With both Microsoft and Sony having laid everything out on the table at E3, there’s no better time than the present to peruse it all and see which one comes out ahead. Well – as the title of this article suggests, one of these companies has some work to do if it wants to win the next round of the console war.
Prior to the announcements for Sony’s PlayStation 4 or Microsoft’s Xbox One, I couldn’t have ever guessed that things were going to be so interesting. Unfortunately, some of the biggest reasons things are so interesting is because of how negatively certain decisions impact consumers. With E3, many of our long-awaited questions were finally answered, and now, we’re finally able to take a hard look at both offerings and see which one comes out ahead.
I could just wrap things up here and say “PlayStation 4″, but that’d make for a poor article.
I’m a regular Reddit user, and frequent some of the most popular gaming sub-Reddits every day, including /r/games. While I don’t talk too much there, I do pay attention to some trends, and over the past couple of months, the tides have certainly changed. Heck – just look at how things have changed since the PlayStation 3’s launch.
At the Xbox 360’s launch, I had no doubts about it being a fantastic console. I was a day-one purchaser and never had any regrets. I was a bit tardy on the PlayStation 3 side, buying one about six months after launch, and I can honestly say that I did regret that one. It wasn’t because of a lack of games or other media capabilities – far from it. Instead, it was because of how Sony began to treat its customers, not to mention how it managed to eff-up time and time again.
Microsoft’s $499 Xbox One
No one liked the Red Ring of Death problem on the Microsoft side (I’ve suffered it twice over), but over time, it became more of a joke than anything. Still, that incident made Sony look oh-so-good… but not for long. Sony’s decision to re-release the PS3 sans PS2 emulation came forth, and rubbed many the wrong way (including me). Then it decided to purge the ability to run Linux simply because of some security issues (which were very quickly worked over even after Linux was gone). Folding@home? Also gone.
And of course, no one will forget the Great PSN Compromise of 2011.
Sony’s $399 PlayStation 4
If there’s one thing I’ve discovered since then, it’s that brand loyalty only goes so far. When you begin working against your fans, effectively ruining the experiences you’ve sold them, they’re likely to turn on you. While Microsoft’s RRoD issue was undoubtedly severe, the customer impact towards Sony seemed to be even worse, with its mounting problems.
After the PlayStation Network breach occurred, many claimed they’d never support Sony again… ever. I have a couple of friends who vehemently believe that. Opinions like that around the Web seemed common as well. So it’s fun, then, to fast-forward to today. As mentioned above, the tides have changed.
Few would argue that Sony’s PS4 unveiling this past February was poor, what with a total lack of a glimpse at the console itself. Then again, at that time, Microsoft hadn’t officially announced anything either. None of us knew how things were going to play out, what Microsoft had up its sleeve. That was until May 21st, that is, when Microsoft finally showed off its Xbox One for the world to see.
Leading up to that launch, the Xbox One had faced a great number of rumors; not all of them great. Just prior to E3, most of those were verified by Microsoft itself. At E3, the issues only became even more glaring.
With all that Microsoft and Sony have revealed so far, it seems clear to me that the next-generation champion is the PlayStation 4. Before we get into the reasons (some of them already obvious), let’s break down the consoles themselves:
|Hardware||CPU: AMD Jaguar 8-core
GPU: 1152 Radeon Cores
Memory: 8GB GDDR51
ODD: Blu-ray, DVD
|CPU: AMD Jaguar 8-core
GPU: 768 Radeon Cores
Memory: 8GB DDR32
ODD: Blu-ray, DVD
|Display||1080p & 4K3
|1080p & 4K3
|Online Capabilities||PlayStation Plus required for MP
Doesn’t require Internet access for gaming
|Xbox Live Gold required for MP
Requires daily Internet access for gaming
|Backwards Compatibility||Yes, via Gaikai 4||None|
|Game Inputs||DualShock 4 controller (Enhancements include touchpad, built-in speaker and “Share” button)
Games can be streamed to the PSP Vita
|Xbox One controller (Enhancement includes trigger vibration)
Xbox SmartGlass capabilities
|Used Games||No restrictions for physical copy
Requires etailer proxy for sales
Cannot trade digital copies
|Limit of 1 sale per physical copy
Cannot trade digital copies
|Multimedia Capabilities||Music, Movies, Photos, TV
|Music, Movies, Photos, TV
|Other Capabilities||Game Recording
Cross Game Chat
Free Games w/ Plus Sub6
No region locking
Cross Game Chat
Voice activation w/ Kinect
£349.99 (~$550 USD)
€399.99 (~$535 USD)
£429.99 (~$675 USD)
€499.99 (~$665 USD)
|UK and Euro price conversions as of June 11, 2013
1 7GB available to games.
2 5GB available to games.
