaced by IPTV. They showed how the Kinect will be an essential part of this strategy that included, voice commands, gestures and Skype integration.  Microsoft warned before the event they would talk more about games at E3 in 3 weeks, but gamers didn't get the memo. This event was an obvious play at those that may not be hardcore gamers but still may want an Xbox One as a media device. Hey, I get that, and on paper it makes sense, but who exactly did Microsoft think would be watching an Xbox press conference at 10AM PST? Sure they may have gotten a few stories ran by CNN and Wall Street Journal but the trade-off of alienating your core base was not worth the risk.

Microsoft had 3 extra months than Sony to prepare for this and holding a relatively short hour-long press conference there definitely was room to show off a bit more to whet the appetite. Showing some actual gameplay or even trailers of key franchises would've done a lot to appease their rabid fans and balance out the almost none stop media announcements. Instead they showed a pre-rendered video from EA Sports, and trailer for the new racing game Forza and another trailer of the new Call of Duty: Ghosts. In typically Microsoft fashion they relied heavily on 3rd party publishers to fill in the gaming gaps.

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If having a lackluster game showing wasn't enough to damper the excitement of Xbox fans, a candid interview with the Vice President of XBox, Phil Harrison by Wired went online shortly after the event. In the interview Harrison spoke about players having to download games to the XBox One and entering an activation code that locks the game to the players account/console. The player then wouldn't need the disc to play the game but if the game was placed into another Xbox One (a friends) they would have to pay an undisclosed fee to be granted access. Essentially not allowing Xbox One games to be traded, borrowed or sold. Reporters pounced on this information and tried to get clarification but were told different answers depending on who in Microsoft they talked to. The post coverage quickly turned into a PR disaster. Even now, days after the event, no one is sure exactly how this all functions, including Microsoft themselves. They do however ensure there will be a way to resell your games but won't clarify how this will be achieved. Needless to say this left gamers feeling uneasy and the speculation begin to spread like wildfire online.

Frustration turned into outrage that began to bubble in gaming forums and blogs around the internet Tuesday afternoon. Numerous sarcastic and angry YouTube videos are now circulating the web, some now in the millions of views talking about how Microsoft blew the XBox One reveal and turned their backs on their most loyal fans. Many die-hard XBox fans have threaten to switch allegiances to Playstation 4 if Microsoft doesn't change the pending used game policy. Another issue causing uneasiness was the need to always have your system connected to the internet. This rumor has be around since earlier in the year but was substantiated again by the Vice President of XBox when he told Kotaku that the system had to be connected to the internet at least every 24 hrs in order for it to continue to function. Microsoft has since responded that they haven't fully committed to that and the details were still being worked out. Multiple gaming websites like IGN and Gamespot and Kotaku have taken polls to get a feeling on which console gamers felt more favorably towards and if I was Microsoft I would be a little worried. The polls ranged from around 64-88% of people saying they would purchase a PS4 over the Xbox One.

Sony no doubt had to be getting a kick out of seeing Microsoft getting hammered amongst the gaming community and press but they remained silent. This silence has led some to believe that Sony may too be mulling around the idea of restricting used games on the Playstation 4 as well. When asked after their press conference in February, Sony's Worldwide Studio head denied such restrictions would be put on PS4 games. I guess we'll have to wait until E3 to know for sure on both systems. Beyond that, Sony has it's own issues to worry about. In their February reveal they promised a lot but showed very little when it came to services and features for the PS4. The online game streaming company they bought over a year ago, Gaikai seems to be the backbone to the streaming service and features promised but no working demo was showed nor was a lot of the user-interface that would be used for the PS4. While Sony warned that all of the streaming services won't be completed by launch and it will be a continual process, they will have to make good on some of those promises or they could receive a blowback of their own come E3.

Killzone: Shadow Fall (PS4)

Killzone: Shadow Fall (PS4)

As things stand now the XBox One has had a disastrous few days among the gaming crowd while few mainstream news outlets have picked up on the backlash. Microsoft is going to have to come out swinging during the E3 press event on June 10th, showing loyal Xbox gamers why the XBox One is still the console for them. Microsoft did promise 15 exclusive titles, 8 all-new IP's within the first year of the life of the XBox One and a renewed investment in 1st party titles ($1 Billion). The proof will be in the pudding as they will have to show off a lot of those games including some fan favorites like Halo as well as some interesting new IP's that hopefully spark interest.

Forza & Skype integration (Xbox One)

Forza & Skype integration (Xbox One)

Sony on the other hand has never had a problem in the game department. They showed off a couple 1st party titles in February and fans are anticipating a lot more to be shown at E3 from their most respected studios. The first year of a console's life depends largely on the die-hard, early adopters that will line up outside of stores to be the first to get their hands on the new devices. If Sony continues to hit all the right notes with gamers and can deliver on most of what they promised in their reveal, there might be some Xbox 360 owners lining up for the PS4 this holiday season.