Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Features and More

Microsoft, Sony both botched their console launches

Last time Geek Speak convened, I promised to finally talk about some of the games available for the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. I'm sorry to say that PR personnel for both Microsoft and Sony are going to make a liar of me.

Two weeks ago, I declared at the conclusion of the Electronic Entertainment Expo that Sony's PlayStation 4 had won the day by letting Microsoft kneecap its own Xbox One with a combination of a high price, lofty consumer use goals and a restrictive digital rights management policy aimed at crippling the used game market. Boy, a lot has happened in the meantime.

Not only did Microsoft backpedal on the DRM issue, allowing unrestricted use of software across consoles, it then retracted a plan for family sharing, a novel idea that would let Xbox One players share games on the cloud across consoles. The plan to let people verify as many as 10 friends and family members as able to access titles attached to a gamer's profile was an awesome workaround to the DRM plan, which would have required an unspecified licensing fee if lending a game out to another user. Family sharing essentially would have allowed gamers to play their titles on any Xbox One in the world, as long as that console's owner was given access to it. No more scratched discs, even!

Never one to be kept from ruining a good idea, Microsoft revoked this idea along with its DRM plans, much to the disappointment of gamers who relished the concept. In effect, Redmond took the onions off the burger, but scraped off the cheese, too.

But don't let Japan have the last laugh. IGN revealed this week that Sony consciously waited to see what Xbox One's price point would be at E3 — in this case, a whopping $499 — before announcing their company's $399 price, which was a full C-note lower than the company had been planning for months. How did they do it?

Well, you didn't have to be eagle-eyed to notice the Xbox One is packed with a next-gen Kinect sensor. PlayStation 4 was slated to ship with a camera, too, but upon hearing the One would cost $499, Sony made the hasty decision to drop the camera and the price along with it. The camera will now be sold as a $60 accessory (don't ask me how that math works out).

The problem is, Sony may have shot itself in the foot, software-wise. Reports say several of the console's titles were built with camera-contextual functionality, and the highly touted light bar on the console's new DualShock 4 controller is dependent on the camera to ensure proper motion control.

Providing that functionality is great if you know everyone has a camera, but now Sony has guaranteed not everyone will. After shelling out four bills for a new console and $60 each for some titles to play on the thing, who wants to fork over another $60 for a camera with abilities still stuck at the introductory end of the scale?

As much as hardcore gamers derided Microsoft's focus on voice and motion controls with its new Kinect, at least the company can safely develop software features with the knowledge that everyone who buys an Xbox One will have the device. Sony will be relegated to piecemeal incorporation in its games for fear that a title may not sell if it's too dependent on console owners having an optional accessory.

So far the latest generation of consoles has been a race to see who can screw up the least, and no one is winning. Gamers certainly aren't helping matters, deriding novel features that will finally turn consoles from toys to actual entertainment centers. Somewhere along the way, the manufacturers will stop moving in fits and starts and break out in a solid run.

This is proven by June 14 release of Naughty Dog's The Last of Us, which should have been the focus of this week's column but couldn't. Perhaps if console makers can quit playing musical chairs with their hardware features, we can get back to the evolution of the true star of this show, the games. This PS3 title certainly proves there's been a progression in the last eight years.

But we'll discuss that in two weeks. I promise. Really, I mean it.

— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt*. Feel free to challenge his opinions at [email protected]

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