It seems, at least according to the editorial and social rhetoric I've read over the past few days, that the console war has ended before a single unit has sold, and the Sony PlayStation 4 has won. Meanwhile, after a series of questionable announcements and policies, Microsoft's Xbox One is a battered warrior before it's had a chance to make an appearance.
It is, of course, silly to predict or even recognize this, but I'm going to do so anyway. Why? It's worth mentioning why gamers have -- at least for now -- turned their backs to Microsoft. The issues are numerous, and they all point to features and functionalities that hardcore gamers don't want, don't get or simply don't like. Average consumers haven't chimed in yet -- they will do so at the register this fall once they've asked the likes of you and me what to get -- but here's a very quick look at what troubles the Xbox One and how the PlayStation 4 appears to be doing things right.
We all saw this coming, and now that it's here, our torches are raised in defiance at Castle Microsoft. For those not in the know, Xbox One requires an always-on connection and games will be installed to one console at a time. This led many to believe that this would kill the Xbox One's used game market, but a recently posted FAQ from Microsoft states, vaguely, that they are "designing Xbox One to enable customers to trade in and resell games. We'll have more details to share later."
This probably means that they are in meetings trying to figure out how to get around this one, coming up with said details as I write this. They promise no fee, but they are saying that they'll leave a lot of this up to publishers. Perhaps we'll have to uninstall our game before selling it, which then re-opens that license up to the person who buys the used game. Perhaps we won't be able to sell our games at all. Either way, retail spots probably aren't going to want to deal with the mishegas.
We're told that we'll be able to "lend" our game to one person at a time, giving him access to our library and then revoking the privileges when that person is done (or when we want to give someone else access). Whether this will work remains to be seen, but this is certainly a lot more restrictive -- by a millionfold -- than the "here take this disc / cartridge" culture gamers have grown used to.
But all isn't rainbows and unicorns on the PlayStation 4 side. Sony just announced that, while their first-party games won't include any form of DRM, third-party developers would be free to do as they please on that front. We'd like to assume that those third parties are seeing, hearing and reading reactions to all of this and will drop any notions of doing something similar, but it wouldn't surprise me if larger studios required licenses and connections -- just like the One versions -- once the dust settles.
And really, in the end, we've become used to digital DRM by now, haven't we? The mobile apps we purchase, the Xbox Live and PSN and WiiWare games we download -- those are all DRM'd to the gills. Disc-based games are on their last legs, and while I don't like it, the writing is on the wall for an industry always looking for ways to monetize our gaming selves. We could be fighting a losing battle on this front, my friends.
While the term "always on" is being floated around, it's a bit misleading in that the Xbox One will only need to connect to the internet once every 24 hours to play games. That's not always on, but it sure means you need to be near a connection do anything longer than a day. This is essentially a security check, and it's unprecedented. It's understandable that it's leaving a bad taste in consumers' mouths. To add insult to injury, Xbox Chief Don Mattrick told the world that if you can't get online, stick with the Xbox 360. Yeesh.
While the PlayStation 4 will always be in a sleep mode and available for wake at the touch of a button, it won't require a connection to run. Call it "always present." But it won't require any sign-in, online access to work. This sounds like -- well, it sounds like a game console, and that's within peoples' comfort zones. Keep in mind this could all change with a software update in the future and by then we might not all care. But for now, we like the notion of a console that's just that.
Like it or not, Kinect or Eye or not, the base price of the PlayStation 4 is $100 less than the Xbox One. And $100 is another game, another controller, another month of internet service. The $399 price point has always been a psychological wall for a game console -- in fact, PS3 sales shot up once it hit that amount last time around, and one has to assume Sony learned from its past mistakes.
There are rumors -- let's call them dreams -- that Microsoft may release a subsidized version of the One at a lower price as long as you sign up for Live, but I'm not holding my breath. As of now, it's $499, and while it includes Kinect, it's more. In fact, many people don't want Kinect, especially since the console will be always on, watching us. That's kinda creepy, no?
But it's All Good
More than anything, despite all the flak that Microsoft is getting over the One, I'm excited that we're finally entering the next console generation. It seems the 360, PS3 and Wii were with us forever, and I'm ready to leave them behind and get my hands on some new silicon, franchises and fanboy discourse.
As annoyed as we all may seem when discussing such things, let's admit it: We love this. It's like elections every four years, filled with half-truths, inexplicable discourse, corporate doublespeak and unfulfilled promises. I know I'll be enjoying the next few months as details are revealed, hopes are crushed and new dreams (shall we call them Final Fantasies? Sorry...) are realized.
And of course I'll be a lot poorer come this holiday season. I'm betting you will be, too.
Joshua Fruhlinger is the former Editorial Director for Engadget and current contributor to both Engadget and the Wall Street Journal. You can find him on Twitter at @fruhlinger.