E3 has started in a big way and this year, Microsoft and Sony are getting all the attention since the battle lines for the next-generation game console have been drawn in a clear way since pricing, features and the first batch of games have been announced (or hinted at). Microsoft started the day by demonstrating a rather impressive line-up of games (like MGS 5), among which some will be exclusive to Xbox (Titan Fall, Ryse, Forza…). The company has also announced the $499 for the Xbox One (with Kinect).
Hours later, it was Sony’s turn to show what Playstation 4 was going to be about and scored a lot of points with pricing, console design and used games: $399 for the base version, no fuzzy restriction on used games, no online connectivity requirements. There was a thunder of applause during that particular moment of the presentation, with the audience shouting “Sony! Sony! Sony!…” at some point (not in the video below, but in the full-presentation).
To be fair, Sony is just doing business as usual while Microsoft has been trying to be “creative” with the way people should be managing their used games. After a wave of anger from the public, and some explanations from Microsoft, many gamers are still left confused (at best) and many are threatening to “go PS4″. Just look at the success of this Sony video that makes fun of Microsoft’s scheme. That pretty much says it all about how gamers think about the Xbox One used games drama that went on for the past month or so.
Forcing users to jump on the broadband wagon may also create headwinds for Microsoft as well. Most gamers are probably connected, but “the idea” has been mostly met by a negative reaction because it’s not clear for users how it makes “their” gaming experience better, while it does give the impression that Microsoft is enforcing some rules for the company’s own benefit.
To cap it all, Sony may even have slight advantage when it comes to raw processing power in its console. On the surface, both consoles appear to be close enough as they do share a number of traits. However, Sony starts with a higher theoretical bandwidth (the amount of data that can be moved around), thanks to cutting-edge memory modules, and some game developers insiders believe that Sony’s graphics processor is faster as well. Without more details, I can’t vouch for this, but those source probably have a good sense about what they feel they can do or not with both platforms.
That said, Microsoft did have an advantage at E3 when it came to game demos yesterday. Although MGS 5 is scheduled to be multi-platform, there was no sign of it during Sony’s press event, and other blockbusters like Battlefield 4 and Modern Warfare were also nowhere to be seen. Microsoft landed some great demos with Forza, Titan Fall, Battlefield 4 and a hint at the next Halo. Instead of showing blockbusters, Sony focused on diversity, indie games and exclusive titles that were great, but fell a bit short of being as impressive as Microsoft’s demos. This was a missed opportunity.
At the end of the day, Sony’s pricing and “used games management” announcement did trump Microsoft’s demos and from the reactions that we have gathered at the show, Playstation 4 is taking the lead in terms of mindshare, pricing and maybe even in hardware performance. It’s not a “crushing lead” by any means, and Microsoft mostly brought this on itself, but Sony should stay cautious as Microsoft could track back on its “used games” policy if that was to become untenable. As for pricing, $100 does make a big difference, so we will have to see if the decision to include Kinect will be a blessing or a curse for the Xbox. Have you made up your mind yet?