Now that E3 has been and gone, one thing has become seemingly apparent – Sony has landed several blows on Microsoft, and many in the gaming community seem to think that the PlayStation 4 has already defeated the Xbox One.
The furore surrounding the Xbox One and its policies on used games and connectivity was growing day by day even before E3 and Sony’s big reveal. Now that the PS4 is a known quantity, things have ramped up to a Spinal Tap-style 11, and Microsoft, rather than admit mistakes, appears to be digging a bigger hole. But what’s the big deal here, and what are people unhappy about? Let’s take a look.
The One And Only?
To put it simply, and taking individual system specifications, price and gaming/media focus out of the picture, the furore boils down to two major things, and that’s game ownership rights and online connectivity.
Since its launch, the Xbox One has seemingly been a device with a single goal: to annoy gamers and previously loyal Xbox fans in the world. Plus, there’s the small mater of directly attacking companies that make a good deal of their living in pre-owned or rental games (although that’s been a bugbear for many big publishers for some time).
The Xbox One’s policies prevent users from trading in, lending or selling their old games, other than a strict one-time option of giving, or ‘gifting’ a game to a friend (who’s been in your friend list for over 30 days). Even if you buy a disc-based copy of the game in a store, once it’s installed and registered on your Xbox One, it’s yours, and no one else’s. The authentication is a one time only thing, and you can’t trade it in, or sell it.
Now, if you’re the kind of person who rarely trades in games, and prefers to keep them to play again at a later date, this may be fine. But what if that game you thought would be great turns out to be dross? What if you beat it in a couple of days, and there’s little replay value? And, what if you’re like many players who, unlike fat cat execs, have a limited budget? And thus you can only afford games when they drop in price via pre-owned offers, or with the aid of trade-ins? The short answer is, you’re in trouble. On paper, it looks as if you’ll be buying fewer games per year with an Xbox One.
It should be noted, however, that these policies appear to reflect first-party games, and it’s believed that third-party publishers will be able to set up their own policies and terms, coming up with deals with various retailers. Still, it’s hardly clear, and most would prefer to stick with current rules.
Even when you do buy a game, you’ve then got the online connection demand to worry about. The Xbox One has to connect to the Internet every 24 hours to check in with Microsoft’s servers. If you have no connection, you can’t carry on playing games, even if you’re playing single player offline titles. And, if you’re making use of the cloud to play games on a friend’s console, something that Microsoft is pushing with gusto, you’re penalised even more, and have to check in every hour. Any gamer reading this knows that an hour of gaming can seem like 10 minutes, and isn’t long at all.
This is usually when the argument of “what’s the big deal, I have broadband, and my consoles are connected all the time anyway?” comes in. And to be fair, it’s a valid point for many. But not for all. It may be 2013, but there’s still a ton of gamers out there who don’t have Internet connections, and many that do, have unreliable services or restrictive data caps. Because of this, a forced requirement for online authentication feels simply reprehensible. Basically, it feels as if Microsoft is saying to users with no Internet, “tough, no next gen for you.”
And before you condemn that last statement as hyperbole, consider the fact that Don Mattrick himself talking to GameTrailers blatantly said “Fortunately, we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity, It’s called Xbox 360.” Well, damn. Thanks for the loyal customer love there, Don!
Indeed, the Xbox One is rapidly becoming a much-loathed device in many corners, and although the E3 showing was admittedly very impressive, with a slew of excellent games making an appearance, and technically the unit is top notch, there’s no escaping the stigma the console is building for itself.
Sony And The PlayStation 4
Now, this is all bad enough for Microsoft, but Sony’s E3 presence certainly didn’t help matters and made no excuses, grabbing a veritable vat of gasoline and pouring it all over the Xbox One’s flame war. In a PR sense at the very least.
The PS4 reveal contained what was an unashamed, but controlled attack on the Xbox One, showing that Sony is not only listening to its own fans, but also Microsoft’s in an attempt to scalp some of the latter’s following.
The reveal of the PS4 was impressive taken on its own merits. It’s a good looking system, has a great controller, impressive gaming-centric features and a rock-solid array of games. However, and as evident from the loud and extended cheers, there were certain features that pleased the crowd the most.
