So its June and the race for your christmas spending has started. Last week saw the E3 games conference in Los Angeles, USA. The two largest news making press conferences were held by two giants of the games world. Sony & Microsoft, who have offered new shiny boxes of tricks suitable for the worlds living rooms. (Well half shiny, half matte in Sony’s case). Given the state of the market, (see the sad story of the WiiU below), it appears to be a relatively straight shoot out for that games playing space under the TV this christmas.
These video games things are popular. Microsoft revealed they have sold 70million xbox 360’s by last september. the cheapest version of the console in argos today is £169, multiply that by 70million and thats alot of money from one box. Sony given a similarity in prices, have sold a console for one year longer, they have sold around 75million consoles.
An industry of highs and lows.
Launching a new product to replace a popular on is not an easy task. Nintendo are masters at dominating this market. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System was the market leader for the early years of video games. Their crown slipped with the gamecube, during the original playstation 2 / Xbox battle. With the playstation 2 becoming dominant. Their response was to innovate with a new system, a new way to interact, to make a development on how to play. They created the Wii console. It was popular, fun, easy to pick up and due it being based on current technology, (not high tech specs), it was cheap in comparision. This made it sell, alot.
Nintendo world wide have sold 99.84 million Wii consoles outselling playstation3 and xbox by around 20million units.
Given this dominance, hopes were high for the next creation. The first of the next generation of games machines. Its main innovation is a dual screen system. His meant your controller in your hands has a screen on it for playing or completeing tasks as part of the game. this mean the WiiU would lose its low cost entry point. It also has the ability to play wii games and use wii remotes. It couldn’t go wrong. The system launched in november 2012 and has sold 3.45 million consoles, (based on the document linked too above.)
Nintendo initially suggested they were aiming for sales of 5.5million, and then reduced this to sales of 4million.
My guess is the WiiU doesn’t have the novelty/fun factor of the Wii, and it seems expensive compared with the price of the Wii. It doesn’t have the elusive ‘impulse buy’ factor, and crucially it doesn’t have the games to support the more dedicated gamer market. The news that third party games makers, (companies that aren’t nintendo), are not developing any new games for the WiiU have really damaged the consoles prospects long term. So no FIFA 2014 then. Hmmm. The long term gamer market is also compromised by nintendo’s reliance on developing very edgy new games, yet relying on Mario to sell the game.
In a tought economic marketplace, 7 months after launch, the question is who will by one now? The importance of getting this right for Sony and Microsoft cannot be understated.
The other indication of how important launch is to the companies, was the strange decision to launch both consoles twice. Sony intially took 3 hours to not show the box. Microsoft took 1 hour to not talk about games. Last monday saw part 2 of these double headers with Microsoft taking an 1hour to talk just about games, release date and price, and Sony taking an hour to respond to microsoft’s double launch.
How they compare part one – philosophy.
They are very different beasts philosophically, and the companies behind them are selling them as different beasts. Microsoft is a software company, but with the xbox and the current tie up with nokia for phones they are branching into hardware. Given this, it makes sense that Microsoft is selling the xbox one as a multimedia box under the TV. It is a computer which responds to voice commands and is the one box to control everything. It brings the internet, tv, games, a media centre all in one box under the TV. It needs the kinnect system to do the voice control, and will not work without this. It also needs an active internet connection to allow you to play games.
Sony is selling the playstation4 as a games machine, but one that can also do TV & media centre stuff. (No word on the voice control yet.) Its launch event and e3 conference yesterday focused on games and its games abilitiies, making a huge play of its openness of the system to independant games makers to publish new games for the system.
Both new consoles will not allow you to play games from earlier versions of Xbox or Playstation due to different operating systems. Both consoles have added interesting add ons to the games side of the consoles. Social interateion. With the Xbox the opportunity to use of skype snapped onto the side of the screen allows for xbox live and the multiplayer experience to become both more scary and brilliant. Scary as do you know what you look like when you play a game? The playstation has a share button.
It records what you have done in game, and on pressing the share button your can watch yourself playing the game, upload it to youtube or facebook, easily.
The questions becomes how much does sharing allow for the development of community within the game playing community, or does opening that knowlegde wider meaken the game community, as interacting with the community becomes watching a youtube video, and stealing their knowledge?
How they compare part 2 – technical specification.
Both boxs are broadly similar. The selling points of which has the best processor/ graphics rendering/ etc are quite close to each other. Certainly it is close enough at launch not to make this difference the primary buying reason.
