The Upcoming Mirror Console Launches

ps4-vs-xbox-one-la-playstation-4-devant-selon

Now that the Xbox One’s DRM is gone all I can think about is how similar it will be to the PS4 upon launch. Coming out of a console generation with two very similar consoles, I think we’re heading into probably the most uniform console transition ever.

To the end consumer, literally the only differences I see now between the Xbox One and PS4 are the $100 price difference, the Xbox’s Kinect requirement, and a few exclusives in a sea of multiplatform games. At the very least this requires people to re-examine Microsoft’s E3 conference under a different light. Before for me it was about what games could convince me to put up with the DRM. Now it’s just about games (and services) again.

The closest example we’ve had of two consoles so similar launching right next to each other is November 2001 when the Gamecube and original Xbox launched. Each system, other than sports games, had very different launch software libraries and each one had a significant exclusive that year — Super Smash Bros. Melee for the Gamecube and Halo Combat Evolved for the Xbox. The Xbox ended up slightly out-doing the Gamecube in worldwide sales.

And the current console generation since 2009 has basically been a Coke and Pepsi situation between PS3 and Xbox 360. Most games come out on both, and the PS3 has even caught up to the 360 in worldwide sales.

A lot of people are probably still gonna wanna save the $100 and go with the PS4, but everyone else basically needs to comb through the exclusives with a fine tooth comb.

In terms of straight retail games, Xbox will have more exclusives right out of the gate, and Forza fans have obviously already made their choice of console. Outside of that however, will games like Dead Rising 3 and Quantum Break really make a difference to the mainstream consumer in the first hear before Halo comes out?

In the long run I think the PS4 is gonna end up with more exclusive games overall, but it’s a question of what kind of impact they’ll make. At or near launch the PS4 will already have more digital exclusives on account of indies being able to self-publish on the console. Further out you’re probably going to see some niche Japanese exclusives make their way to PS4 (Disgaea, Atelier, etc.).

Sony also has more robust first party studios than Microsoft at the moment, but how many of their products are big hits on the same level as Halo? What kind of effect will Microsoft’s other exclusive Titanfall have? I still think Planetside 2 could be a big deal for the PS4 but I could be wrong. Sales-wise Sony’s only truly massive retail exclusive is Gran Turismo, and Polyphony Digital is already pulling the trigger on their latest entry on the PS3 this year.

From where I’m looking, exclusives games between PlayStation and Xbox right now kind of look like a mixed bag, but maybe that’s because I don’t hold outstanding loyalty to either company’s franchises. Where consumer loyalty might make a difference though is online services.

A major reason people buy games on Xbox 360 is because their friends, achievements, and party chat are on Xbox Live. With what Sony’s doing going into the PS4, PSN and XBL are starting to look more congruent than ever.

Both will have party chat, both will have game broadcasting functionality, both will charge to play games online, and both will even offer free games every month to subscribers. The only major advantages I see with Sony right now are that they’ve been doing the free games thing longer and their video streaming services won’t be behind a paywall.

What could potentially be big for Microsoft though is the inclusion of dedicated servers on all Xbox One games. I don’t know if this equates to a server browser for every game, but at the very least it’ll mean better connection quality for all games. If Sony can’t match that, it could add to the already existing perception that Xbox Live’s backend is superior to PlayStation Network’s. Sony probably has a lot more to prove though since they still don’t have experience with operating systems and online infrastructure that a company like Microsoft does.

Many of those services however may only apply to North American and at best United Kingdom gamers, which brings me to the regional differences between PlayStation and Xbox. Right now, Xbox holds the upper hand in North America and the UK, but PlayStation is more popular in Japan and mainland Europe. It’s looking like it’ll stay that way next-gen.

I don’t know why Microsoft doesn’t focus more on bringing Xbox Live media services to mainland Europe countries to try to make the system and XBL more valuable there. Maybe they think their lead in the English-speaking world is enough. Perhaps Sony’s new charge for online gaming might even the scales in those territories. Maybe Microsoft’s dedicated servers will be a big deal in those countries.

Looking at things right now, the next console generation is shaping up to be basically a repeat of the current one since 2009 — a continuation of the Coke and Pepsi battle right down to exclusives and regional attraction. I don’t think the lingering sting of the Xbox One’s DRM is gonna have that big an effect in the long run. Even if PS4 pre-orders are ahead right now, we’ve still got five months until launch — a lot of time for Xbox to catch up.

It may look pretty odd to have two upcoming consoles look like mirrors of each other, but I actually think this might be good for the industry overall. With the PS3 and 360 as they currently are I already feel like I can live with just one console, and it looks like this’ll be even more true going forward. It’s preferable to having to buy three different boxes just to be able to enjoy every game. It’s probably what developers want too — to simply make games and then put them on platforms, rather than make games for platforms.

Some console gamers may long for the days when platforms used games to establish distinctive identities, but those old days are clearly going away (outside of Nintendo). PlayStation vs Xbox today looks a lot like iOS versus Android or Windows vs Mac — they both run most of the same software and offer most of the same content, it’s just about which operating system you prefer.

Hopefully this all means next-gen will be less about the actual consoles and more about the games.

BULLETS:

  • FTL is $2.50 as of this writing, but for one day only. Get it. Now. http://t.co/c7Xri3rFU0 If you get it through the official website you get a DRM-free copy as well as a Steam key. It’s one of my top games of 2012, is compatible with Mac (and Linux I think), and can run on probably just about any computer.
  • The original Thief and Thief II are also currently $1.74 each on  GreenMan Gaming: http://t.co/YA4kL1DYnh Activates on Steam.
  • Radiator Blog: “Press F to Intervene”: a brief history of the Use Key Genre http://flip.it/6j2VA 
  • 50% off Evoland – Now only $4.99 USD http://flip.it/LKlwf 
  • A massive official Witcher 2 mod has just been released – http://bit.ly/17pU6P7  If you bought the game anywhere other than Steam, make sure it’s patched to version 3.4. You can do this by opening the launcher.
  • Apparently that game Takedown was at E3: http://t.co/6KaUuerVG0
  • Finally. Gundam Wing on Blu-Ray: http://t.co/vkB50jZ8zu
  • So this year’s Assassin’s Creed PC delay has come, surprising no one. http://flip.it/R3rTa 
  • Castle Vidcons #111- The People Hath Spoken http://flip.it/U9tWS 
  • Guardian Heroes is $2 on Xbox Live right now: http://t.co/QTVlZp5I6l Two freaking dollars.
  • Assassin’s Creed 3 is also $20 at Amazon http://j.mp/12bsuEq 
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