The loudest cheers didn’t come from showings of Killzone or Infamous interestingly enough. They didn’t come from demonstrations of the seamless online communication or ability to download titles as you play. They came from the announcements made by SCEA CEO, Jack Tretton, that the PS4 will impose no restrictions on used games (although third parties can decide their own policies – something that’s being overlooked in some quarters) and will require no mandatory online authentication.
It was clearly evident during Sony’s press conference that the company is going directly for the Xbox One’s jugular, and the PS4 has key distinctions from Microsoft’s platform. In fact, a cynical mind would look at the slides Sony used in the presentation and think that they were hastily put together for the sole reason of attacking Microsoft and claiming some of its fans. And of course, this was the clear goal, and Sony can’t really deny it. This thing is, regardless of your brand loyalty, you have to admit Sony has a very strong advantage to play, and it’d be foolish not to.
That said, Sony isn’t whiter-than-white either. Although it was quickly skipped over in the presentation, PSN on the PS4 will require a Plus subscription if you’re going to play online, much like Xbox Live. The PS3 didn’t have this requirement, and Plus was optional, so some fans will be disappointed about this. How this will affect other services, such as PlayStation Home (if it continues) remains to be seen. Still, even with the new subscription requirement, the lean is still seemingly heavily towards the PS4.
A quick, cursory glance at gaming websites and forums online reveals a huge, and constantly growing disdain for the Xbox One, with Xbox fans all over the world stating that they’re going to make the move the the PS4. In fact, I’ve not seen such fallout for a very long time, not since Sega’s epic downfall with the Saturn and assorted Megadrive add-ons. This begs the question, will the Xbox take Microsoft in the same direction as the previously titanic gaming icon?
The answer to this is, probably not. Microsoft has very deep pockets, and it’ll plow more and more money into the Xbox One to make it a success, but is there any chance for a dramatic U-turn? Now that Microsoft isn’t simply combating people unhappy with the console, and has the added threat of the PS4 and losing customers to Sony, will the company bite the bullet and make any changes?
Again, the answer to this is most likely, probably not. At least not yet. There’s no doubting that the ditching of the hated policies pertaining to used games and online connectivity would only help matters, even if the PR damage may have already been done, but these policies have also been put in place for a reason, and that’s to make more money. No matter how Microsoft may dress it up, restricting used games, lending or trading is all about increasing sales. More new games sold means more money for the hardware vendor, and if you can’t lend a game to a friend, they’ll have no choice but to buy their own copy. As long as the promise of more money is there, the policy will surely remain. Let’s not forget that the Xbox project has stilll not made Microsoft, all added up, much of a return.
The online connectivity is a little more difficult to understand. Part DRM, part data-gathering, it’s a tactic that could grant Microsoft more information about your console usage habits so it can tailor services to reap more money from you down the line, and at the most basic it could simply be a check to make sure you’re not playing dodgy games.
Then again, it could also be innocently designed to keep your console and games up to date, and required for many of the more interesting social and communication services. If this is the case, though, why not give users the option? Surely it’s my choice to update when I like, and if I don’t plan on using the online services why should I, after paying over £400, be forced to use the system in a certain way?
There’s a lot to be said for customer rights and freedom, and many would argue that Microsoft is stepping all over these rights. And that’s even if you lucky enough to live in a region where you can actually use the console.
It’s surfaced that, on launch, the console won’t even work in all regions, with people in Asia being left out of the loop. You can see the official country support list here. Granted, the Xbox has never really been a big-hitter in Asia, which is dominated by Nintendo and Sony, but it’s a huge market to miss out on, and a rather surprising decision by Microsoft.
All of that said, only time will tell how the Xbox One and PS4 fare, and if Microsoft does something to address the issues people have with its new console. If a U-turn is performed, then the battle of the platforms may be more balanced, but I suspect if Microsoft doesn’t budge, the Xbox One will witness a exodus of hardened fans, leaving Sony smiling all the way to the bank. That said, will the broader market care, or even notice, until the time comes to go online and check in? That may be the big testing point as to Microsoft’s gamble. At the moment, while the technicals of both the Xbox One and PS4 are impressive though, there’s little doubt that Microsoft is taking a pummelling in the PR war. The PS4 clearly hasn’t already beaten the Xbox One, but it’s landed some very heavy early punches. And that’s before any of us have played on either…