Home Editorial #E3 2013: Evil or not, Microsoft will win the console wars

Right now, executives at Sony are laughing.

They’re laughing because their company trained and prepared and sweat and bled for a prize fight with Microsoft, and the American opponent showed up to the fight battered and bruised – mostly self-inflicted injury. Sony’s got the games, they’ve got the trust of the gaming media, and… most importantly… they’re not Microsoft. The Japanese giant’s strategy of simply shutting up and letting their enemies undo themselves appears to be working.

In effect, it’s Sony’s fight to lose.

The average gaming journalist would have you believe in the magic of this fable. They’ll blog and tweet and chirp that, at the end of the day, the noble combatant with the most customer-friendly, developer-friendly approach (or at least the appearance of it) will triumph. That “good” will vanquish “evil.” But I wouldn’t be so sure.

In the words of Dark Helmet, “Evil will always triumph because good is dumb.”

You may not like what Microsoft is planning. You may feel that it’s underhanded or abusive. But, right or wrong, Microsoft is betting on the greater trends in the worlds of content, technology, and e-commerce. Right or wrong, they will probably still come out on top.

Xbox One is banking on the power of ecosystems, which have worked so well for Apple, Amazon, and Google thus far. It basically entails having users buy into multiplatform media , get them used to your interface and design language, and make it fiscally and emotionally difficult for them to give up your proprietary ecosystem. Sony may be able to offer content across its gaming devices, but how much reach do the Vita and Sony smart TVs have in comparison to, say, Windows PCs?

Microsoft is also putting its chips behind the allure of voice and motion based technology. While hardcore gamers may shudder at the thought of motion and sound-controlled Kinect titles, the average consumer will see Kinect as just another extension of a tech world already populated by Siri, Google Glass, and the Nintendo Wii. These features aren’t off-putting to the general population; they’re signals that Microsoft is keeping up with the competition.

Finally, Microsoft is moving its Xbox One hardware focus away from videogames to other forms of entertainment because doubling down on a games-first console device is suicide in an age where most games are played on smartphones for free. As much as old school gamers hate to admit it, entertainment isn’t relegated to a cartridge that clicks into a box that’s wired into your television anymore. And you’d be lying if you said you didn’t occasionally sign into Xbox Live and see half your friends “playing” Netflix.

Are these changes good for gamers? The answer is probably “no.” But don’t let that fool you into thinking it will hurt Microsoft, or that its strategy won’t work. At the end of the day, every console will play videogames. But the system that offers the better modern media experience will have a decided advantage.

Just ask the people behind the Playstation 2.


11 replies to this post
  1. Console wars aren’t won by “hardcore blog forum dwelling gamers” (even if we like to think so). The truth is Mr. John Smith from Anywhere, USA is the main target for Microsoft. Like it or not gaming has become mainstream and it’s in the mainstream market that the gold mine is hiding.

  2. I have to disagree somewhat with your assessment here WiNG. It’s actually partly because of the products and companies that you brought up that I think Microsoft will have a hard time.

    You mention things like Siri and Smartglass, and while the latter can come down in Microsoft’s favour, I think that there will be problems because so many other devices can already do what the Xbox One is doing, and for a better price point. The average consumer — not the gamer mind you, the average consumer — is going to turn to them before turning to the console, because if they care more about the non-gaming qualities, then why bother with the console to begin with?

    This is something that I’ve seen with both Sony and Microsoft, and while I’m not arguing that consoles should go back to being purely game playing machines, I think that a focus on multimedia has hurt them in the long run, and will continue doing so.

    That being said, I’m not naive of foolish enough to think that even with all this outrage that the Xbox One will sell poorly. I believe that it will do just fine in terms of sales, mostly because despite all the bluster, people tend to buy anyways. Now, the question I believe is pertinent is whether enough people will buy it to make Microsoft believe that their decisions where correct.

