Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Why did Microsoft borrow Sony's PS3 playbook for the XBox One?

Having spent a few minutes pouring through my RSS feed reader and various social networks it seems like E3 is the place where Microsoft seem to have compounded the problems they started with their awful reveal event back in May.

Back then, not only did they drive the point home that the XBone was going to be a home entertainment system but they issued some rather bizzare messages about the system's (in) ability to play used games - something which forced them into addressing with a series of follow-up announcements. Meanwhile, Sony just sat back and did, well, very little. All it had to do was not repeat what Microsoft was doing.

The overall feeling many gamers were left with was one of confusion and bewilderment, but we all expected that E3 would be the place were the real battle for the next generation of games consoles would be fought. And it seems like Sony may have won the first round.

Microsoft's new console appears to be coming in as a home entertainment system that hooks up to your cable TV box, replete with some potentially limiting Digital Rights Management (DRM) software, a camera that wants to watch you and spy on you 24/7 (except in Germany where this is illegal). It must be connected to the internet once every 24 hours even if you want to play single-player games (to check with the DRM software - you're not a thief are you?), and will not let you trade in your physical copies of video games once you've decided you never want to play them again. It's not backwards compatible either.

All this for a price of $499/€499/£429 - it looks like Europe and the UK just got shafted on the price as $499 currently exchanges at £320. £109 for import and tax differences seems steep.

No doubt Microsoft has a variable pricing strategy planned, where they will be able to partner up with companies like Sky, Virgin or BT in order to sell the machine for less than that as long as a subscription is taken out. Or at least you'd hope they have something like this planned. Judging by the awful way in which they've handled their reveals to date, you can't be sure.

This just doesn't seem to be the Microsoft I expected. I figured that the strong performance of the Xbox in the US and the UK would mean that they were going to convert a lot more Sony gamers to their cause with their new machine. I for one was expecting to be converted. However, now I'm not so sure.

Given that the Windows phone, the Windows tablet market and the Windows 8 sales have all been very disappointing, you'd have thought they'd go out all guns blazing in order to secure the next generation of gamers to their cause. But instead, they look like they are going to fight an uphill battle.

Sony's new PS4 console is likely to launch around the same time, will pack as big a tech punch as its rival (if not bigger with that GDDR5 RAM), will retail for £349, isn't region locked, will allow games to be swapped or sold, and has lots of indie developers on board. It's also not backwards compatible either, but there are indications that PS3 games will be available via their Gaikai streaming service. Oh, and its 500 GB hard drive can be swapped out and upgraded anytime. The amazing PS+ service also carries over from PS3 to PS4.

It just seems like Microsoft have borrowed from the playbook that informed the original Sony PS3 launch: announce the machine late and at a price point way in excess of its competitor, whilst focussing on it as a media centre rather than a games machine.

This time around Microsoft are going to be competing with a rival that has a very similar hardware configuration. Last time around, the PS3 was notoriously more tricky to develop games on due to its custom Cell CPU and memory management. Microsoft also had a year head start on its rival. It has no such luxury this time around.

This time, Sony has attracted the smaller PC developers to their cause, emphasising the similarity of their (slightly) more powerful machine. It's also managed to convince bigger developers that anything a PC can do, the PS4 can do - and easily from a developers standpoint.

I was planning on switching to Microsoft's platform at the start of the year. Now, I'm not so sure.