I hate the term “console war”, so forgive the nod to it in the title of the article. When I wrote “war” I was not thinking of media buzzwords or obtuse descriptive phrasing (well, maybe the latter), I was thinking about the penultimate scene in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, where Gandalf tells his band of heroes and kings that while, “The battle of Helm’s Deep is over, the war for Middle Earth has just begun.” Might not be the best analogy I’ve brainstormed, but after a day of desperately scribbling about all the trailers and demos shown at the Los Angeles Convention Center, this is what I’ve got.
Monday night at the Sony press conference, we got to remember what it felt to be excited again. That feeling where you look up from your phone, sit upright on your couch, stare slack-jawed at your television and say, “What?” Moments like this are why we tune into E3, to hear people cheer an announcement with childlike glee. For almost all people, last night’s press conference was a moment to remind ourselves what it felt like to have our naivete back, it is a high we all so desperately crave.
There’s no doubt that Sony delivered a kick to Microsoft’s teeth last night. In a tumultuous period where Microsoft has been accused of pushing away the core gamer to make way for a more “mainstream” market, Sony has capitalized on a player-first experience. With a user-friendly used-game policy, (comparably) affordable price, and strong messaging, the PlayStation shot themselves miles ahead of Xbox One in a definitive fashion.
It is a good story, but it is far from being written in stone. E3 is a place that is all about pageantry, about excitement, and thus hyperbole tends to run amuck. In the moment of enthusiastic chaos words tend to get tossed around that may not be entirely true, we are simply carried away in the moment. Our adrenaline gets pumping, our minds start racing, we often fail to view things objectively and pay attention to detail.
While Sony fans revel in exuberance and continue to squeal with enjoyment (trust me, Sony fans, I was squealing along with you) it was not like Xbox fans didn’t have plenty to get excited about in their own right. As we tend to think big picture, and long term, there are still healthy doses of Xbox fans who will rally around their green, all-in-one console. Many Xbox fans simply want their Halo, their Gears of War, and their Madden. Those same fans want to play online with their friends using established gamertags, they enjoy football, and they like watching TV. There are still plenty of people out there who will be excited about the experiences that the Xbox One can offer.
Xbox One showed new blockbuster IPs like Ryse, will have indie games like Twisted Pixel’s Lococycle, they will have the most exciting, new, first-person shooter IP in Titanfall. Many of the games that Sony showed off at their event will come to the Xbox One, like Elder Scrolls Online, Final Fantasy XV, and Destiny. Make no mistake, the Xbox One will still move units in their launch window, and while the launch price is cheaper for Sony, Xbox could quickly drop the price after the holiday season.
The difference between Microsoft and Sony was not that Microsoft is offering an inferior product to Sony, in many ways they are the same. The difference comes down to the single-player, offline experience. The people whom would be most affected by this experience–the core audience–are also generally the people who are the most connected and get the most online use out of their machines. Of course there are plenty of exceptions to that rule, but they are just that–exceptions. There are still questions about Xbox One’s used game policy (especially since they have stated it will be left to publishers), but if Microsoft can follow the example of Steam, and use their used games policy to leverage frequent discounts, consumers will be a happy bunch. This generation will continue the drive toward digital download and digital media, Microsoft will be ready for that world.
How did Sony really win? It had a message that danced circles around Microsoft’s. They took the complaint being leveraged about the people playing single-player games offline and lived by the very letter of the law. They talked to their fans, they spoke to the core gaming audience, and they spoke to the developers. Sony is doing everything right at the launch of their console. However, Sony was in the same position Microsoft currently finds themselves at the launch of the last console generation, through aggressive first-party expansion and a desperate struggle to update their online network, Sony clawed back into the race. Microsoft can do the same. Xbox One will have strong launch sales, they could announce their console has a bug that turns the Xbox One into a robot that eats household cats and still have a fan base to support their launch. So make no mistake, what has been done this E3 can be undone quickly in the first six months after the console launch.
Sony deserves their victory and they deserve to enjoy this moment, they have earned it. They deserve a fantastic launch, with big sales and excited crowds. I will be among those launch day PlayStation 4 owners and am among those amped about the future of Sony. However, when I read media industry tweets comparing last night’s Sony press conference to Game of Thrones grisly Red Wedding, or read headlines that read, “Sony’s Knock Out Punch”, I can not help but laugh. Dead? Knocked out? Microsoft might have made some missteps, but do people think that the company is about to pack it in and stop making Xboxes? I expect that after suffering a poor numbers following its launch (not unlike the WiiU), Microsoft will pull their people together and look for dynamic changes to make the Xbox better. You should hope s, when products are forced to compete it is the consumers who win. Strap in people, the best is yet to come.