June 14, 2013, 6:00 AM —
Well, another E3 has come and gone, and this was a big one. For me the days after E3 are like the days after Christmas when I was a kid. After weeks of anticipation, all the surprises have been revealed and I'm filled with good memories but a little melancholy that I have a year to wait for the next one. On the other hand I'm looking forward to having a weekend to catch my breath and ruminate on all that we saw.
But I'm having the strangest sensation this year. I'm finding myself feeling a little sorry for Microsoft.
Now listen, I'm a self-described Sony fanboy. I have my PS4 pre-ordered and it has been a delight seeing the shift in attitude towards Sony since last week. Sony seemed to go from industry scapegoat (rootkits! hacked networks! no games!) to hero in the course of a day. Many people expected them to follow Microsoft's lead and somehow limit used game sales and when they didn't, they 'won' E3. Of course that $100 price difference didn't hurt.
After that, Microsoft just couldn't seem to catch a break. For example, when Microsoft's Don Mattrick was interviewed by GameTrailer's Geoff Keighley he addressed the Xbox One's Internet requirement by saying "Fortunately we have a product for people who aren't able to get some form of connectivity, it's called Xbox 360." If you watch the video clip (embedded below), you see Mattrick seems pretty sincere and even sympathetic, as he goes on to acknowledge one example: a gamer who is stationed on a nuclear submarine.
If you only read the coverage of this interview you'd come away thinking Mattrick's delivery was very different. For instance over at Tech Crunch Matt Burns penned the headline You're Not Wrong, Microsoft, You're Just An Asshole and referred to Mattrick's quote as "snarky words."
I'm not sure what Mattrick could have said that wouldn't have rankled, unless it was "We changed our mind about everything." To me Mattrick came across as frank. It is what it is and Microsoft has bet the farm, so to speak, on an Internet connected device. That's the world we're living in and I can't imagine they're going to change their business model overnight. They knew requiring a network connection meant cutting out a segment of their audience but they apparently feel that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
I'm not going to defend them. I think in particular their used game stance is foolish. As more and more gamers move towards digital distribution the used game market would have naturally dried up without any company taking on the ill-will Microsoft has.
The required Internet connection is more interesting. Cynical consumers assume Microsoft's promise of cloud-assisted gaming is just a smoke screen to hide the fact that their licensing system needs a network connection. Maybe that's true and maybe it isn't. We'll have to wait and see.
The Xbox One has other offerings that Sony can't match. This idea that you can share your game collection with 10 people (admittedly only one at a time, if I understand things correctly) hasn't seemed to resonate with gamers and I'm not sure why. I would've thought, at the very least, parents who game with their children would be happy to learn they'd only need to buy one copy of a game in order to engage in multiplayer.
And of course the Xbox One has this television integration system. I'm skeptical about this myself, at least for launch, but I look forward to a day when something like an Xbox or PS can completely replace my cable box. I fear the Xbox One experience will involve slow IR blasters for most of us, but perhaps that will improve over the life of the device.
So the Xbox One has advantages, at least on paper. But not enough advantages to offset the ill will they've generated with gaming enthusiasts. We want the freedom to trade our games at will and we want our young men and women in the armed services to be able to unwind with a good video game even if they're deployed somewhere they can't get an Internet connection, darn it!
Oh and we want to spend $100 less, too.
So has Sony already won the next generation console war?
Not by a long shot. Talk is cheap, particularly this early. When the holiday season rolls around, it could be that the new Kinect, or the TV features, attract more attention with the average consumer than it does with hardcore gamers.
But what is really going to be interesting is seeing what happens when the next Halo or Gears of War is announced. TitanFall is an awesome looking Microsoft exclusive but you can play it on a PC. I guess you could argue that Forza is a hot Xbox exclusive but I'm just not sure it resonates the way Halo does.
Sony could take an early lead in this generation's console war but I suspect many devoted Xbox 360 owners who don't like Microsoft's policies will opt to just stick with the Xbox 360 this winter and see what happens rather than 'switch sides.' If all goes well and they see early Xbox One adopters enjoying the new console, when Halo or Gears comes around, they'll take the plunge (assuming they can) even if they're still grumbling about not being able to trade games easily.
But if things go wrong; if Microsoft's authentication servers don't work flawlessly for instance, then the company could be in real trouble. Likewise it's possible that Sony gains such a lead that they become the preferred platform for third party developers in much the same way Xbox 360 was in this current generation. If that turns out to be the case then third party developers won't bother supporting the new Kinect or cloud computing, which essentially nullifies some of Microsoft's theoretical advantages.
So stay tuned, we've still got a lot of excitement in this next gen war. I'm hoping Microsoft comes out of E3 having learned a lesson in humility. Back at the launch of the PS3 Sony execs were acting just like Microsoft execs are now: as if they could do whatever they wished and gamers would obediently follow them.
This E3 things were reversed. Microsoft's Press Conference was stiff and very corporate feeling while Sony's felt human. That vibe continued after the conferences with Microsoft interviewees repeating the company line while Sony execs were making silly videos. On an empathic level I think Sony won some hearts over the past few days. Microsoft could use some of that empathy right about now.
I can't wait to see what the gaming landscape looks like by next E3!
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.