With the next generation of consoles impending, the future of Sony has been spelled out in the groundwork the company has laid over the last two months. After announcing the Playstation 4 to a hungry media/fan base on February 20th, Sony has aggressively sought developers and pundits out to endorse their future console. Taking these names with them into the future, Sony is looking to boast a wide variety of titles within their first year of launch and build a lasting relationship with game makers for years to come. It is hard to say whether or not Sony’s approach to the future will be a success, but it is impossible to ignore that Sony has recently been dominating the conversation about the future of video game consoles.
So where is the Xbox? What the future of the console that currently dominates the domestic US market and leads the two-system race with Sony? They’ve been rather MIA of late. While rumors of Microsoft’s future console have found their way onto numerous news stories, the company itself has been mum on any developments. The most disturbing part about Microsoft’s silence are rumors being floated about are killing hype, not building it. The rumblings about DRM, subscription fees, and being a media center, have made games seem like a dismissive subject for the impending Xbox. Of course the talk has been nothing but rumors, but the silence coming from Microsoft has done little to dismiss them.
It’s fair to question Microsoft’s game-centric future, as the company has been shifting away from a gaming focus over the last few years. Between its video and music offerings, the Xbox 360 already feels like a multimedia machine wrapped in a games console. The dashboard has become a swamp of advertisements, developers are complaining about publishing difficulties, and–while still definitively better than Sony–Xbox Live’s fees are starting to feel unreasonable compared to Steam and other online services.
Yet with all the complaints about the current and future state of Xbox, Microsoft has felt little need to speak out to its fans. Instead they continue to remain locked away, letting the rumors fly wild as a witch on absynth. What’s worse, the release date of the console is creeping ever-closer, leaving industry outsiders with less time to circle their calendars. We live in an evermore financially stretched world, and in an industry that caters to young adults, giving people a date to save their money toward is important. But even more important is giving your consumer base a time table of completion. Furthermore, with each day that Microsoft waits to announce their console, the more they make their announcement superfluous with E3 less than two months away. If they announce later this month, or in May, what do they save for E3?
Why does Microsoft seem unshaken by the quickly approaching date and Sony’s aggressive strategy? The Xbox has a locked in consumer base built around the strong Xbox Live component that helped sell the 360. This consumer base is likely to transition to the next Xbox console to maintain the online network they have enjoyed for the last console generation. The Xbox also currently boasts a simple system that makes playing games, talking with friends, and accessing features an easy task. The future of Xbox would mostly like continue its tradition of simplicity. The larger question Microsoft should be asking themselves is how much of the market is that core base of 360 consumers? How many live and die by Xbox Live, and how much will they continue to dominate the online argument? These numbers may not be so skewed as Microsoft is counting on.
The whole situation reeks of the Playstation hubris heading into this current console generation. After the monstrous success of the Playstation 2, Sony admittedly locked themselves in, “an ivory tower” to build the next machine. This lead to a high entry price point, which in turn, stifled sales of the Playstation 3. Sony has been spending the rest of this console generation playing catch up with Microsoft. However, playing catch up has been good for Sony. Falling behind in online accessibility made Sony reevaluate online subscriptions and add free games to the Playstation Plus, and missing out on the rise of the indie game scene made Playstation design the PS4 to be accessible to developers.
It would be nice for Microsoft to learn a lesson from the Playstation’s fumbled launch in 2006 and show that it is looking to continue its lead in the console race. But it is hard to tell what they are doing behind closed doors, and why they are so silent. I am not buying the argument that Microsoft is waiting for the Sony hype to die down. Unless they are feeling outmatched, why would they? Even if they did feel outmatched, what good would a couple months of silence do them?
The more time passes, the more I begin to suspect that Microsoft isn’t marketing to the crowd that take interest in announcements. If the next console is a multimedia-console, with a focus on being the center of a family living room, it may not be interested in exclusives, a robust library, or stuffing its innards with impressive technical aspects. The focus may be on creating something that can play the big name titles, like Call of Duty or Madden, while communicating to your PC, phone, or other devices, building an entertainment network you can always access and personalize. Why waste time and effort collecting eclectic, risky titles when the focus is capture the larger, more casual audience?
No matter what Microsoft’s strategy may be, it is clear they have a different plan than Sony. One that involves sitting back and patiently waiting. Is it better? Only time will tell.
Is Xbox silence making you nervous? Were you leaning toward a PS4 anyways? What are your thoughts on the future of Xbox and its silence.