The ball is in Microsoftís court. Sonyís Playstation 4 announcement confirmed that we are going to get a next-gen console this year, but it left a lot of important questions unanswered Ė price, form factor and release date chief among them. We heard a lot of vagaries about how technological prowess would enable us to game in ways weíve never even dreamed of. As Mark Rogowsky points out, weíve heard it all before.
That leaves the door open.
Microsoft will have to launch its new product with hardware powerful enough to run Unreal Engine 4 and all the multi-platform games it needs to compete. Graphic fidelity is good, but at this point, itís a given. Raw computing power wonít determine success in this generation. Hereís a few ways Microsoft can get the edge when it makes its own announcement.
Make it Cheap
We still donít know how much the PS4 costs, and thatís no small question. Itís time to get real about the fact that consoles are competing with a wide range of other devices for entertainment and tech dollars. If something wholly dedicated to games is priced too high, only the more dedicated customers are going to make the plunge. Products like this need mass market appeal.
Consoles are generally sold at a loss. Thatís nothing new. If Microsoft can build a beefy system at a seriously competitive price point, it could capture that fat middle market that gave it the edge in this generation. Better yet, it could offer the next Xbox on a subscription basis, like it does with the Xbox 360. Anything to get the machine in as many living rooms as possible, as quickly as possible.
Sony, as a whole, is struggling. Microsoft isnít rolling in cash like chief competitor Apple, but it has a little more room to play. If it can undercut Sony and make the next Xbox the economical choice this holiday season, it wins.
I donít need another Netflix-enabled device. At this point, I feel like my ceiling fan is going to be Netflix-enabled. Those tried and true apps donít cut it anymore. Microsoft has been dancing around the concept of bringing full-blown TV to a games console for a while now, and I think that it will use the announcement of the next Xbox to debut something big. Xbox wonít just be competing with Sony here. Thereís a pot of gold for whoever cracks the next-gen set-top box first.
I still donít see the exclusives that are going to make the PS4 a necessary buy. We saw some nice concepts, and some games we already knew about, but I didnít walk away impressed knowing that Killzone was now going to have more realistic blood spatter. Some of last nightís biggest fanfare was reserved for Diablo 3, a game which has been out for months.
Sony had an edge here in this generation, but I didnít see that muscle out in force last night. That doesnít mean it isnít coming. This is a battle that will be fought at E3, and both companies better be readying some impressive demos to woo core gamers. Microsoft doesnít have Bungie anymore. If it can capture that one title that will sell the next Xbox like Halo sold the first one, it can make up a lot of lost ground.
We need a reason to get excited about console gaming. We donít need another console with more impressive hardware and all the same games. We need something new. Sony has yet to impress me. Microsoft has a chance. Go nuts. Do something weird. There are plenty of ways Microsoft could fail as well. If it launches with some form of used-games blocking or always-online DRM requirements, hardcore gamers will flock to the PS4 in droves. If its architecture and software gives developers a headache, then it will struggle to match Sony on games. Neither of these things are out of the question.
In order to win, Microsoft must acknowledge that the console business has changed in the last six years. It needs to do something truly new, or launch with just one feature that will define this as a new and important machine. If neither Sony nor Microsoft can muster that, maybe Valve or Apple will have to step in.