Console wars of 2013: Who will win big?

PS4

Yesterday’s E3 conference was perhaps the most interesting one I’ve seen since 1995’s Sega debacle, where they thrusted the Saturn out of the gate, 6 months ahead of schedule and unbeknownst to developers.

Microsoft came out of the gate with a strong lineup, a solid piece of hardware, and certainly some clarification on their policies which people were understandably curious about.  Yesterday evening however, Sony came out swinging, pulling the ole’ rope-a-dope: A tactic where a fighter sits back and takes punches until it’s finally their turn to shine. And that’s exactly what they did.

So how do the big two line-up in the eyes of gamers right now? Let’s run through it:

Pricing:

$500 for the Xbone is exactly in line with what I suspected it would cost. That’s actually an excellent deal when you consider how much people spend on cell phones, iPads, and standalone graphics cards for their desktop rigs. When the PS1 and Saturn first launched, I mowed lawns relentlessly as a 3rd grader so that I could afford them immediately. And I did! So in my eyes, a $500 price point is not much at all.

Here is a nice comparison chart of how the current price points align with those of consoles in the past. Console pre-orders sold out at Amazon with 4 hours of the announcement.

Sony on the other hand, announced that their product would ship for $400. That’s $100 less, and certainly a huge win for consumers. I’m surprised that they could pull it off, especially when you consider that it uses the faster DDR5 ram, as opposed to Microsoft’s DDR3, which is considerably cheaper.

Xbonx One

Online:

LIVE is still in place for Xbox. Sadly, your XBLA and retail games won’t carry over due to the architecture change from powerPC to X86, nor will your XBLIG (R.I.P. XBLIG) titles. Fortunately your current subscription will work on both the 360 and Xbone, though. You finally have more than 100 friends on your friends list too! That was previously a limitation of the aging LIVE architecture, from what I understand.

Twitch.tv has partnered with MS to allow for live streaming and chatting of your games as you play, in addition to the ability to quickly edit and upload clips on the fly.  Let’s plays, and gathering an audience around gaming events are huge now, so I’m glad to see that they’ve adopted this model. Your live subscription will also continue to cost the same. I’ve never paid more than $35 a year, as Amazon constantly has them on sale.

Xbonx E3Playstation has partnered with UStream to deliver a similar service. I’m not sure of what the difference is between Twitch.tv and Ustream, but they seem similar enough and both allow for the same features across the consoles.

PS+ continues to carry a ton of value into the next gen, and your current subscription will carry over as well. I think it’s like $5 a month, so that’s an absolute steal, considering all of the free games and discounts it offers each month.

The catch however, is that it will be REQUIRED for multiplayer now. Sony snuck that in through a slide during their high point of last night’s show, without saying a word about it. Again, this is of little concern as PS+ is already an outstanding value.

Streaming/Backwards compatibility:

No plans from Microsoft.

Sony purchased Gaikai, the online streaming service some time ago, and is finally taking advantage of it. Launching in early 2014 in North America, gamers will be able to stream a number of PS3 and past titles to the PS3, PS4, and Vita via Gaikai. This is huge.

Second screen experience:

Microsoft has SmartGlass (which I can’t say much about for different reasons) other than: it’s awesome, just take my word on it. As more companies choose to adopt it, and Microsoft certainly seems to be making that push, I believe it will really start to take off, especially when you consider that it works on nearly all mobile devices, in addition to PCs.

Sony has their Vita, which all PS4 developers must adopt. In other words, if you make a game or the PS4, you MUST also be able to play it on the Vita. It’s a bit of a hurdle for developers, but for consumers it is a huge win. I have had a Vita since November, and it is an absolute gem of a device. Beautiful piece of hardware, tons of older games to play, and worth it for Persona 4 Golden Edition alone. I’m glad that Sony is finally pushing for this device.

Region Lock:

Region locking, or the ability for a device to reject software based on the region of the world it should be released in, is nothing new. Titles have been using it for years. In the days of the Sega Saturn, I would have to order the ST-Key (Saturn Translation Key) to get around such barriers and play my Japanese games, but other devices have become stricter in recent memory.

PS4 remote

The Xbone will again impose region locking , where the PS4 will not. What does this mean for you? Well do you ever import games? If not, then you have nothing to worry about. If you’re an avid fan of sites like PlayAsia or import a lot of games (Japanese shmups and JRPGs are my weapon of choice) then this is a nice perk to have.

Indies:

Honestly, I’m shocked that Microsoft completely dropped the ball here. XBLIG in the last generation garnered them so much support from the little guys, and so many friends of mine (myself included) have our careers due to that platform. Sure, it wasn’t without its flaws, but that’s what allowed me to enter programming and game development, so it will always have a special place in my heart.

