If the deafening outcrying from nearly every one of my favourite games news sites and social media brethren is anything to go by the console war has already been won and the new king is Sony. Whilst the fanboy in me would love to take this opportunity to stick it to all the Xboxers out there I honestly believe that Sony really didn’t do much to deserve the praise that’s currently being heaped on it. More I feel like the news coming out of E3 just shows how many missteps Microsoft took with the XboxOne with Sony simply sitting on the sidelines, not really changing anything from what they’re currently doing today.
The one, and really only, point that this all hinged on was the yet unknown stance that Sony would take for DRM on the PlayStation4. It was rumoured that they were watching social media closely and that spurred many grassroots campaigns aimed at influencing them. The announcement came at E3 that they’d pretty much be continuing along the same lines as they are now, allowing you to trade/sell/keep disc based games without any restrictions built into the platform. This also means that developers were free to include online passes in their games, something which has thankfully not become too common but could go on the rise (especially with cross platform titles).
There wasn’t much else announced at E3 that got gamers excited about the PlayStation4 apart from seeing the actual hardware for the first time. One curious bit of information that didn’t receive a whole lot of attention though was the change to Sony’s stance on free multiplayer through the PlayStation Network. You’ll still be able to get a whole bunch of services for free (like NetFlix/Hulu) but if you want to get multiplayer you’re going to have to shell out $5/month for the privilege. However this is PlayStation Plus which means it comes with a whole bunch of other benefits like free full version games so it’s not as bad as it sounds. Still it looks like Sony might have been capitalizing on the notion that there will be quite a few platform switchers for this generation and thus took the opportunity to make the service mandatory for multi.
It could also be partly to offset the extremely low (relative) price of the PlayStation4 with it clocking in at $399. Considering its specs it’s hard to believe that they’re not using the console as a loss leader yet again, something which I thought they were going to avoid for this generation. If the life of these consoles remains relatively the same that means they’ll at least get the console’s price back again in subscription fees, plus any additional revenue they get from the games sales. At least part of it will have to go to the massive amount of online services they’re planning to release however, but overall it seems that at least part of that subscription cash will be going to offset the cheaper hardware.
The thing to note here is that the differences between Sony’s current and next generation console are far smaller than those for Microsoft. This is the same Sony who were ridiculed for releasing the PSN long after Xbox Live, pricing their console way above the competition and, even if it wasn’t for games specifically, had some of the most insane DRM known to man. The fact that not much has changed (they have, in fact, got objectively worse) and they’re being welcomed with open arms shows just how much Microsoft has dropped the ball.
Whether or not this will translate into lost sales though will have to remain to be seen. The consumer market has an incredibly short memory and we’ve got a good 5 months between now and when the XboxOne goes on sale. It’s entirely possible that the current conversation is being dominated by the vocal minority and the number of platform loyalists will be enough to overcome that initial adoption hump (something which the Wii-U hasn’t been able to do). I’m sure that anyone who was on the fence about which one to get has probably made their mind up now based on these announcements but in all honesty those people are few and far between. I feel the majority of console gamers will get one, and only one, console and will likely not change platforms easily.
The proof will come this holiday season, however.
[UPDATE]: It has come to my attention that Sony has stated that they will not be allowing online passes from anyone. Chalk that up to yet another win for them.
This year was already shaping up to be a great run for gamers, what with all the new IP heading our way and multiple high quality sequels, and the next console generation will likely be upon us before the year is out. Had you asked me last year what my predictions were I would’ve told you that we’d be lucky to see the next generation Xbox this year and it was far more likely that we’d see both of them sometime in 2014. I’m quite glad to be wrong in this instance however as whilst I might still be primarily a PC gamer I grew up on consoles and will always have a soft spot for them.
Today Microsoft officially announced their successor to the Xbox360: the XboxOne. If you’ve been following the rumours and leaks like I have there’s nothing too much surprising about the console itself as it sports the exact specs that have been floating around for a while. However there are still a few surprises from Microsoft’s next generation console and the launch event clarified some of the more controversial rumours that had been flying around. Suffice to say that Sony and Microsoft have very different audiences in mind for their next gen offerings, meaning that the choice between the two might no longer be based on platform exclusives alone.
