Entertainment | Gaming

Xbox One v PS4: A deathmatch or a stage fight?

Sony and Microsoft are doing everything — from wooing the indie developer to offering subscription services — with an eye on Christmas spending

  • By Andy Staples, Editor – Universal Copy Desk
  • Published: 12:22 August 22, 2013
  • Tabloid on Saturday

  • Image Credit: EPA
  • People test the new Xbox One at a booth of Microsoft at the trade fair for video games Gamescom in Cologne, Germany.
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Gamescom, in Cologne, Germany, saw the latest salvo in the war of words between this coming Christmas’s two heavyweight contenders in the console wars.

Andrew House, president and Group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, couldn’t resist another swipe at Xbox during Sony’s pre-convention media event, proclaiming Sony consistent in its approach to its forthcoming PlayStation 4 launch, “while others have shifted” their stance. He had a similar dig back at the E3 convention in Las Vegas back in June.

Badmouthing your opponent is commonplace in boxing and online multiplayer mode, but frankly, it didn’t come across well at a glitzy corporate showcase, though it makes good press.

Jason Leigh of Capcom Canada give a clear hint as to Xbox One’s release date when he promised zombie beat-’em-up Dead Rising 3 would be out for the new console on day one “in November”. Leigh was speaking at a private demo of the game at the Gamescom video gaming convention.

There’s no still no official word of the launch date from Microsoft, but a November timing makes sense, even if it does run the risk of taking the head-to-head with PS4 right down to the wire — Sony yesterday revealed their US launch will be on November 15, with Europe following on November 29.

Microsoft — which is reportedly struggling to get enough units manufactured — will want to keep the launch as late as possible, but still in time to be on shelves for the Christmas shopping.

Both Sony and Xbox are claiming themselves as the platform for the indie developer — the corporation which cares about the little guy. This is also something of a smokescreen, according to industry analyst Ed Barton, digital media director of Strategy Analytics. Backing the little guy is good PR, but doesn’t butter the bread.

“Now it’s a question of how many can they manufacture, how many can they get into the supply chain in quarter four this year and how quickly they can roll it out to the other countries, which they said they had to pull back from relatively recently,” he said at Xbox’s media event. “It’s a long game — it’s a marathon, not a sprint, really.”

Nor did Barton see much to choose between the rival hardware. “I’m not sure they’re that different. The biggest thing is going to be the $100 (Dh367) price difference,” he said.

“But there’s more variables at play than that,” added fellow analyst Steve Bailey, of IHS. “There’s the pricing, the launch line-up, non-specialist entertainment services, live video and TV streaming.”

We’ve yet to see whether we’ll get TV and video streaming in the UAE, of course.

Both companies have a keen eye on subscription services. Gamers who sign up for Xbox Live Gold or PlayStation Plus will gain a host of benefits, from social media to free games. Technical aspects of the hardware aside, this is the major difference with the next-generation consoles. Networking and online connectivity was and add-on for 360 and PS3. It’s at the heart of the model for both Xbox One and PS4; both Microsoft and Sony want your dirham payments recurring every month. And they’re bending over backwards to find ways to convince you it’s worth it.

That’s why indie games are being pushed so much, why being able to upload and share screenshots and videos with your friends is being pushed as the new thing in bragging rights, why the ability to constantly update games is being pushed.

When the PS3 and 360 were in development, MMOs and subscription services were small fry. Now it’s clear there’s a market for connected services, and both Sony and Microsoft want a piece of gamers’ regular monthly spend. That is, after all, good business.

While House had a point with his swipe at Xbox’s changing message, it missed a vital point. Yes, Microsoft fluffed the original launch message, but it’s clear the company has listened to criticism and taken it on board. The online connectivity it offered initially will be there if we want it, but it won’t be compulsory.

Sony is obviously feeling pretty confident, even cocky, about PS4. It’s the most powerful console ever, the company says, it’s got the biggest launch line-up ever (a claim also made by Xbox).

But even Sony is hedging its bets. It’s still going to be supporting PS3 and PS Vita — and is dropping the prices to $199 (we’ll have to see how that plays out in dirhams).

Microsoft, by contrast, isn’t bothering to push the 360 too much. Yes, there’ll still be some releases, but the message is clearly centred on the Xbox One.

And the message isn’t about price or hardware, which is a wise move. It’s simply about the cool stuff you can do. And you can do some pretty cool stuff — the new Kinect will recognise finger movement, you’ll be able to join in some games on a tablet.

PS4 will let you do that as well, of course — but it looks like it will be keep it in the family. Join in on a tablet? Not exactly — you’ll want a PS Vita for that sort of thing.

But in the end, it’ll be about the games.

 

BOX:

Gamescom at a glance

PS4: Release date November 15 (US) and November 29 (Europe)

Xbox One: Still no release date

Buzzwords: Subscription, online, connectivity, indie games, social media, streaming.

Upcoming games to watch out for: Kinect Sports Rivals, Battlefield 4, Fable Legends, Killzone Shadowfall, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, FIFA 14, The Sims 4, Call of Duty Ghosts, Tom Clancy’s The Division.

Gears of War: Judgement screenshot showing the newly revealed Island level.

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