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.