If you want a more in depth tech spec analysis it’s here
(Basically the sony bas better ram, the xbox has a hdmi input)
So that means…
The Microsoft Xbox One is trying to get out of the games market, to become in the same class of consumer gadgets as tablet computers or laptops. Things like its requirement to have constant access to the internet, (Minimum of once every 24hrs), is bizarre for a games machine but for a computer like a laptop or a smart phone or a tablet its normal.mIt has an necessary input source using the kinnect add on. The kinnect is a camera and microphone which goes on top of your Tv or similar. It allows for voice commands, and movements to be integrated into games and controls for the system. A logical development of a camera and microphone on a computer.
The first press conference majored on Tv and using the XBox as a way to get your TV signal into your TV. It has an HDMi in port to allow for this to happen. The flaws in the system though are you will still require your sky or bt or cable box in the UK. So why would you plug it into another box to watch the TV. The Xbox is focused on The North American market, historically Xbox has been dominant there, so all the TV media deals they have done with netflix or the NBA or NFl are availble in north america, but are not available globally.
The issue for Microsoft is to be judged against its most logical rival the Sony box. Suddenly a games machine that needs always on internet connection to work seems strange. The kinnect which is watching us at all times when the system is on seems weird. It allows for fears and concerns to be raised with this change in philosphy.
Microsoft have filed lots of patents over the last few years. So imagine using the Xbox One to watch a film on Netflix. The kinnect camera will be on, watching you in the room watching TV. This seems innocent enough, yet when added to microsofts patent for a technology last year it gives cause for concern. One of the patents was for a technology which would watch the people watching a film on a film subscription system, it would record how many people were in the room watching the film, check the licence agreement for how many people were allowed to watch the film, acting if too many people are in the room. The technology would stop you watching the film, it would ask you to pay for a new licence or in a move inspired by the Tv theme tune off the 80’s programme “why don’t you”, prevent you from continuing watching the film. Microsoft have made a big play of the kinnect being sensative enough to read your heart beat. Yes,i did just say your heart beat.
Microsoft is also challenging the way computer games are sold. Moving to a system of software licence purchasing. You don’t buy the game as a physical entity. You buy a licence to use software. If this move was coupled to an iTunes download only style model, this would make sense. But by continuing to have a physical box, as games buyers and shops demand, this model seems counter intuitive and a halfway house which will please no one.
Sonys reaction is to get lots of plaudits for not changing the system. In comparison Sony are saying we have a great games machine, you don’t need to connect it to the internet ever, you dont need to connect it to a camera or microphone for it to work, you buy a box in the shop, take ithome and play it straightaway. Later, if you want, you can trade it in or sell it. Plus we do all the tv and media hub stuff, and our console is cheaper by £80.
The Microsoft Xbox One checks in at £425. The Sony Playstation4 at £340. (The wiiU is £219-300 on amazon now.) both will be out for christmas. This is a large amount of money, but to be the one child in a class at christmas who gets one well its a small price to pay. (Feel free to note the build up of advertising from november onwards towards christmas.) With Microsoft intent on moving out of the games console market into the home media centre sector, Nintendo’s WiiU seemingly stuck in ‘great if you want to play mario but pants for everything else’ purgatory,then playstation4 has an open goal to rule the TV games market right?
The third way
But hold on there is a third gaming way. A rival is on the rise, and it looking interesting possibly very good. The valve “steam box” is a mini computer which links into the TV. It is wireless, linking into your wifi and the internet. The key selling point is the steam network. A fully fledged game download system for PC and Mac with thousands of games already supported and ready to play. The system is unknown currently does not have a release date. But it is attractive. The ability to play the games from your PC/mac on your TV at home, share save points is great.
Philosophically it is computer which plays games on your tv, it is expected several companies will build versions with the price reflection the tech spec of what goes in liek, like computer pricing. I like this idea alot. It is a download only model, with your login to the steam system being key to playing the games.
The real downside is that there isn’t a launch date or price yet. But when it launches I suspect it will sell hunners, it may go on to dominate the market.
If all you want is the occasional fun game buy the WiiU
If all you want a cool games machine that does the tv stuff as well buy the playstation4
I love the bravery of change being embraced by microsoft. Recent reviews of the new apple ios7 have commented how it it moving in the direction shown in the design style of microsoft phones. I think it is risky, and I am not happy about the always on kinnect thing. Plus its £80 more expensive. It could be brilliant. But if you asked me today, I think for christmas 2014 I would leave the Xbox and give it a year or so to sort itself out, develop integrated services for the TV in the uk, sort out the second hand games issue, and the issues about privacy, then think about buying it.