Whilst I won’t go over the hardware specifications as they’re near identical to that of the PS4 (although I can’t find a confirmation of DDR3 vs GDDR5) there were a couple surprises under the hood of the XboxOne. For starters it’s sporting a BluRay drive which was kind of expected but still up in the air thanks to Microsoft initially throwing its support behind HDDVD, giving a little credence to the rumour that they wouldn’t incorporate it into their next gen offering. It also brings with it a HDMI in port, allowing those with set top boxes to run their TV through it. Whilst that doesn’t sound like much it’s telling of the larger strategy that Microsoft has at play here: they’re marketing the XboxOne as much more than a games console.
Indeed all the other features that they’ve included, like Snap Mode and the upgrades to their SmartGlass app, are all heavily focused on media consumption and making the XboxOne the central point of your home entertainment setup. Considering that current generation Xboxs are used to watch media more than they are to play games this change in direction is not surprising however it could alienate some of the more hardcore games fans. It seems Sony was well aware of this as their launch focused far more heavily on the gaming experience that their console could deliver rather than its additional media capabilities. The delineation then seems clear: if you want a gaming machine go for the PS4, but for everyone else there’s XboxOne.
The Xbox had always been Microsoft’s last piece in the Three Screens puzzle and it appears that the XboxOne will in fact be running a version of windows under the hood. In fact it’s running 3 different operating systems: Windows 8/RT, a second Xbox OS that’ll remain largely static (for developers) and the third layer sounds more like a hypervisor, managing access to resources for the 2 main operating systems. I speculated last year that Microsoft would be looking to bring WinRT to the next gen Xbox and that appears to be the case although how much of the functionality is directly compatible is still up for question as Microsoft has stated that you’ll “need to do some work” to port them across.
Unfortunately it does look like Microsoft wants to take an axe to the second hand games market as whilst the rumours of it needing to be always online have turned out to be false (although games can make use of Azure Cloud Gaming services which would require an online connection) installing a game to a hard drive locks it to that particular Xbox account, requiring a fee to do it on another. Whether or not you can play games without installing them is still up for debate however and the answer to that will make or break the second hand games market.
Additionally there’s going to be no backwards compatibility to speak of, save for transferring of licenses for media and your gamer score. Whilst this was not unexpected this combined with the lack of a second hand games market might be a dealbreaker for some. Whether this will push more people to Sony remains to be seen though as whilst they’ve alluded to backwards compatibility possibly coming via some kind of cloud gaming service that won’t be something former Xboxers will care about. It’s far more likely that the decision will be made on what the console will primarily be used for: gaming or media.
I’ve been something of a stalwart “buy all the things” consumer ever since I had a job that would allow me to do this but with the announcement of XboxOne I’m not sure if that will be the case anymore. I say this because I believe that the vast majority of titles will be cross platform, thanks to the x86 architecture, and as of yet there hasn’t been any compelling exclusives announced for either platform that would draw me to it. The Xbox360 landed a purchase solely for Mass Effect but I get the feeling that we won’t see another title that’s bound to a single platform like that again. With that in mind it’s highly likely that my current console collection will be slimmed down to one, and the last man standing will be the PS4.
I would love to be convinced otherwise though, Microsoft.
The current norms for games consoles are going to be flipped on their head when the next generation comes online. There are some things we could argue that are expected, like the lack of backwards compatibility, but the amount of change coming our way really doesn’t have any comparison in previous console generations. In nearly all respects I believe this is a good thing as many of the decisions made seemed to be born out of a mindset that worked 2 decades ago but was becoming rapidly outdated in today’s market. However one significant change could have a detrimental impact on consoles at large and could open up an opportunity for the PC (and by extension the SteamBox) to make a comeback.
The next generation of games consoles are shaping up to be some of the most developer friendly platforms ever created. Not only are they x86 under the hood, allowing many frameworks developers for regular PC games to be ported across with relative ease, many of the features that they have are a direct response to the requests from developers. This means that developers will be able to make use of the full power of these consoles from much earlier on and whilst this will make for some great launch titles that will be leaps and bounds above their previous generation predecessors it does mean that they’ll reach their peak early, and that might not be a good thing.
