Xbox One vs. PlayStation 4: Who’s Winning, Post E3?
As the dust settles after E3, gamers the world over have been endlessly arguing the pros and cons of the Xbox One and Playstation 4. Despite the release of the consoles being months away many gamers appear to have made up their minds and pre-orders are already flooding in. So, at this early stage, who has taken the lead?
In the weeks following their TV-heavy, game-light launch, Microsoft were forced to release numerous statements clarifying various elements of their new console. It still remains complicated. No longer a simple matter of selling a used game online or loaning it to a friend, games must now be registered online. The end result of registration is that, much like with media from Kindle and iTunes, users will no longer be buying a game, but instead a license to use the game until such a time as Microsoft deem they no longer can. There are plenty of horror stories over Apple and Amazon denying users access to their entire library due to suspected piracy and often the terms and conditions will prevent the user from taking the media giants to court – it is no doubt only a matter of time before some gamers begin to fear similar things from Microsoft.
As far as the online requirement went, the Xbox One does not have to be permanently connected as was initially rumoured – but it is designed to be. This in itself is not a problem, but the element that has caused indignation is the fact that the Xbox One must connect to the internet every 24 hours in order for the user to carry on playing games. The move is questionable. Aside from those without an internet connection, Microsoft has made no allowance for any of the other many reasons someone may find themselves unconnected, moving house for example. They have spoken repeatedly about the benefits of a permanent connection for things such as cloud gaming and yet no one seems to believe that the 24 hour check can be for anything other than to guard against piracy. And people certainly don’t like to feel as if they are not trusted. For the average gamer, this 24 hour check is an inconvenience only.
Coming into E3 many commentators, myself included, expected the playing field to level out. The contrasting approaches at the reveals would be reversed here, with Microsoft showing nothing but gaming and Sony revealing their entertainment extras. Most importantly Sony would announce their own position on the Xbox One’s two most controversial features: the 24 hour online check and restrictions on used games.
How wrong we were.
Microsoft’s presentation went off without a hitch. Impressive new games were displayed flawlessly, including the predictable yet still crowd-pleasing Halo 5. Nevertheless, there was a real sense that E3 was Sony’s to lose. The online registration was not mentioned at all during the conference. The advantages of an always-on console were emphasised, with the repetition of the phrase “pesistant world” being obvious. Microsoft had fulfilled their promise of an emphasis on games, but nothing could erase what was being seen as the negative aspects of their console and their impressive line-up felt a lot like damage control. The advantage was still with Sony.
When it came to the Playstation 4 part of Sony’s conference, my earlier prediction was partially proved correct. Sony did spend some time going over the entertainment features their console would contain, to the predictable negativity of the gamers watching around the world. Likewise Sony’s announcements with regard to the Playstation 4 and Vita weren’t going to impress anyone, they were all waiting to see what the Playstation 4 part of the conference delivered.
What Sony did next was a shock to everyone, Microsoft included. It’s already been covered in detail on this site, but the important points are worth repeating. The Sony console doesn’t require an internet connection. There are no restrictions on the selling, lending or borrowing of games – though publishers may impose their own restrictions, just as EA and Ubisoft have done in the past. To top it off the console will even have a lower price, retailing at £349/$399 compared to the Xbox One’s £429/$499.
So where does this leave the two consoles? Sony’s conference had exactly the impact they would have wanted. Gamers are lining up to announce their allegiance to the Playstation 4. According to IGN, from the 10th to the 12th of June in the US, Microsoft’s own backyard, Playstation 4 pre-orders outstripped Xbox One pre-orders by 3 to 2. It’s not a huge margin, but given that the US was one of the few places where the Xbox 360 outsold the Playstation 3 it should be worrying to Microsoft at this stage. On Amazon.co.uk the Playstation 4 sits on top of the bestsellers chart for PC and Video Games, the Xbox One is relegated to fourth. Perhaps most damningly, the results of IGN’s poll asking who “won” E3 came up overwhelmingly in Sony’s favour. Sony polled 81% of the nearly 300,000 votes counted, with Microsoft and Nintendo gaining 12% and 7% respectively.
And it isn’t just the gamers themselves that are coming out in support of the Playstation 4. The independent games developers Lorne Lanning (the Oddworld series) and Dean Hall (DayZ) have both stated their preference for Sony’s new console. Speaking to Eurogamer, Lanning states that independent developers will find a home on Playstation 4 as Sony allows them to self-publish, whereas Microsoft require them to have a recognised publisher. By supporting independents Sony is sending a clear message that the equivalent of recent smash-hit independent games – such as the Telltale’s The Walking Dead – will be found on their system.
Subsequently Microsoft have been forced further onto the defensive. Microsoft executive Don Mattrick’s pre-E3 comments published on Gametrailers, that those without an internet connection can use an Xbox 360, now seem a little bit misjudged following the Playstation 4’s reveal. In an interview with Gamespot, Xbox games chief Phil Spencer has claimed that they are not worried, the race for customers is not a sprint and a lot can happen between now and November. He is correct, but right now the Xbox One is struggling to keep up and it speaks volumes that Microsoft is having to spend its time defending its policies instead of emphasising the positives.
Looking ahead, it is difficult to see what Microsoft can do to compete with Playstation 4’s early advantage. The Xbox One’s library of exclusive games, which many thought would be the deciding factor in the battle, will have to perform very well against the Playstation 4’s if they are to stand a chance. Microsoft will always have the Halo franchise, which tends to outsell Sony’s main exclusives such as Uncharted or God of War. But for many people the lure of Halo alone may not be enough.
For the group of gamers that only really play the latest installment of Call of Duty and FIFA each year, the cheaper price and ease of game re-selling and trading may well steer them towards the Playstation 4. Doubtless there will be many twists and turns yet, but Microsoft need something special to persuade gamers to adopt their new system. If they lose the hardcore gamer market, Microsoft will have to hope that their early emphasis on wider entertainment did not go to waste. It’s a risky strategy, aiming for a market that may or may not even exist, but if current trends continue it is one Microsoft may be stuck with.
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Posted By: Xbox One Games