  3. I think I agree WiNG. While Microsoft’s positions on drm, always-online, and used-games feel like a spit in the face to dedicated games, for some reason the XBone still feels like the more compelling ecosystem and device.
    I’m always quite curious how developers will respond, now that used games sales are discouraged on XBone, but seem like they will continue on PS4. While consumers prefer for the used game market to continue, MS’s focus on developers could pay off in the long run.
    I could care less about kinect games, but the integration with the way the system, in terms of voice controls still makes it a compelling device. If only MS had made more of its features optional, rather than required.

  4. I didn’t think e3 was quite as one-sided as most others. Go to Kotaku and you’d swear Microsoft just filed for Chapter 11.

    It will be interesting to see in the years to come if used games sales will discourage publishers from working with Sony, or if there will be such a mass of people shopping for PS4 games that they’d be idiots not to fall in line.

  5. I think, at a practical rather than philosophical level, microsoft’s limitations on the transfer of used games will not be too important. More games will be bought digitally and other games will have an online component, used game markets are going to be less important in the future than they are today more do to technological factors than formal policies.

  6. Putting the issue of good versus evil aside, whether or not PS4 will triumph over Xboned will depend on the good judgement of the mainstream consumer.

    No rational, intelligent, logical consumer would want to support a company that acts like a near monopoly, not only for gaming consoles but PC software as well.
    Supporting MS is as good as giving them the licence to exploit consumers to their hearts content.

    With their cockiness to charge a higher price for their Xboned (in comparison with Sony’s PS4), it is clear that someone needs to give MS a good kick off their high horse.

    The outcome of this war will be seen in 2013 holiday season sale numbers. My guess who will win?
    Sony all the way, baby.
    If I so happen to be wrong, then I must have overestimated the thinking capacity of most of the typical gamers/consumers. I hope my prediction is right.
    Otherwise, we consumers have seriously let ourselves down.

  7. I think you are wrong, but more because of the history of Microsoft, and of consoles which have tried to move away from videogames.

    Okay, lets start with Microsoft’s history, namely with the iPod.

    The iPod was essentially Apple’s big bid to get into the MP3 player market, and it was wildly successful, paving the way for the iPhone and iPad.

    Microsoft saw the massive interest the product developed and released the Zune – which failed.

    Now think about the Windows Phone – who is the closest to challenging the iPhone? Android.

    Why? The Apple is the dominant system because it has cool factor, the Android meanwhile is the rebel system, lending it some street cred. Now tell me, who rebels by buying Windows?

    Smart TVs are already all in one systems, and for those not willing to part with the cash for one there are alternatives already starting to hit the market.

    Worse, any cred the Xbox One might have had has been systematically undermined by the company itself stating that the console is in part relying on users being idiots.

    “In a broader set of community, people don’t pay attention to a lot of the details,” said Yusuf Mehdi, according to the Escapist.

    Now lets look at the games console market – Microsoft is offering less power than the PS4, at what looks to be about $100 more. The PS3 entered the market trying to be an all in one device, one of its major selling points being it is a Blu-Ray player.

    It ended up coming third, because the functionality is offered didn’t help defray the higher cost – sound familiar? Cost is important, because past a certain line and people will just get a PC, the individual games cover a much wider range of price points.

    In real terms the power system this generation will be the PS4, while the cheap system will be the Wii U. The Xbox One could have had a place as the middle system – except it is the most expensive one.

    Further the way second hand games works on the new system means it is going to run into legal issues, because “participating retailers” sounds an awful lot like anti-competitive practices.

    The Xbox One’s online every 24 hours requirement has even ended up with US military personnel publicly criticising it. When the Japanese are the patriotic choice, an American company has a problem.

  8. On the other hand Wing, don’t bet that Microsoft isn’t as dumb or dumber than the good guys.

    From the guys that brought you Windows Vista and Bing may come another epic flop and colossal monetary failure.

  9. Microsoft buckled… apparently they do need core gamers. The video game market is not the tablet market. Also, the main driving factor in sales IS the core gamer. We buy far more games than the casual gamer. Far more. We also are the first to adopt consoles, and if we don’t they generally don’t sell well at all.

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