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Monday, June 10, 2013

It Came From E3: Sony Versus Microsoft

This next generation of consoles is proving to be far, far more interesting than I would have thought.  Early rumors and expectations seem to suggest that if anything - this generation would basically be two consoles with little distinction except a brand, and something called a Wii U.

But then Microsoft had to go and throw sand in the face of my long standing prediction that no console manufacturer would be so stupid as to actually try and block buying used games.  My assumption has always been that eventually everything would just go disc-less ... but just not this generation.

Oh no, Microsoft is proving to be just that stupid.  The Xbox One (more on that later) will require an Internet connection at least once every 24 hours to play even offline games and the ability to use a game has been left completely to the mercy of the publisher.

Microsoft has made a clear stance: you do not really own any actual physical media.  You are paying for a license to use software and perhaps that software happens to come on a disc - perhaps not, but it does not actually matter.  Once you've bought a game, you are only buying the privilege to use that game in the manner the publisher desires.  Technically and legally, Microsoft is on strong footing - this is actually pretty much how software distribution has always worked.

But nobody ... nobody, has ever considered taking it to the draconian levels the Xbox One will enforce.  Purchasing an Xbox One is effectively voting against your rights as a consumer, plain and simple.

Microsoft's missteps don't end there.  First of all - I don't know what marketing genius decided on "Xbox One" as a name ... but it is clearly someone who thinks of themselves as a "marketing genius".  It is an utterly moronic name only held aloft by a cool factor in itself supported only by clever advertising.

The Xbox One is the third Xbox.

The Xbox One has two distinct pieces.

The Xbox One has many different purposes.

In short, there is nothing "One" about the Xbox One except that it sounds cool.

Sony has made it pretty clear that they don't share Microsoft's beliefs about sharing your games - and that alone is going to give them miles and miles of traction with gamers.  Also, "PS4" has a very nice logical feel to it.  But then they had to go and give the coup de grace:

The PS4 will also be cheaper.  Even though it will probably be marginally more powerful.

If you twist your crystal ball around just enough, you can maybe, almost possibly, perhaps see what Microsoft was thinking: They assumed that Kinect would be a huge value add, one that Sony can't compete with.  They assumed Sony would probably duplicate their mistake with the PS3 and charge a premium.  They possibly even assumed that the lucrative potential of DRM was too attractive for Sony to pass up and that gamers could hard grumble much if both major consoles had matching handcuffs.

Except none of those would seem to be true.  Finally, Microsoft seems to have fallen back on their original strategy - dating all the way back to the first Xbox:

You'll buy our console because of the exclusive games on it.

And why wouldn't they think that?  Halo single-handedly launched a million Xboxes, or you know - something like that.  Gamers might forgive having their purchasing power tied behind their back, a console that is more expensive with less power and name that reeks of marketing stiffs if only they can play the next Halo.

And while Microsoft's exclusives - which comprised the majority of their E3 keynote if you have no doubt that this is there main strategy - are interesting, the flagship title appears to be Titanfall.

Titanfall looks interesting, but brothers and sisters - I've played Halo and Titanfall is no Halo.  Halo was a ground-breaking shooter on many levels whose mechanics still echo through virtually every FPS game on any platform.  Titanfall is pretty, but it is basically a futuristic shooter with parkour and mechs.

Honestly - what all the talk about Titanfall reminds me of?  Brink.  Think on that for a moment.

The thing is - Sony is doing nothing terribly revolutionary here.  The PS4 is a PS3 with modern hardware and something more akin to PC specs and less Cell Processor weirdness.  The next generation PlayStation Plus will be pretty much this generation of PlayStation Plus.  The OS will get some updates.

Sony isn't going to win the next generation - it's more that Microsoft is going to lose by constantly punching itself in the face.  For Microsoft to even keep pace with Sony at this point, Titanfall would need to be the best game ever made in the history of gaming ... but unfortunately for Microsoft, Bungie is already making Destiny.

Don't get me wrong - the XBO will sell plenty of units for sure ... the brand has too much raw weight and inertia.  But it's going to sell like ice for igloos abroad where its already-too-high price point will be painfully-that-much-higher (one forum comment noted that the XBO would be higher than than their month's rent by far too wide a margin) ... and even here in the good old US of A, loyal 360 users are going to start wondering about their ability to buy cheap games from the used racks between now and the holidays.

Nintendo has basically nailed third place into the ground with the Wii U being far too little and way too late.

Microsoft apparently found second place too tempting to pass up.