Microsoft has backtracked on almost every issue that upset consumers since the company revealed the Xbox One earlier this year.
Gone is the noxious online DRM. Gone are the strange, new used game policies.
And now, as Paul Tassi reported earlier today, Microsoft has even opened the flood-gates for indie self-publishing, going so far as to announce a future update to the system that would turn each Xbox One into its very own devkit.
I think this is commendable, and I’ve said as much in the past.
Microsoft listened to consumer backlash and, quite surprisingly, adjusted its policies accordingly.
For one of the biggest tech companies in the world, this is a pretty big deal. For consumers who often feel like their complaints fall on deaf ears, this sort of policy shifting is a breath of fresh air in the video game industry.
All told, the Xbox One is becoming, as Dave Thier puts it, “a console quickly approaching the PS4.”
Furthermore, Microsoft may have other advantages that help close the gap between the Xbox One and PS4 this holiday season, when both will launch.
Even though early reports suggest that the PS4 is well in the lead both in terms of popularity and pre-order numbers, Microsoft has proven in the past that it can both market and move its video game products successfully. Sony is on a roll with the PS4, but they’ve fumbled plenty enough times in the past.
Microsoft also has tons of cash on hand compared to Sony, as well as a strong logistics operation. Whether it outsells or undersells the PS4, the Xbox One quite possibly holds the lead when it comes to shipping units this fall. How that will play out in terms of actual sales remains to be seen.
But there are reasons why I’m still wary of the Xbox One, and why I think Sony’s PlayStation 4 is the best choice for gamers—at least for the time being. It’s not merely a question of PR either.
Microsoft may have lost the early PR battles and convinced a number of gamers that the Xbox One is more about TV than video games, but the real question is whether that messaging failure underscores a deeper issue with the future of Xbox and the brand’s commitment to gaming.
Xbox One vs. PS4 Specs
The two consoles are, in many ways, extraordinarily similar. Both have 500GB hard drives. Both have Blu-Ray. Both have DVR capabilities, allowing gamers to record their gameplay and share it across social networks.
The PS4 uses GDDR5 RAM while the Xbox One uses faster, but lower-bandwidth, DDR3 memory. The video and processor specs also appear to be remarkably alike, with chips manufactured by AMD. Neither Intel or nVidia got a chance to integrate their tech into the next-gen consoles—something I almost regret, if only because it would give us more to compare and contrast between the two systems.
Sony’s PS4 peak shader throughput clocks in at 1.84 TFLOPS vs. Xbox One’s 1.23 TFLOPS. The PS4′s memory bandwidth is a hefty 176.0 GB/s vs the One’s 68.3 GB/s. And the PlayStation 4 has the higher GPU core count as well, with 1152 vs Xbox One’s 768.
Whether any of this will mean the PS4 has a major or noticeable advantage over the Xbox One has yet to be determined.
Ultimately, spec-comparisons boil down to….
Xbox One vs. PS4 Features and Peripherals
Microsoft has spent a lot of time on the Xbox One’s peripherals and features. The system will come bundled with the Kinect 2.0, a motion detection camera that allows gamers to play using gestures. The device can also hear you and, for some reason, track your heartbeat and read your emotions. This is either a feature or a bug depending on your concerns over privacy (especially amidst revelations of NSA spying and the PRISM project that Microsoft has been a part of. Maybe I’m just paranoid, but this is actually still my number one concern over the Xbox One.)
The Xbox One also integrates Microsoft’s Smart Glass technology which is used to connect PCs, the Xbox, and tablets and smartphones together allowing, for instance, a Windows Phone to control the Xbox One.
Sony, on the other hand, has the PS Vita—its latest (and greatest, I believe) handheld device—which will be closely integrated into the PS4 ecosystem. They also have the Move motion control system, with Move sensors integrated into the new DualShock controller. The Move camera, however, will not ship with the system.
Both systems will allow game recording and sharing and dip heavily into the social media craze, though Microsoft has an extra HDMI input which allows for a deeper level of integration with your TV.
(As a sort of aside, I can’t quite figure out why Microsoft is so keen on television given the slow decline of that entertainment medium as internet television continues to rise. But maybe they’ve timed it just right, before TV is phased out entirely. Maybe the Xbox One can even make TV more appealing to young cable-cutters.)
The most important feature in either box, however, is….
Xbox Live vs. PlayStation Plus
Microsoft has done a good job with Xbox Live this generation, dominating most online games thanks to their secure and capable online service. It’s been at a premium, however, with Xbox Live subscriptions taking their monthly fee out of gamers’ pockets.
Sony, on the other hand, has had a free online service complimented by its subscription-based PlayStation Plus program.
With the next generation we’ll see changes to both Xbox Live and Sony’s online platform. For one thing, both companies will lean much more heavily on the amorphous “cloud.” This is one area where Microsoft is said to have something of an advantage, though Sony’s purchase of cloud-based gaming company, Gaikai, should help level the playing field.
Sony is also charging for online gaming, requiring a Plus membership for anyone who wants to fire up Call of Duty multiplayer or any other online game. (Watching Netflix and other online apps will still be gratis.)
