This will have been the eighth time that I pinned my eyes to the conferences going on by all of the major players in gaming today and I have to admit, it never gets old. While actually walking the show-floor of the Expo is exciting, over the years it’s steadily lost its luster due to an influx of enthusiasts on the floor that aren’t really there for journalistic purposes. What used to be a way for media to get in and get details, exclusive information, crisp images, and insights has become, well, raucous at best. However, I always clung to one thing and that is: the press conferences.
I first came in at the onset of our current generation of consoles and I watched as the Xbox 360 and PS3 were unveiled, launched, and confetti rained down on us in Los Angeles. Good times, you know? Here I sat, glued to what went down in front of me, and I watched as we got to see the unveiling of the next generation of consoles.
Xbox One: What We Know and What We Learned
Microsoft had a pretty decent showing this year, which is a surprise because the last conference was mostly about Windows product lines and Surface. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but touting television, connectivity with other PC products, and such is not what people come to E3 for. No, they want to know about games and the next generation of games. So this year, Microsoft actually did away with the majority of the PC offerings and gave us all a beautiful taste of what is in store for us in the generation of Xbox One. Actually giving a release date of November 2013, Microsoft refuses to discuss the details that have been damning it for weeks.
After picking apart tidbits released here and there by Microsoft, it’s been shown that the company is going to go into a full DRM state, damning the possibilities of freely trading, selling, or renting games through any other means than supported trade-in companies. This is a huge, huge blow to the gaming community as managing digital rights (DRM) has been a hot-button topic since it started so many years ago. At the time of the press conference, this was not approached during the show, and we let it all slide.
Another huge issue that Microsoft didn’t talk about was the “Always On” status of its Xbox One. Essentially, a user would have to be logged on to the Internet in order to use the console and, if they didn’t, they would have a time limit during which their systems would remain active. Yes, you can imagine that Microsoft would want to clear that up too, right? Think of all the people who don’t have high speed Internet or who actually work and therefore can’t turn their consoles on daily — that needs to be addressed, right?
Microsoft said nothing. Not a peep.
What the company did say, however, is that it would be releasing the Xbox One in November at the sharpened steel price of $499. Yes. If you want to own something that, for now, tells you what to do instead of let you play at your own leisure, you will be dropping half a grand for it. With a steady and soft placement of the microphone to the ground, Microsoft stepped off the stage and pretty much everyone on my Twitter feed said the same, exact thing.
“Your move, Sony.”
Now I will go ahead and, with full disclosure, state that I was won over by Sony last year. As a gaming journalist, I’ve had to own every single current generation system. My shelves were and always have been lined with every product because I always, always stayed in the middle ground. That was, however, until Sony’s presentation last year. After carefully weighing the pros and cons of both consoles, companies, and ethics, I realized that only Sony had remained faithfully about me: a gamer. Microsoft wanted to pitch so much media at me and push its PCs in my face plus make me buy its points, its tablets, and its Xbox Live subscriptions just to talk to my friends that I got tired of it. I got tired of the machine.
Sony has always countered Microsoft’s desire for innovation with one that states: “Yes, this is nice, but we’re not done with controllers. Buttons, my friends. They’re here for us.” and I appreciate that. Sure, give us a PS Move and show us what the Eye can do, but let’s not forget that controllers got us here. Last year, there was a steady appreciation for us gamers at its conference and I left remembering that feeling I had when I first played the PlayStation. I left in awe.
There, now that I’ve let you know what you’re in for, let it not be said that I cannot appreciate either end and that I wasn’t keeping a close eye on Sony. I was terrified that all of the hype built up by how shady Microsoft was being was going to be nothing in comparison to the possible price point that the PS4 would be worth. I awaited to hear Sony’s answer to DRM and game sharing and just how the company felt about “Always On” technology.
The show started late and my goosebumps were on overdrive because I knew, somewhere, there had to have been clandestine meetings in the back. PowerPoint presentations being sorted over and scripts being re-written because, if that was not how it played out in the next two hours, I would be shocked.
Jack Tretton, the President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, came out on stage and had such a delightful look of pleasure upon his face. We knew we were in for it. After a bit of talk about the PlayStation Vita, an “ahead-of-its-time” piece of hardware that still hasn’t found its footing and will more than likely make a mark with the PS4, he finally came to discuss what was important.
He stood there, being watched by millions, as he stated that the PS4 would not have onboard DRM control. He has since stated that third-parties such as EA can do what they want, but Sony will not include DRM onboard and that, personally, is what I needed to hear. With the Xbox One, you’re required to daily authenticate the console or you’re not going to be able to play your offline games. What was Jack’s response to this? He declared that the PS4 will not require Internet to play offline games.
He hadn’t even hit the price point yet and people were standing up in their seats, surrounded in riotous applause and excitement because this is what the gamers wanted: freedom. People tweeted (I was one of them) about how Sony could possibly be delivering a killing strike toward Microsoft with these claims. Nobody wanted to be told what to do with their console and it has been something we’ve been fighting for for years and I stated as much when I realized, years ago, that I couldn’t even watch an .avi file on my Xbox without being on the Internet. We had restrictions for years, but they were coming to a halt with the death knell that Sony hushed out over the crowd and to its competitors.
We heard a bit more about some upcoming games for which all of us are excited, including exclusives and adopter promotions for Blizzard titles coming to Sony. Yes, we were all amped. It was good. We learned that our PlayStation Plus accounts would carry over to the PS4, giving us all an instant game collection as of year one. Huge deal. Sony, unlike Microsoft, which has you pay monthly to access multiplayer and video content, only uses its PlayStation Plus subscription service as a means for discounts, cloud storage, and an instant game collection that gives away free games close to weekly from its massive collection. We were happy to learn that we wouldn’t need to have separate PS+ accounts for the new console.
And then Jack Tretton came onstage, thus making our hearts clench and our fingers prepare to type furiously.
He announced that the PS4 would be available for $399.
This meant it was officially over for the day and the community built up from the gaming industry went onto Twitter to feverishly tweet its support and place its pre-orders as Sony had finally won out in the first stage console wars of 2013. It was heavy and it was emotional and every single one of us stepped away from our screens to give an exasperated question to our fellow enthusiasts and journalists:
“What the hell is going to happen next?”
Xbox One Vs. PS4: Which Console Will You Choose?
Now this was all in day one. E3 is known for showcasing huge, huge displays, but when the dust settles and the rubble flattens down, we start to get updates and disclosures. It is entirely possible that Microsoft will see what has just been volleyed and it will reverse its die-hard policies with the next console. The company never sets anything in stone and I’d be surprised if Microsoft didn’t counter with a possible firmware update after the release of the console to reverse the restrictions. It’s a bit too late in the game now to start repurposing consoles as we’ve got mere months until release into the holiday market, but it surely will show you where priorities lie.
Does Microsoft want your money bad enough that it’ll give the people what they want, or is it banking on the die-hards to buy its consoles anyway, restrictions be damned? Do you think Sony knocked it out of the park and waited for what Microsoft would announce on purpose? (I do!) Where do you stand on the announcements, and what do you think we’re going to see next? Do you think you’ll go with the Xbox One or the PS4?