It’s been an exciting week in the gaming world. The PS4 is on everyone’s lips and causing debate and excitement across the internet. In fact, ShopTo.net and high-street stores GAME and Gamestop are already taking pre-orders. Sony’s reveal has created buzz. It’s a buzz rivals Microsoft can’t fail to have noticed. Low Fat Gaming’s Dave Green takes a look at what it means for their next Xbox…
At last, the next console generation is officially on its way. On the 20th February, Sony lifted the lid on its Playstation 4; we got good look at their strategy for this generation, what the console is capable of and a few of its launch titles with the promise of much more news to come. It’s fair to say that reaction has been mixed. We didn’t get to see the actual console which, while not bothering me so much, caused fan outrage in some quarters. Watch_Dogs from Ubisoft and Deep Down, a new IP from Capcom, were the stand-out titles on show as Sony’s own efforts failed to make much of an impact. Potentially huge partnerships were announced – exclusive content from Bungie’s upcoming Destiny was a “fuck you” in the direction of Microsoft – and it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of Sony and Blizzard’s attempt to “take over the world”. There was enticing talk of how the PS4 has been developed by software developers FOR software developers, a huge difference to the infamously difficult to develop for PS3. Even more curious was Jonathan Blow’s appearance and proclamation that indie developers could self-publish digitally on the console. There was plenty for us gamers to mull over. You can bet Microsoft were watching with great interest. Even though Xbox mouthpiece Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb tweeted a few barbs Sony’s way during the event, you’d imagine the top brass at Microsoft would have been looking at ways to trump Sony’s showing at their own event.
Within days of the Playstation Event, the domain http://www.XboxEvent.com was registered on behalf of Microsoft by their PR company. In fact, rumours were already circulating on the night of the PS4 reveal, with an unnamed Sony source stating that the early PS4 reveal had “ruffled feathers” at Microsoft and that the Xbox was to be revealed at a one-off show in early April. Make no mistake, unlike the start of this current generation, Microsoft are in a position of strength in the console market. Although the Xbox has been a failure in Japan, Microsoft have sold more consoles in North America and have performed extremely strong in Europe. They are currently the world-wide market leader; a position that will surely grow with Sony switching their entire focus to the next generation. It would be a huge mistake for Microsoft to rest on the laurels though. Regardless of whether you were impressed with their reveal or not, Sony’s conference revealed to us a company with fresh aggression and vigour; a company that looks like it has learned from its previous mistakes and a company with a clear initial game-plan: entice the core gamer. It’s Move controller and Kinect-like “Light Bar” barely got a mention, while its Vita connectivity received nothing more than lip service in the grander scheme of things. It would be a huge error if, at their Xbox Event, Microsoft spent most of their time talking about apps, Kinect and multimedia like at the last couple of E3’s – as Sony have shown, the reveal must be for the core and the core have thoroughly rejected Microsoft’s recent strategy. Look no further than high profile Kinect flops like Fable: The Journey for proof. By all means, Microsoft should mention what their console offers but it should focus on the games.
Another aspect that I found interesting at the announcement was the people Sony brought up on stage. At previous events Sony have often relied on their old guard of middle-aged Japanese men to do their talking, much like Nintendo. The PS4 event was quite different. With the occasional exception, the people on stage were men in the mid to late 30’s, wearing jeans and check-shirts and, crucially, were actual software developers (for the most part). These guys knew inherently what they were talking about and knew exactly what market they were aiming for. In my opinion it is vital that Microsoft follow their lead. At recent E3’s, Microsoft have led with business men in suits. E3 2012 was an exceedingly dry affair, the flow of marketing and sales talk only broken when South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were on stage and poked fun at them. With ex-Sony man Phil Harrison now on board (who from what I hear, will be front and center for Microsoft’s next generation) things might be different. With the rise of Apple’s casual-cool, Sony adapted – Microsoft must too.
I’ve already touched upon some of the reveals at Sony’s show and it was just as interesting to see who wasn’t there. No EA, no Bethesda and surprisingly no Konami, a company who are usually close to any Playstation events. I’m not saying that these companies weren’t there as Microsoft have them tied up for their reveal (we try not to go in for that kind of speculation on Low Fat Gaming as you might have read elsewhere!) but they will want to come out all guns blazing at the Xbox Event, especially after seeing Bungie at the PS4. After having such a close working relationship with the Halo developer, it must have stung. The Xbox has some heavy hitters of its own though and, after Sony dropped the ball a little in this area (no Uncharted, Gran Tourismo or God of War) Microsoft should catch it and run with it if it really wants to steal some of that limelight.
After all, that’s what Microsoft must do now. Going second has it’s advantages – you can be sure they already have a plan but they can analysis what their competitor has done and adapt – but it has its negatives too. There is a danger that Microsoft could come across as being “me too”. According to industry chatter, the PS4 and Next Xbox are going to be similar in raw power and offer almost identical services. It goes without saying that they are chasing a similar market. Microsoft needs to show it’s strength in a big way. Sony look like they are up for the fight in this generations “console-war” and have thrown down the gauntlet; it remains to be seen if Microsoft are up for the challenge. In the battle for hearts and minds (and wallets) the next Xbox needs to show us what gamers ultimately want – the best games, innovation and excitement. Sure, most of us would like to see a next generation Halo, Forza, Fable (please!) or Alan Wake (yes please!) but what we really want to see is some daring new 1st party IP that takes full advantage of new technologies; it was underwhelming to see Sony lead with a, admittedly stunning looking, FPS. If Aprils Xbox Event brings us these things then gamers, Playstation and Xbox fans alike, will surely be in for a great generation. There will be a knock on effect for PC gamers too – a new generation always brings a new focus and a freshness, not to mention developers won’t be held back by aging technology anymore, and if the focus is on producing the best games then we’ll all be in for a treat.
For me, April can’t come soon enough.
– Dave Green. Follow me on Twitter at @davidpgreen83 and tell me your thoughts. Alternatively, search for Low Fat Gaming on Facebook and talk the next generation with out community.