Sony have fired the first meaningful salvoes in the next generation console war as they targeted Microsoft over several controversial issues surrounding the new Xbox One console. They also managed to come in at £80 ($100) cheaper than Microsoft’s beleaguered console despite packing significantly more powerful hardware under the hood. In a message that likely resonates with gamers worldwide, Sony announced on stage at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) that the PlayStation 4 will have no used game limitations or mandatory online authentication. Game discs will work in exactly the same way they do currently and should you lose internet connectivity for any length of time you can continue single player gaming indefinitely.
Jack Tretton, CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, was positively beaming as he delivered bullet point after bullet point to the delight of his audience who were clearly fearing Sony would follow Microsoft’s lead. As it is Sony have emerged with a big PR advantage simply by maintaining the status quo rather than imposing draconian DRM that offers little to no advantage for consumers. Sony were even able to get away with the announcement that online gaming will no longer be free on the PS4 with every user required to pay a subscription fee for PlayStation Plus. However, services such as Netflix, which are locked behind Microsoft’s Xbox Live paywall, will still be accessible on the PS4 without subscription to Sony’s service.
The news that the PlayStation 4 would undercut the Xbox One was also a pleasant surprise to some, with many expecting the move to GDDR5 RAM to push the price closer to Microsoft’s valuation. Sony’s bundle does not include any camera technology, however, many have been questioning its inclusion with the Xbox One and the new Kinect camera, which has added to the cost where users see little benefit, or simply do not wish to use the peripheral. Furthermore, Sony will allow users to swap hard drives, should users wish to upgrade, as well as having no region restrictions at all, meaning gamers with expensive local rates are free to import cheaper alternatives.
Sony was criticised by Microsoft for failing to show the appearance of the new console at their launch event yet even that appeared to be another victory for the Japanese giant as they showcased an, albeit similar, slim box that is 60 percent smaller than the set top box Microsoft showcased. When it comes to the games both companies showcased, there is remarkably little to choose between the two. Fans of Call of Duty shooters will feel at home on either console, with little in the way of originality from anyone involved. In fact the exclusive games like Titanfall and DC Universe Online are timed exclusives that will likely end up on the other console after the exclusivity period elapses.
And this is the crux of the problem for Microsoft. Both systems have similar features and games but Microsoft decided to place unnecessary restrictions upon consumers. When gamers are deciding upon their next generation console of choice this holiday season, will they go for Microsoft’s system that will prevent them from selling games on Ebay, lending games to friends and playing online if they lose internet connection or will they simply choose Sony’s offering which works as people have come to expect whilst saving $100 in the process? The negative perceptions around the Xbox One are already doing their damage to the brand and it will take a monumental effort for Microsoft to turn things around. One has to wonder if it may already be too late.