E3 and the Longest Game

ps4 announcement

Sony has now shown its hand for the PlayStation 4 at E3, and it looks to be aiming squarely at the hardcore gaming market. In what is certainly not a co-incidence their latest press release was at pains to point out that the PS4 will be doing exactly the opposite of all the things that have so annoyed hobby gamers about the Xbox One so far. It won’t need to connect to the internet once per day. It will run used games. It might not be backwards compatible but you will be able to play PS3 titles streamed online through Gaikai. It’ll be cheaper, and have a bigger library of indie games. The message from Sony couldn’t be clearer: we’re the hardware for serious gamers, and we’re listening to what you want.

Personally I’m pretty much sold. I buy a lot of used games and the fact that one console will allow me to continue doing that and the other won’t is a deal breaker. The chance to play some great PS3 titles that I missed in this generation, like Journey, The Last of Us and Demon’s Souls is a huge attraction, as is the price. Being fairly tech savvy I can surely use my PC to mimic a lot of the added functionality of the Xbone anyway. Upgrading is a long way away for me: my 360 pile of shame is easily big enough to last me into the first year of the next generation. But unless things change drastically over the coming 24 months (and they might yet), it looks like I’m a Sony man.

But that doesn’t mean I think Microsoft have screwed up. As has been repeated tirelessly over the last few weeks, Microsoft wasn’t aiming to launch its new console at us. It’s an attempt to reach out squarely to the casual market, the two or three games a year market, the market that have been relentlessly gobbled up by smartphone gaming over the last few years. Whatever we might think of it, it’s a bold move and puts clear water between Microsoft and its competitors in the console environment.

It seems to me that in going after the hardcore crowd, Sony have chosen to play it safe. It’s a smaller market, but a solid one which will guarantee them sales. They’re effectively admitting that the days of the console as a unified gaming platform are over, and are seeking to corner the people who are sure to continue to support it.

Microsoft on the other hand are taking a massive gamble. The audience they’re going after might not want to come back to console gaming from their mobile devices. They might not want to drop hundreds of dollars on a gaming system that offers some fairly minimal usability advantages for regular media consumption over the disparate use of PVRs, PCs and tablets that we see at the moment.

This doesn’t surprise me. Microsoft have basically done exactly the same thing with Windows 8: abandoned their core market in favour of trying to recapture a segment of the mobile market. It’s clear that the bosses at Microsoft have decided that beyond the obvious conclusion of mobile being a big part of the future, mobile is almost the entirety of the future. And if there’s a company that can not only afford to gamble, but probably needs to gamble on the way the future is going to map out, it’s Microsoft.

The future remains, of course, utterly inscrutable on the matter. It could be that Kinect 2 turns out to be the transformative technology that Kinect 1 promised to be but clearly wasn’t. That would be a game changer. But I’m willing to bet that the next generation belongs to Sony. However, I’m also willing to bet that the next generation will be the last that sticks to the traditional models of production and consumption. And after the world has moved on, it’s possible that Sony will find it has cornered a market that no longer exists, and its Microsoft who’ll reap the rewards for playing the long game.

8 Responses to “E3 and the Longest Game”

  1. Todd Brakke June 11, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Fantastic post, Matt! I think you’re 100% accurate about how these two console are going to play against each other. I’m tempted at this point to take a pass on this generation, or maybe the first year of it and stick to PC gaming just to see how it all plays out.

  2. Raz June 11, 2013 at 10:27 am #

    I think you’re spot on. This generation is going to clearly demonstrate how many hardcore gamers are out there and how many casual gamers are out there – and if they’re willing to buy a new console or not. Folks who grew up playing consoles and want a new one for gaming will probably go with the PS4. Dudebros who want the newest shooter or EASports title and little else, will probably be dazzled by the XBone and go with it. Then there’s the WiiU, which will be an interesting factor in this generation – or perhaps a non-player and cause some shake up inside the big N.

    Either way, at the moment, Sony definitely has my support and MS will need to make dramatic changes, which i don’t expect, to change that.

  3. The_Prodigal_player June 11, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    There are multiple long games in play here.

    There is the long game of how consumers will ultimately use gaming consoles, and you are correct that Sony may be staking out more narrow territory than Microsoft. But I don’t think that it’s a forgone conclusion that this will be the last generation of gaming console in this format. You may be right that the exact model we have now may change, but the emphasis of values that promotes gaming culture could be re-ignighted with the right innovative perspective. Let’s hope that with the creative space Sony has opened up by essentially knocking Microsoft out of the competitive running this generation (I don’t think there is much question which console will sell better) will allow them to be a little less conservative now.

    I also think it is amazing that the more affordable system is also the more open system that respects my rights more as well. What an awful message it would have been had the PS4 been the $500 console, albeit an open one, essentially sending the message to consumers that yes you can have your freedom, but at a premium.

    If the long game you are referring to is the one about getting the public to become complacent about draconian DRM, online requirements and mandatory surveillance technology that PRISM can hijack, let’s hope you’re wrong.

  4. rob_d June 11, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    I don’t see how Microsoft can expect to be successful marketing to the, as you put it, 2 or 3 games a year crowd, with a $500 entry fee. Are consumers really going to be interested in a $500 machine they will mainly use to control their living rooms?

    • Matt Thrower June 11, 2013 at 6:15 pm #

      Because those people will be more willing to pay for media streaming and live TV events. You can be very sure Microsoft has done their homework on this. Any fool could have predicted the opprobrium among gamers that resulted from the launch details. There’s no way they’d have risked that unless they were damn sure there was money in another market they could appeal to.

      • rob_d June 11, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

        Yeah..but they can get that from computers they already own. I don’t understand the need to have a separate $500 machine for those purposes. I’m sure they’ve done their homework…they probably did their homework for Windows 8 too. How did that work out for them? I think they’re gonna take a bath on this thing.

        • Todd Brakke June 12, 2013 at 10:35 am #

          The book on Windows 8 isn’t yet complete, though. Like Vista, it’s a stepping stone to Microsoft. Windows 7 would not have been possible without Vista taking all the flack and bullets and dragging the PC world (primarily in terms of how applications were designed) forward. One thing MS does extremely well is iterate.

          That said, they could very well still take a bath on the One. I’m sure they have reams of data showing how they’re going to make their money on it. I’ll bet Sony did too when they were building the PS3. Corporate hubris can be a problem. What I think will save the One is that what people don’t like about it right now is all stuff that can be adjusted. They can afford to bring the console price down. Publishers can adjust their game pricing. They can get rid of the online check-in requirement. There’s plenty MS can do before release or in the year after release that can make a huge difference in whether or not the One succeeds. The question is, “Will they?”

  5. drunkenpandaren June 11, 2013 at 9:32 pm #

    It looks like Microsoft over reached themselves here. The 360′s original showing was full of putting the casual crowd first, Velocity Girl being the major one there, but the 360 had the hardcore crowd to back them. Then they were only building up from what they hand, unlike here they stepped over. With Sony picking up the pieces, learning especially well from their $599 debacle and issues they had with PSN.

    But damn. It was like watching a execution.

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