After the knee-jerk reactions I shared with the crowds at E3 regarding the PS4, something akin to the tongueless shouts of the mob crowding the cage of Thunderdome, I started to look back at the event and securitize what was said and why.
The presentation was a mixed success, boring in some places, exciting in others, with the content high-point being the impressive display of independent games. However, the first smack to Microsoft’s happy sack came with Sony claiming the PS4 would not impose any restrictions on used games and would not insist on being persistently online. The fine print to stress is that this refers to disc-based games only, and that’s important. The second thump to the baby pump was the announcement that the PS4 would undercut the Xbox One by $100.
Firstly, to used games. I had commented that Microsoft’s draconian and honestly confusing restrictions on used games were a bit like strangling a limbless man while he’s drowning. Despite that near schizophrenic attitude publishers have with GameStop, the undeniable attitude still remains clear that GameStop’s current business model is not sustainable. They know this. Whether or not they adapt is up to them. Digital download is a growing segment of electronic sales; it already utterly dominates PC gaming, and its future with consoles is as fated as a romantic couple at the end of a Nicholas Sparks novel.
So Microsoft’s aggressive stance reminds me of the Maginot line—a stalwart defense against an opponent smart enough to avoid it. But beyond that the fact that the Xbox One will be hacked, you can’t escape the fact that it’s a fight against market trend which will eventually solve the problem on its own. Digital games cannot be sold or traded. Sony already stated against the fanfare that their celebrated stance on used games doesn’t apply to digital downloads. I said recently that in a few years, the optical drive on next gen consoles will vanish, probably with the mid-generation model release. This trend has already been seen in many retailers. Wal-Mart, Future Shop, Best Buy, and Superstore (yes, I’m Canadian) have already begun downsizing their console game departments, in many cases reallocating the space to make room for more wireless products (tablets and cellular accessories). These are the canaries; big-block retailers know how to maximize their floor space. So Sony announcing that they won’t block used games is an interesting ploy because they know they can earn considerable fan support without lifting a finger.
They don’t have to impose any Orwellian restrictions…they just need to sit back and let the market swing their way. When Sony saw the debacle after the Microsoft launch, they had to know they could milk it in their favor without changing their business model at all. Used games will die on their own without Microsoft’s strong arm routine.
As for the price, I’m willing to drop a bag of electrum right now that Sony had gone to E3 with several different animations listing different price points. They pulled off something similar when the Playstation went against Sega Saturn. Too young to remember? Let me explain. The year is 1995, the place: E3. Sega announces the Saturn’s price point at $399. Sony takes the stage a short time later and sucker punches Sega by announcing the Playstation at $299. They did this again in 2000 with the PS2 but despite not undercutting the competing Dreamcast, the PS2 did offer itself as a DVD player, which cost almost as much as a DVD player did at the time. So the price drop was not at all surprising, and I had shared with friends that Sony needed to win this next console generation given how badly they lost the current one, and the price was the best solution…and they delivered…but they also needed to make sure that they undercut the Xbox One by the right amount. If Xbox was going to be $599, the PS4 would be $499. $549 gets beaten by $449. Sony number crunchers were probably franticly trying to gauge the best price. They probably considered going $449 until the word came down to go to $399. A hundred bucks is a cover page announcement.
My friend told me that Microsoft will probably counter-announce a price drop, but this is not new release Tuesday for a Pixar movie. If Sony bullies the Xbox One down in price, it will show a weakness in Microsoft’s resolve. They may still ultimately reduce the price, but this will occur much later. There is nothing to be gained responding to Sony now. So, yes, I give this round to Sony. People compliment Microsoft’s exclusives but let’s cut to the chase. Halo is a falling sun with Bungie working on Destiny, and I loved Mirror’s Edge, but that’s not an exclusive title to be proud of given the lackluster sales of the first game. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the year turns out. A lack of a release date on Sony’s part indicates the PS4 will be out before Christmas but after Thanksgiving, giving the Xbox a few weeks of breathing room before their competition hits the scene. The last point of concern with me will be units shipped. Sony needs to deliver the goods…literally, because having manned the PS3 launch, I’ll tell you it was God damned painful.