3 The vast majority of games are expected to render at 1080p on both consoles, although 4K is technically possible for lesser-demanding titles.
4 Specifics are still scarce.
5 Specific service support expected to be revealed near launch.
6 Free games indefinitively require a Plus subscription to be accessed.
On paper, the PS4 looks to be more powerful than the Xbox One, boasting 50% more Radeon cores, but that to me doesn’t matter at this point. We’ll have to see how either company optimizes AMD’s hardware, and how the PS4’s reliance on GDDR5 over standard desktop DDR3 will pan out. It appears Sony’s console is the clear-cut champ, but there’s too little information to warrant speculation (at least on my part).
Both consoles support 1080p, and while Microsoft has alluded to the fact that 4K gaming is also possible, it’s undoubtedly going to be limited to modest titles. Even a $500 desktop GPU would be iffy with most current games at that resolution (effectively 1080p x 4), so it’s not realistic to expect that AMD’s desktop-derived APU is going deliver some sort of miracle.
As of this next generation, both the Xbox and PlayStation will require subscriptions to their respective premium services for multiplayer access. Currently, PlayStation Plus can be had for $50 per year, while Xbox Live Gold is $60 per year. At the current time, Microsoft hasn’t announced plans to give its subscribers free game titles on occasion, while that’s already become a popular perk for PlayStation gamers (and one that many I’ve talked to tell me keeps them subscribed).
This though, along with everything else, is mostly fluff. Both consoles are going to offer perks that the other doesn’t have. Some might love the free game aspect of Plus, while others could prefer Microsoft’s SmartGlass functionality or built-in Kinect. Both consoles can record games, store saves and other things in the cloud, and will offer a wide-range of multimedia services for your perusal, such as TV, movies, music and so forth.
If I stopped writing here, both consoles would appear to be on a fairly level playing field. But obviously, that’s not the case. While not everything on Sony’s side is perfect, it’s Microsoft that’s been suffering an enormous amount of flak from its fans and non-fans alike in recent weeks. The sickening thing? It’s all for things that could be changed at the drop of a hat.
Required Per-24 Hours Internet Check-in – Up until the recent used games debacle, this was without question the biggest issue that people had against the Xbox One. No one likes needless requirements, and this is about as needless as it gets. It’s the type of issue that not everyone may understand at first, but everyone has the potential to face head-on at some point.
I moved at the start of May, and due to a major ISP screw-up, I went three straight weeks without reliable Internet. The only reason I had any at all outside of my phone was because I have a sister that lives nearby that I was able to borrow a signal from. Had I owned an Xbox One and not had that borrowed Internet privilege, I would have been shit out of luck – completely unable to play the games I purchased. But this is the kind of situation that’s rare, I admit. What’s less-than-rare are our troops overseas who are lucky to get access to the Internet at all, much less make sure their game console that helps them retain some sanity can get online as well.
What about if you’re going camping, or if you want to rent a cabin in the middle of the woods? When in the great outdoors, Internet access just isn’t expected, and after all that smores-making, it’s fun to be able to game it up before hitting the hay. But it’s not going to happen for a lot of people. Maybe Microsoft has secret dealings with Hasbro and Parker Brothers to sell more board games?
One-time Used Game Sale – On both the Xbox and PS4 side, used game policies haven’t been clear until just recently, and until yesterday, even Sony’s interaction with used games was questionable. Well, we now have our answer from Sony, but what about Microsoft? Those were discovered last week, and as expected, the answers are hardly what gamers wanted to hear.
Sony milking this for all it’s worth.
To put it simply, any disc-based game sold for the Xbox One can only be transferred a single time – it doesn’t matter if a sale is involved or not. Give it to a friend? That’s it. Trade it in at Gamestop? That’s it. This is pretty-well identical to the book-lending service on Kindle, although that’s not ideal either.
Up until the last generation, no one dealt with much hassle when dealing with used games. You could sell most games online one hundred times over, no problem. It hasn’t been until fairly recently where certain companies have decided to complicate things, such as with EA’s now-discontinued Online Pass system. Or with companies that disallow you to delete a saved game. Much like with movies and music, consumers have a belief that the goods they pay for should be tradable, plain and simple. You buy a house, you can sell that house. Rinse and repeat for car, clothing, peripherals and so forth. Could you imagine clothing with DRM? I’m sure it’s not far off. It’s been proven it can happen to our furniture.
Used games are something a lot of people care about, so Microsoft is shooting itself in the foot here. When Sony released its humorous “instructional” video yesterday, it had over 80,000 upvotes before the night was over. As of the time of writing, it has about 250,000 upvotes and 6,000,000+ views. Yes, people do care about this.
