The significance of the Xbox revel event was more than simply naming, showing off, and explaining a new console. It was the official reigniting of the revivalry between Sony and Microsoft that has grown in intensity over the last console generation. For a few months, Sony has been standing center stage in the next-gen debate while Microsoft waited in the wings. Now the wait is over and Sony finally has a challenger in the future of high-end consoles. Xbox’s reveal was met with some fiery criticism Tuesday, with fans/detractors calling out the lack of games and the plethora of video entertainment. Instead of joining in the chorus, I thought it would be important to take step back and compare the two consoles.
Sony wanted to make it clear, when announcing the PlayStation 4, that when building the machine they had enlisted the help of prominent industry developers. Sony put some significant hardware into the Playstation 4 and made it easy to tap into in order to ensure that teams developing for the PlayStation would quickly be able to maximize the system’s potential. It has been often compared to a high-end PC, in terms of developer accessibility and graphic power.
Microsofts specs for the Xbox One are almost comparable in every way, both featuring similar core innards. The big difference comes down to the memory interface where Microsoft opted to take step down from the PlaySation 4. If you want the finer details I would suggest visiting an articles written over at AnandTech which goes into a true indepth comparison.
What do these specs really tell us about the difference between the two consoles? It shows that while Sony dropped a little extra money to make sure PlayStation 4 would be powerful and easy to access, Microsoft did not feel it was necessary to match them. This proves a subtle, yet fundamental break between Sony and Microsoft. While Sony appeals to players hungry for the “prettiest” experience, Microsoft is betting most people won’t be able to tell the difference.
Kinect stole the show during the Xbox One reveal. It is obvious that Microsoft believes that people are tired of losing their remotes in between couch cushions and are ready to get “hands off” with their interface. Critics have praised the 1:1 motion control and how the lag in Kinecta has all but disappeared. Xbox One’s voice recognition also seems to be improved, responding instantly to players commands. The real story is how Xbox One connects to your TV, ideally making it the first and final stop for home entertainment. All of this is assisted by the use of Smart Glass, which is designed to help navigate and provide additional visual information. Xbox One allows players to make Skype calls, watch TV or movies, play games, surf the internet, and do it all without never hitting an “input” button or leaving your couch.
While the Xbox One focused being the center of home entertainment, PlayStation focused on game functionality. Sony has attempted to streamline the sharing experiences with the PlayStation 4, allowing players to hit a “share” button and immediately upload their game footage to a commonplace viewing lobby. That, combined with increased focus on Vita cross-functionality, is designed to give players new places to explore their gaming experience.
While there is going to be a little bit of crossover between Sony and Microsoft in terms of functionality, the focus seems to very different. With Sony showing new applications which are meant to enhance their gaming experience, Microsoft is demonstrating its dominance over the living room. Sony’s functionality seems limited once you get outside of video games, while Microsoft reach is vast. Again demonstrating the sharp focus of Sony and the board reach of Microsoft.
After some technical demonstrations and showing off the PlayStation 4’s Share functions, PlayStation trotted out a litany of designers and games to demonstrate the future of their console. Exclusive titles included Infamous: Second Son, Killzone: Shadowfall, Witness, and Knack. They also gave the stage to Watch Dogs and Destiny, then announced a partnership with Blizzard to bring Diablo III to Sony. Since the conference, Sony has shown a commitment to independent gaming and a focus in creating relationships with developers.
Microsoft showed a special partnership with EA Sports, announcing exclusive content for their games. They showed off some very pretty pre-rendered footage from Forza 5 and also announced a new live action series/game called Quantum Break coming from Remedy Entertainment. However, the true star of the limited game line-up was Call of Duty: Ghosts. Infinity Ward took the stage and showed a behind-the-scenes featurette detailing the plot and aesthetics from America’s most popular franchise. Microsoft also announced 15 exclusives coming in the next year, 8 of them being new IPs. They promised to detail some of these games at E3.
It is easy to give Sony the nod here, being as they spent more time on games during their press conference, but one cannot scoff at the number of games Microsoft claims to have in their back pocket. However, there a two problems with putting Microsoft on the same field as Sony when it comes to games, the first being that we simply don’t know anything about these titles Microsoft hasn’t announced, for that matter we barely know anything about the games Microsoft did announce. The second, and more troubling thing, is that Microsoft seems to have scorned its indie community. While Sony is establishing relationships and getting feedback from developers like Jonathan Blow, Microsoft found itself getting trashed by names like Phil Fish. Microsoft either wasn’t paying attention to this talk, or it didn’t care as it announced, only a day after its Xbox One reveal, that it was closing the Xbox Live Arcade.
It is not hard to see the differing strategies of Microsoft and Sony as we head into the next generation. Microsoft seems to have pegged its late generation features as a strong point and is doubling down on these technologies going forward. Meanwhile, Sony is looking to create a developer friendly experience in hopes of bring more games to its console. There is no guarantee that Microsoft is going to actually be able to lure its targeted multimedia-based audience. Equally, there is no guarantee that Sony will succeed in continuing the developer relationships it seems to hold so dear. Maybe E3 will completely flip the script with Microsoft showing off games that tantalizes the senses and Sony boring the audience with multimedia integration. We are not remotely close to calling a winner in the Sony/Microsoft fight, we are only establishing a whole new chapter.