Like most of the game industry, I have been following the announcements of the new consoles, PS4 and Xbox One. I am always excited to see what the new consoles will be like, but this time I had a sense of déjà vu. Strangely, Sony with the PS4 seems to be following Microsoft’s footsteps with the Xbox 360. Likewise, Microsoft with the Xbox One seems to be following in Sony’s footsteps with the PS4. Let us compare and contrast.
At the beginning of the seventh generation, Sony was going for that central media hub vibe. It was not just going to be a gaming console, but the most important device connected to your TV. It supported many more codecs and file formats than the Xbox 360 did. This culminated with the “It Only Does Everything” marketing campaign. We all know how that turned out. Without good exclusives, the PS3 just did not sell very well. The $600 price tag did not help either, but it was the lack of games that really set it back.
Microsoft was doing just the opposite with the Xbox 360. It was a game console firstly, a multimedia device only secondly. Achievements, game parties, and more were all features to enhance the games. Other multimedia features like HD-DVD playback were planned, but the core was games. Early in its live the Xbox 360 had the most exclusives, especially the unexpected hit of Xbox Live Arcade. The strong initial sales gave Microsoft such a huge lead, it took years for Sony to catch up.
However, something changed in these two companies towards the end of the seventh generation. Microsoft started heavily pushing features like sports and TV show streaming, social network integration, and other “apps” that are not associated with games. Sony started going back to their roots and focusing on the games again. Since 2010 the PS3 has had more exclusives than the Xbox 360. Sony also became more friendly with indie developers, going as far as seeking out indie devs specifically to make exclusive games for their PlayStation Network.
Now we come to the present. Microsoft is going after the general audience with cable TV streaming, SmartGlass, and real-time NFL fantasy football. Meanwhile, Sony is going after the core gamer with easy sharing of game screenshots and videos and a more open digital marketplace for indie developers. The company philosophies and marketing strategies have almost completely switched.
I do not think this bodes well for Microsoft. Sony had a lot of trouble getting people to buy PS3 consoles for years. The high price was a big deterrent, but the bigger problem was that the PS3 just did not have exclusives to get people to buy it instead of the cheaper Xbox 360. This time around Microsoft is looking to replace your cable box with an Xbox One. Then, they hope you will latch on to other Microsoft products like Windows 8 that have similar interfaces.
This is a very risky strategy. I just do not see Microsoft succeeding here. Sony is poised to take control of the eighth generation in consoles, and Microsoft will be the one playing catch-up. Could this spell doom for Microsoft? It is too early to tell. They are already suffering from low Windows 8 sales. The Surface did not sell all that well either. If the Xbox One sells low, things are not looking good for Microsoft at all.
Of course this could all change at E3 in June. Maybe the focus at E3 for Sony’s PS4 will be all the multimedia features it offers and not much about the games. Since Microsoft announced the multimedia features already, maybe they will focus on the games at E3. Then, both companies are roughly equal with full-featured packages. If this does not happen though, Microsoft and Sony have truly switched places.