Once Sony makes its February 20 announcement, Microsoft is last to present a console. What could be waiting for us?
The earliness of Nintendo’s Wii U put Sony and Microsoft in an awkward spot. They need consoles that dazzle crowds, and not with fancy pyrotechnics or meaningless circus shows. They need a machine as revolutionary as possible, not clinging to dated standards, that encapsulates rapidly changing consumer attitudes. Game consoles aren’t specifically about games anymore; consumers also give digital services like Netflix the same weight.
On February 20, when Sony releases some type of teaser for “Orbis” aka the PlayStation 4, it leaves Microsoft last, presumably holding off until E3. Which is either business savvy or stupid depending on your perspective: it gives Microsoft the opportunity to surprise the world and come out of E3 roaring (at the risk of competing with everyone else), but it also builds the pressure to perform. Meaning unless Microsoft steals the show, Sony walks away brushing their shoulders.
Sony, above all else, recognizes the importance of being first. Nintendo’s opening statement came in the form of a catalog of released games, weak sales numbers, and even weaker consumer confidence. It wasn’t until last month that Nintendo truly showed the Wii U’s potential into 2013, so it’s not entirely doom-and-gloom for Nintendo, but Sony is smart regardless to show second–and before Microsoft.
The debate for Microsoft comes down to one simple thing: a pay-for-play versus free service. Sony overtook Microsoft in units sold recently, a trend likely to last until new consoles arrive. More worrisome are those shifting consumer tides–why would someone pay $5 a month just to pay $7 more to access Netflix? Nintendo and Sony offer cheap alternatives (I’ve heard free is actually really cheap), but with less entertainment options. Except for a service called PlayOn, there’s no formal way to watch ESPN or other services so proudly touted by Xbox Live. And this plays very well into Microsoft’s hands since a large percentage of consumers won’t think to search Google for options.
Waiting in the wings as well is the IllumiRoom, basically Kinect 2.0, that conveys a desire to expand past the TV-and-console concept. Using a projector, any game would cover the four walls of a room, the first example of how immersive gaming could come relatively soon. It’s unclear whether Microsoft plans to implement it into a new console or after the fact, however these little experiments work to push the creative thinking behind this industry. While suitable because motion control is now a thing, whether it can be financially sustainable is a different story. Only a small fragment of Xbox Live’s users still use their dusty peripheral, and even less would consider piling on the extra cost of a projector.
But still, innovation and console flexibility will drive a ninth generation of consoles and both the amount of options on Xbox Live and the IllumiRoom give consumers more of a complete package. Where Microsoft could drastically improve is embracing modern technologies: improving 3D, administering Blu-ray (in turn improving graphics and developer room, not regulating pixel-intensive games to two or more discs), and most vitally, giving the Kinect some quality titles. If Kinect morphs into the IllumiRoom than that last point becomes more vital.
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