Monday, June 10, 2013 marked the beginning of the third round of Microsoft and Sony's battle over the hardcore gaming market.
While June 11 is the official start date for this year's E3, the video game industry's biggest hitters started the week early with stadium-sized press conferences. Each took this opportunity to use E3's momentum to pitch their newest games and gadgets. After the Playstation 2 dominated its generation, and the Xbox 360 dominated the current one, the stage is set for a tiebreaker match between the two titanic companies.
Coming out strong with an early lead (and I say this as a long-time Microsoft and Xbox fan) is the Playstation 4. While there are plenty of little details, exclusive titles, and console features to factor in, it all really comes down to more freedom for a lower price.
Like the old Apple "1984" ad, Microsoft is playing directly into the pre-existing perception many have of being an overbearing omnipresent giant. As of now, the Xbox One will feature a complicated and undefined relationship to used games, restrictions on game-lending, installation requirements, regular online check-ins required, and an always-on, always-listening Kinect camera.
The Playstation 4 will fully support used games, will have no restrictions on its games, and will always be available offline. That wins it a lot of points with a lot of people.
As for price, that issue is simple: in a clear reversal from 2006, the Playstation 4 will cost $399, and the Xbox One will cost $499. If the next generation is only worth $400 to you, not $500, Sony has made your decision this holiday season very easy.
Back to the Kinect issue, the Kinect will be constantly gathering data on you when you are gaming – your heartbeat, where your eyes are looking, etc. That data will be passed on through the cloud, compiled, and passed on to developers as feedback for their games. While that is awesome in some ways, it comes with a privacy tradeoff that Microsoft is finding very controversial.
There are positives associated with Microsoft's other oft-maligned features as well. The installation requirements and always-online options come with the raw processing power of cloud computing, allowing for bigger better games. Some applications are only beginning to be imagined: Forza 5 is collecting data on the players' driving habits to create realistic, human artificial intelligences to race against.
Still, the hardcore market is very wary about its DRM and privacy issues, and these benefits are not likely to be convincing for someone concerned about a hacked Kinect revealing their entire personal lives. And just as importantly, the hardcore gamer will usually go for a console that will let you swap games freely with your friends than one that will require tons of corporate red tape, online connections, and fees to do so.
Right now, that console is the Playstation 4.