It’s worth noting that neither the Xbox One nor PlayStation 4 have the ability to trade digitally-purchased games, even just once. This is a bit odd, since even the physical copies will require a code to be used online for the transfer. I think this is a feature both companies know they can get away with, so, they shall get away with it. Even the almighty Valve gives no one the option to trade their games on Steam. As digital consumers, we’re all out of luck where this is concerned – at least for now.
Region-locking – Despite it being 2013 on the calendar, we’re still dealing with some issues that were considered ridiculous 15+ years ago. The Xbox One is region-locked, meaning you won’t be able to play games on your console that weren’t specifically released for that region. If you’re a US gamer, you can say goodbye to UK and Japanese releases – unless you happen to want to import an entirely new console. Sony’s since announced that the PS4 will suffer no such flaw.
Backwards-compatibility – The ability to play older titles on your new console isn’t something that everyone cares about, but those that do care, tend to care a lot (like me). While I completely sympathize with both Microsoft and Sony in this regard – they did both move over to native PC hardware, after all – I’d be one of those willing to pay extra for the ability to play my aging games on my new console (I am not a fan of playing console roulette).
Details are not too clear on the Sony side, but it seems likely that we’ll be able to play PS1, PS2 and PS3 games via Gaikai’s online service. If I had to guess, games will be able to be downloaded, much like they were able to be through PlayStation Network for use on the PS3 and where the PSone was concerned, the PSP. While streaming or downloading these titles is hardly a great solution versus simply being able to pop a disc in, I much prefer having an option over having none at all.
Kinect is Watching You – Really, Microsoft? Kinect has to be connected at all times? I can’t even watch a movie without it monitoring me? That Kinect sensor is going to look awful ugly when people start putting sheets of paper in front of it. Let’s not ignore the fact that it can not only see us, but hear us as well. And if it’s aware at all times… I don’t think I need to say anything more.
The Price-point – I don’t like tackling pricing for most products, because the real value is whatever the consumer sees. I might not think the Xbox One is worth $500, but someone else might think it’d be worth $600. But with all that Microsoft has working against it at the moment, the fact that its console costs $100 more than the PS4 doesn’t bode too well for it. Things sure weren’t this clear even two months ago, but Sony is currently sitting in a very good place, with many begging the company to “not screw it up”. I even saw a “please please please please please please” stated somewhere online.
Any one of the caveats mentioned above would be a major pain for a lot of would-be Xbox One adopters to accept, but pile them all together? All that does is make Sony’s console look fantastic. If you asked me a couple of months ago if I were leaning more towards the next Xbox or PlayStation, I would have told you “Xbox”. Even ignoring all of the gotchas I’ve dealt with on the PS3 side, I’m simply more drawn to the catalog on Xbox. I prefer Forza over Gran Turismo, for example. I’ve found the actual experience on the Xbox to be better than the PS3 as well (I have not dabbled with Sony’s recent UI upgrade, however).
Fast-forward to now… I’m definitely all-in on the Sony side. That still feels weird to say, but despite me yearning to play some of the games coming to the Xbox One, all of the caveats are just too much for me to bear. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s a lack of respect from company to legitimate customer – and that’s what this boils down to. With Microsoft’s lack of a remedy to its most hated Xbox One “features”, it’s clear that the company cares more about its own interests than its customers, and it’s willing to take the hit on that. The beneficiary in this event is Sony, which has suddenly gained a massive influx of fans.
While Reddit isn’t going to be considered a great source for trends to many, it is to me, because the hundreds of thousands of people who frequent channels like /r/games have a passion for gaming. They, like me, don’t like to be screwed-over, or treated badly when we’re the ones handing money over to these companies. In the past week, the amount of vitriol I’ve seen thrown at Microsoft has been unparalleled. Likewise, the amount of love now being sent to Sony, and the pleas for the company to not screw anything up, has been as well.
Currently, the biggest upside to all of these Xbox One hassles is that Sony is trying pretty hard to capitalize on things and win over millions of hearts. But let’s not forget that like Microsoft, Sony is all about making money. At the PS3’s launch, it promised us PS2 backwards-compatibility, the ability to use Linux, and the ability to run Folding@home. Each one of these features were later removed. Anything can happen… anything at all. Sony looks amazing to many right now, but whether or not things remain amazing after launch is yet to be seen. A year from now, we could all be losers – who knows? But as for right now, Sony’s being treated like a god while Microsoft is being spat on. That can’t bode well for the Redmond company.
There’s still a lot of time to go before either console launches, however. Is the mess going to become so big that Microsoft is forced to change some of its upcoming policies? Let’s hope so. Remain vocal, it helps. Better still, put your money where your mouth is. Don’t buy from companies that have a lack of respect for you as a consumer. If everyone adhered to that rule, our marketplace would be very different.
tl;dr: Used game limitations, a daily Internet requirement, region locking, essential Kinect, a complete lack of backwards compatibility and a higher price-point make Microsoft a dull boy.