The next-generation console wars are officially on.
On one side of the virtual battlefield sits the PlayStation 4, which Sony is marketing toward the same hardcore gamers who made previous editions of the PlayStation such a worldwide hit.
On the other sits the Xbox One, which Microsoft wants to sell to an audience far broader than gamers. When the company unveiled the platform earlier this year, onstage executives rarely described the hardware as a “gaming console,” and spent much of their presentation focusing on its streaming-media, Skype, and entertainment-app capabilities.
Which side will win? That’s hard to say at this point. Sony achieved some early victories in the court of public opinion by pointing out how the PlayStation 4, unlike the Xbox One, wouldn’t require an Internet connection to “check in” every 24 hours, but would have the ability to play secondhand games. Under pressure from irate gamers, Microsoft eventually loosened its Internet-connectivity requirement, and indicated that used games would work on its new system.
After that microburst of controversy died down, both companies went back to promoting the games for their respective consoles. Each has its exclusive titles, and it’s impossible to tell whether one might break out and become the next “Halo,” a game so compelling it drives people to buy the console in order to play it.
Despite early reports of hardware glitches with some units, and criticism about its design, the PlayStation 4 managed to sell more than 1 million units in North America during its first 24 hours of sales, which bodes well for Sony’s holiday season. Microsoft will need to match, if not exceed those numbers this weekend if it wants positive press come next week; a soft debut will prompt reporters to write “Xbox is doomed” stories, and Microsoft PR to retort that the company is ultimately playing a long game.
But the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 both face a tough environment. Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have evolved into robust game platforms; despite slumping sales, Nintendo remains a significant force in gaming; and Valve’s Steam gaming platform could become a dark-horse contender for the gaming world’s crown (it boasts 65 million active user accounts, and counting). In other words, there are a lot of rivals out there for the attentions of both hardcore and casual gamers.
Faced with those sorts of hurdles, which approach will succeed: Sony targeting those dedicated gamers, or Microsoft trying to be all things to everyone? It may be quite some time—well beyond the holidays, at least—before the answer’s clear.
Image: Respawn Entertainment