Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Sony (NYSE:SNE), fierce competitors in the video game industry, have both given a peek at what their next generation consoles are going to be like. Both company have help premiere events to get fans hyped up about the gaming systems, but that’s not all their premiers did. Both left fans with a lot of concerns and perhaps even more questions.
With both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 expected to launch later this year, still has a good bit of time to respond to all the questions and concerns. This coming week will be one of the best opportunities for both companies to do just that, as it will be the week of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, or E3, one of the biggest gaming conferences around.
Because the initial launch is one of the most important points for a products success and can affect the trajectory of the product — as well as competitors’ products — it will be important for Microsoft and Sony to clear up questions and concerns. Below are some of the main things each company will need to do at E3 to improve its chances of a successful launch.
Show that Xbox One isn’t just a suped-up cable box:
During the Xbox One’s premiere event at the Microsoft Campus, one word was said far too many times. That word was “TV.” The hosts of the event might have even said “TV” more times than they said the word “game.”
A significant portion of the event showed off how the Xbox One could switch between TV, movies, video games, and more. Voice commands could make the Xbox One turn on, switch to TV, change the channel, find TV shows, or check TV guide. Of course, these are just fancy ways to do a lot of things that a cable box already allows users to do with the help of a more traditional remote control.
There were some unique and nifty features, like the ability to keep track of fantasy draft sports statistics while watching games live. The Xbox One could open up a side menu on the same screen as the live game and show the data changing. The hosts also mentioned that a Halo TV series would be made exclusively for the Xbox One.
However, the Xbox started first and foremost as a gaming console, and many fans are going expect the Xbox One to be a gaming console as well. Unfortunately, the premiere didn’t do a lot to give that impression. A few games were talked about, but there wasn’t much in the way of showing game-play.
At E3, Microsoft is going to have to prove that the Xbox One can game and has significant improvements on the Xbox 360, otherwise its risks having its former fans defect for the seemingly more game-focused PlayStation 4, or maybe even over the PC gaming.
Make gamers appreciate the Kinect’s presence
In 1984, the thought of having a computer eye sitting in the middle of your living room always listening and watching might have been catchy, at least in an ironic sense. But today, with some people tense about excessive homeland security, or hacking, or collection of private data, it might not be the most appealing idea to have a camera watching and listening to everything you do in your living room while also being connected to the internet.
Of course, not everyone is so paranoid as to think that the Xbox One’s Kinect device could be reporting to the government or hackers somewhere. But Microsoft will still have to make a strong argument to justify necessitating the Kinect on the Xbox One.
Since the Kinect will be sold with all Xbox Ones, customers don’t really get a say in the matter. Microsoft already showed that the device will at least make interacting with the TV a little more engaging. But, at E3, it will have to show that the Kinect will significantly boost the gaming experience, not just boost the price-tag.
Make up for its weaker hardware:
The Xbox One may jump ahead of the Xbox 360 or the PS3 by leaps and bounds, but the available technical specifications make one thing clear: the Xbox One will be weaker than the PS4 when it comes to running games.
Both consoles feature some matching hardware components, like the 8-core processors by Advanced Micro Designs (NYSE:AMD). However, the PS4 steps it up in a number of areas, such as memory bandwidth, higher-performing system memory for gaming, and a more powerful graphics processor.
At E3, Microsoft will have to be sure that what it lacks in graphics power can be made up for in the gaming experience. The graphics quality of the console will surely be impressive, but the Xbox One will need exclusive games and exciting new takes on how video games are played to make it a better buy than the PS4, otherwise it could stumble at the time of its launch and let the PS4 take the lead.
This task will be especially important considering the Xbox One may actually be priced higher than the PS4. The starting price for the Xbox One is predicted to be $399, while the PS4 is expected to launch at $349.
Just show gaming:
The premiere did a great job of showing the Xbox One is going to be a competent multimedia device. So, at E3, Microsoft should really focus on showing that the Xbox One will make gaming even more awesome than previous consoles could make it.
Prove that its hardware will make a difference:
As mentioned earlier, both the Xbox One and the PS4 will have significant hardware upgrades from their predecessor and will be near the peak for gaming performance. At that level, most gamers are sure to be impressed by what the new consoles can do. Even if the Xbox One is weaker than the PS4, it’s sure to impress gamers substantially.
So, if the Xbox One is going to impress anyway, Sony is going to have to find a way to show that the PS4′s more powerful hardware actually makes a difference. It could do this through games or other means, but it may have to actually draw attention to what the machine is doing for gamers to catch the difference.
One game that’s coming out, called Knack, could show users the advantages of the PS4. The game features a character composed of numerous small objects, called particles, that would have been very difficult — if not impossible — to construct on older gaming consoles. The powerful hardware would allow the game to have more particles flying around at a time, which could wow gamers.
Of course, Sony could also demonstrate things like games or levels loading faster, but that kind of thing might not be exciting enough to really stick in consumers minds when it comes to making a buying decision.
Show that it can do more than games:
While Microsoft had the problem of focusing too little on games and too much on media, Sony had the opposite problem. Sony’s premiere event may have focused a bit too much on games, and not so much on how the PS4 can function as a platform for other media.
The Ps3 was a capable machine for multimedia — able to play games, Bluray videos, music, browse the web, and connect to wireless media servers in case owners had their movies stored on another computer. There’s little reason to expect that the PS4 would have any less capability. However, Sony may have to show that it will have some more capability.
Because a gaming console can be a multimedia centerpiece, going right in the middle of many living rooms, it will be important for Sony to show that the new console will be a powerful tool for customers when it comes to entertainment. E3 may not be the best opportunity to focus on something other than games, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to soothe customers concerns as early as possible.
Get into the nitty-gritty:
Sony’s premiere event showed some games and discussed some possibilities, and it may have inspired talk, but it still has a bit to do to inspire buyers.
For one, the PS4 will have a new controlled that’s got some major difference from its predecessors. One thing it will have is a laptop-like touchpad in the middle of it. Sony’s PS4 website says that the touchpad will enhance the gaming experience, but the company hasn’t done much to show how it intends to do that. E3 will be a good chance for the company to show that kind of thing hands-on.
The PS4 also has a dual-lens camera device, similar to the Kinect. And, similar to the Kinect, Sony could still do a lot to make it so that consumers understand why they should have a device sitting in their living room, staring at them with two little robot eyes.
Another thing Sony could do, which Microsoft already did, is show off the actual console. The premiere event didn’t give a peak at what the actual PS4 console would look like. Sony showed the control, and showed the camera device, but there was no sighting of the console itself. What that does is make the company seem less ready to launch the device, which could concern customers and make them lean toward the Xbox One.
Not everything is a competition. There’s one big thing that both companies might want to try doing at E3, or at least soon.
That is to make it up to gamers for giving them grief about used games. Many are concerned that Microsoft and Sony will be implementing technologies on their next consoles to restrict gamers from trading, selling, or buying used games. (Interesting to note that the new PS4 controller has a share button –pictured above — to promote gamers sharing achievements, but apparently not to promote gamers sharing games)
Both Sony and Microsoft have confirmed that the consoles will play used games, but it’s possible that the companies will charge a fee for the game to actual play. Microsoft’s corporate vice president, Phil Harrison, confirmed that gamers would have to pay for the “right to play” on the Xbox One, even if they received a game-disc from a friend who had already played it.
This kind of change has many gamers upset, as it controls what they can do with a product that they own. While neither company is likely to turn around on plans to restrict used games, as it loses them a significant chunk of money every year, they may have to do something to assuage gamers on this matter.
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