The PS4 Situation, Or How Sony Can Now Ride On Microsoft's Back
Having followed the next-generation consoles situation closely over the past few months, I can safely say that it's been one of the most interesting pre-launch campaigns from both companies that I've ever seen. However, if I had to pick a winner between the three giants, I'd have to say that Sony seems to be, far and away, the most well-prepared and intelligent player of the three. Obviously, we already know the situation Nintendo is in, so I'd like to leave them out of my reflection. The subject of their struggles has been discussed time and time again.
A smarter design
First of all, there's the similarities and differences in both consoles' architectures. While both the Xbox One and PS4 offer many similarities between both of their products, it's interesting to note how much better the PlayStation 4 seems to have turned out in almost every aspect of the hardware itself. Not only is the system significantly more powerful than its counterpart on paper, but its architecture is also less customized, simpler to build, simpler to develop for, while also boosting a more elegant internal design which results in the system itself reducing its footprint considerably. The reason behind all that is pretty complex, but to put it in simple terms, the bulk of the credit needs to go to the lead system architect of the PS4: Mark Cerny. Cerny and the hardware team have made an early bet in the development of the console by choosing GDDR5 as the solution for the system's memory, as opposed to what was then a safer, less expensive choice in a DDR3 + esRAM combo. Obviously, the bet has paid off, resulting in what we see today.
The benefits of following their own path
Beyond that, Sony seems to have had the luxury of a much smoother development period behind the scenes, as well as a seemingly better controlled environment that ended up causing less material leaks than what happened at Microsoft. These leaks on the Xbox One started much earlier, and turned out to be much more accurate than those concerning the PS4. It appears as though Microsoft was counting on Sony choosing a similar strategy to them to make the Xbox One competitive on the market. Not only was the previously filed Sony patent to use DRM for disc-based games misleading, but it almost seems like it was a planned move by Sony to push Microsoft on the path they ultimately chose. All of the noise following E3 has actually forced Microsoft to do a complete 180 on their plans, a telling sign that something went wrong along the way.
Another similar situation is the one surrounding the PS4 Eye, which was implied to be included in the console since the february reveal. That assumption most likely comforted Microsoft in their plans to include Kinect One with every Xbox One that they sold, as they expected Sony to focus on a similar device with lesser specs. On top of that, Sony even reportedly sent information to their retail partners mentioning that their target price for the PS4 was $499, and that it would include the PS Eye. This kind of information can reliably leak out to their competitors, and it looks like it may have been an intentional move by Sony this time around. Microsoft must have thought they had this in the bag, with a console launching at the same price, with a much more impressive motion sensor in Kinect 2.0.
PS4 Eye left to die? I don't think so.
If you've read this entire blog post, you may be thinking that Sony has hit a homerun with their strategy for the system. However, many people seem to think that dropping the PS Eye from the console bundle means that Sony is sending the device to die. I beg to differ. Not only does Sony get to offer people the choice of getting the device or not, but by (possibly intentionally) leading Microsoft to include Kinect with every Xbox One, Sony may have assured support for their device as well. It's important to note that third party developers always look to achieve feature parity between consoles IF it's technically possible, and if it doesn't increase cost or development time of their projects. Considering that, I fail to see how third parties like EA or Ubisoft would offer Kinect functionality in their titles, but wouldn't port over the feature to the PS4 at minimal cost, considering that the features would already be fully developed for another platform. The lower price of the PS4 + PS Eye combo, compared to the Xbox One, also strongly helps towards the goal of a faster adoption rate for Sony's console, which may lead to more support from developers.
With all that in mind, it seems like Microsoft has an uphill battle to fight for the first time in a long time. They have to justify the higher price, as well as the mandatory inclusion of their Kinect sensor, in a world where their competitors are set to offer the same functionality, or potentially even more, in a more elegant package. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below!
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