Of course, PlayStation Plus is an excellent service that goes well beyond anything offered on Xbox Live at the moment. Free games are its major draw. For instance, right now any PlayStation Plus member not only gets discounts on all sorts of games, they can download Battlefield 3 and the excellent XCOM: Enemy Unknown entirely free of charge.<
This is a huge added value that may give Sony an edge. Still, Microsoft has an advantage going in as many gamers (and especially the Call of Duty audience) have been staunch Xbox loyalists this generation.
This is partly due also to….
Xbox One vs. PlayStation 4 controllers
At least this generation, the Xbox 360 has been the system of choice for first-person shooters in large part because of the Xbox gamepad, which is undeniably superior for twitchy games like Call of Duty.
That may change this generation. The PS4′s DualShock 4 has been widely praised as a massive leap forward from the DualShock 3. The gamepad even has integrated touch and motion capabilities, which hopefully won’t just be used to proliferate gimmicky gameplay mechanics.
Then again, the same praise has been heaped on the new Xbox One controller, which also adds rumble to the trigger buttons giving it a tiny immersive edge in shooting games.
Here we must call a draw and move on to the really, really big item on the list….
Price vs Value
The PS4′s controller may be used for gimmicky stuff and it may not be, but Microsoft is asking gamers to shell out an extra $100 for the Xbox One’s Kinect. That places the system at a $100 disadvantage compared to the $399 PlayStation 4.
This is one of the reasons why I think gamers ought to gravitate toward Sony’s system. It’s cheaper even though it has slightly more robust specs.
Microsoft has a grand vision here: to force a wide enough install base for its Kinect 2.0 that developers have a financially viable reason to develop motion-based games.
The Kinect has that “cool” factor still, especially with non-gamers, that Microsoft is leaning on to sell non-game features for its new system. Being able to walk into the living room and talk to your TV—ask it to turn on, find the Big Game, whatever—is sort of neat in the way that Siri was sort of neat when it launched on the Apple iPhone 4S.
Sure, most people only use Siri to make (dirty) jokes or ask silly pop-culture questions, but it sold units. Microsoft is hoping the Kinect will do the same.
But from where I’m standing, I suggest saving the $100 and spending it on a few indie games.
Which brings us to….
Xbox One games vs PS4 games
Microsoft has fallen behind Sony when it comes to exclusives. Just this year Sony has already released a ton of exclusive content, from the lovely Ni No Kuni to the harrowing survival game The Last of Us. And plenty more exclusive content is on the way.
Microsoft has a handful of major exclusives, such as Gears of War and Halo, but they’ve never focused quite so directly on the games as Sony has. This doesn’t appear to be changing with the Xbox One, even though Microsoft has been wise enough to open the platform up to indie developers.
Sony also has the advantage of its Pub Fund, a program which is entirely devoted to finding and helping indie developers make great exclusive or timed exclusive content for Sony’s various game platforms. That program is already going full steam with several major PS4 releases in the hopper and tons more being made for PS3 and Vita.
This is a huge advantage, and Microsoft basically had to respond with its own support for indies.
Of course, Microsoft is investing fully $1 billion toward content for the Xbox One, far more than the company has ever invested in the past, so this equation could still change.
Nonetheless, at the moment Sony is the obvious choice for gamers who like a diverse selection of games, and especially gamers who enjoy Japanese titles.
Ultimately, I see the games as the number one reason to buy either system.
If you’re a Halo fan and you just can’t wait for the next Halo to come out, or you just like the way the Xbox controller fits in your hand when you play Call of Duty, then you’ll probably be better off with an Xbox One.
But Sony has the diversity that the Xbox is sorely lacking. Everything fromKillzone to God of War to Uncharted and Ratchet & Clank, or on the other end of the scale, awesome indie titles like Journey, Guacamelee!, and Hotline Miami. They also have cross-play and cross-buy titles like Sly Cooper and the upcoming Dragon’s Crown (which, unfortunately, isn’t cross-buy or cross-play but will be available on both the PS3 and PS Vita.)
When it all comes down, specs won’t rule the day and Kinect won’t make the Xbox One a must-have system. Sony’s better policies have been practically adopted by Microsoft and the two systems are increasingly mirror images of one another. Furthermore, they’ll both likely be really good systems that do exactly what they set out to do almost as good as a proper gaming PC (for now.)
The system is going to move based on what video games it offers and the quality of its game-related features. And a part of that is also which company convinces gamers that they’re the most devoted to video games. For my money, that’s Sony and the PlayStation 4 remains a clear leader, and not because Microsoft is “in it for the money” and Sony is “in it for the games.” They’re both in it for the money; Sony is just doing a better job convincing me that they’re committed to a diverse catalog of quality video games.
It’s my deepest hope that Microsoft continues to change its policies and attitude toward video games and consumers for the better. I’ve been really impressed by their ability to listen to consumers these past couple months.
More to the point, I want all three major systems (including the Wii U) to be successful, because competition drives quality, innovation, and progress.
Just trying to keep the world updated one story at a time!