It was always expected that the best games of a console generation would come out towards the end of its lifecycle. This was due to games developers becoming far more familiar with the platform and the tools reaching a maturity level that made creating those games possible. The current generation, with its record breaking longevity, is a great example of this with the demos of current and next gen titles running on both platforms being very comparable. With the next generation being so developer friendly however I can’t imagine it taking long for them to be able to exploit the system to its fullest extent within a short time frame. Couple this with the next gen expected to have a similar life to the current gen and you’ve got a recipe for console games being stagnant (from a technology point of view) for a very long time.
Granted there will always be improvements that can be made and I’d still expect the best titles to come towards the end of its lifecycle. However the difference between first year and last year titles will be a lot smaller and in the case of the end user I doubt many will notice the difference. With the shared x86 base however there’s a big potential here for the PC versions of the games to start out pacing their console counterparts much earlier on as some of the optimizations will translate readily across, something which just wasn’t possible with previous platforms.
Indeed due to the current gen limitations we’ve already begun to see something of a resurgence in PC gaming. Now its likely that this could be dampened when the next gen of consoles get released however due the reasons I’ve outlined I’d expect to see the cycle begin again not too long afterwards. I do doubt that this will see PCs return to the glory days of being the king of gaming but there’s a definite opportunity for them to grab some significant market share, possibly enough to be elevated past their current also-ran status.
Of course this is wild speculation on my part but I do believe that the next generation of consoles will peak much earlier in its lifecycle which, as history has shown us, will usher people back towards the PC as a platform. With the SteamBox readying itself for release around the same time there’s ample opportunity for current gen console customers to be swayed over to the PC platform, even if it’s camouflaged itself as one of the enemy. In the end though the next gen consoles will still represent good value for money for several years to come, even if they’re quickly outpaced.
It’s that time of year again when the Electronics and Entertainment Expo (commonly known as E3) brings about all sorts of tech demos, teaser trailers and usually a swath of speculation of what the upcoming year holds for the gaming community. Whilst I usually shoot a curious glance its way whenever a company I’m following announces something I tend not to talk about it too much lest I work myself up into a White Knight Chronicles-esque fervor only to be disappointed once again. Still with the drip feed of information that I’ve allowed myself I’ve noticed something of a trend in many of the news articles that I’ve been reading.
It seems that the latest round of games look too good for current gen consoles and people are wondering if they’re all destined for the next generation. Taken at face value the games do look a whole lot more impressive than most current generation titles and here’s a few examples from E3 that have got everyone’s tongue wagging about whether they’re next gen or not.
Last of Us:
Beyond: Two Souls:
They are quite impressive looking titles, especially Watch Dogs which has managed to steal E3 away from all of its competitors. However I personally didn’t think they were outside the capabilities of the PlayStation 3, mostly because even though we’re a almost 6 years into its life developers are still wringing good performance increases out of it. The Xbox360 on the other hand is starting to run up to its limits but its still quite capable of producing some pretty good graphics (see my Mass Effect 3 review to see some screens taken in-game). The kicker of course is the answer to the question that everyone on the floor asked “What’s this demo running on?”.
For all the games in question it was a high end PC. Cue raucous cheering from the PC crowd who can feel the crown of best platform being placed back on their heads.
Of course many of the developers came out afterwards and stated that all the games would be running on current generation consoles. However the fact that they run on PCs doesn’t exclude them from running on at least 1 of the next gen consoles (Orbis, or the PS4) which will be sporting a good old fashioned x86-64 instruction set. Additionally any game that runs on a Windows PC and utilizes the Microsoft XNA framework has a very easy time being ported to the current Xbox and so it follows that the next gen would also have similar capabilities. So whilst these titles aren’t technically next gen they’re definitely indicative of what they’ll be capable of, at least at the beginning of their life cycle.
As for when those consoles will be making their debut I’d have to put my money on sometime next year for Microsoft’s Durango and the year after that for Sony’s Orbis. There’s not a lot of concrete evidence to back that up but with the Xbox360 approaching is 7th birthday soon I can’t see it hanging on for much longer after that. It then follows on that Sony wouldn’t want to be too far behind in its next gen console release although they’ve been very mum on whether or not they’re actually working on it yet. This is definitely a subject I’m going to have to revisit 6 months down the line.