Sadly, Microsoft has chosen not to go with this route, or anything similar for that matter, and indies will not be able to self- publish games on this next platform. That’s a lot of money to leave on the table, so I’m still astonished that they would leave it to the competitors to scoop up.

Sony on the other hand has been welcoming indies with open arms for some time now. The Playstation Mobie Suite dev kit dropped its $100 price tag and is now FREE for indies to write apps for Sony mobile devices, and Vita, using C#. Moreover, Sony flaunted a number of indie developers and titles during the press conference last night as well.  This is a huge win for them, and for indies who will be allowed to self publish.

I’m curious to see what the restrictions are, what it will cost (license agreements? Dev kits? etc.), but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Hardware:

Xbox One RemoteFor the most part, the hardware is strikingly similar. I don’t know enough about either platform to really make an educated decision here, and unless you know someone who is working on both platforms, I’d take everything with a grain of salt from the so-called “experts.” The Cell processor in the last gen was an absolute beast of a machine, but also a project to develop for.

This time around though, both systems are running VERY similar hardware, and are both using X86 (so, essentially PC) architecture, which makes development exponentially easier.

Used Games / Always On:

I don’t really buy used games anymore, as I understand they aren’t really beneficial to the developer, but they certainly have their place in society. I’d still like to be able to loan games back and forth with friends, but all of these current restrictions with the Xbone make me a bit uneasy.

Playstation on the other hand has no restrictions whatsoever. This may be the deathblow for Microsoft. Are gamers really ready to have their games locked to their devices? Sure, we’ve been doing it with Steam for nearly a decade, but Steam also offers games at insanely low prices, and from what Valve says, when they finally do shut down shop, your games are DRM free. Overall huge win for Sony in this department.

I’d be curious to see if Microsoft ever does drop their strict DRM scheme in favor of a more open environment, now that Sony is putting pressure on them to do so. Even more curious, is the fact that the DRM scheme seems self-imposed, and not driven by publishers, as initially speculated, considering Sony doesn’t have this in place.

Long Term:

Consoles are generally on a 10 year lifecycle at this point in gaming. The PS2 was strongly supported well after the 10 year mark, and our current cropPS3 E3 of systems are hitting the 8 year mark as we speak. Developers aren’t jumping ship anytime soon, considering the absurd cost of development, in addition to the large install base.

Price isn’t everything – we’ve seen consoles shift prices over time to adjust with consumer demands, so will the $100 price difference at launch really be what separates the two? Moreover, publishers will want to protect their business model, and what better what than a restrictive DRM scheme? We’ll see how this plays out over time, and whether or not publishers continue to make titles on a platform which offers no DRM services. Alternatively, if the PS4 sells as well as it should, will publishers really care?

I can’t predict what will happen, but I’m certain that I’ll get both devices at launch. I’m curious to see what my friends and industry peers believe, so grab a hold of me on here, twitter or facebook so we can carry on the discussion.

Nintendo:

Nintendo needs their own place in this piece, because they are in their own little world. It breaks my heart to see them in their current position: floating about, with little to no third party support (that’s their own fault), and not even part of the conversation of this generation of consoles.

The Wii-U is released, but after its initial sale, not a word was spoken. I think all lifelong gamers alike died a bit inside with this, as we grew up on, and largely attribute our desire to play games due to this company. I know I got my start on Nintendo devices, but they seem to have lost their way in the console market. Alternatively, they completely own the handheld space.

Let’s see how things play out for them as well.

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One thought on “Console wars of 2013: Who will win big?

  1. I still can see a couple of upsides for the xbox one:

    + Kinect 2.0 with voice control (Looks awsome)
    + Integration with skype, twitch
    + TV-integration, media services and integration with other devices(ir-blaster) looks better
    + The controller (looks sharper than the ps4 one)
    + Full install on your disc, no more looking for/switching/Scratching your disc.
    + Smartglass implementation (better that the ps4 one, in my opinion)
    + Better cloud service

    and some downsides:
    – lack of indie support
    – price
    – performance (this it the one that worries me the most and I don’t think that ms cloud computing will bring that much to help the xbox, just hoping it won’t be to much of an issue)

    Other things that doesn’t affect me
    * restrictions on buying/Selling (don’t buy or sell old games)
    * Internet check every 24 hours (never lost my internet connection for that long and in that case I can use mobile network)
    * region lock (don’t import games)
    * the spycam issue…. nah, not an issue

    Haven’t decided myself which way to go yet, own a ps3 today. Think MS still need to pull some ace from their sleeve to convince a lot of ppl out there. One thing that could turn things around is if they manage to reduce the costs of new games since the manufacturers will get a bigger share with reselling/trading restrictions. Have their own “steam” sales

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