The Great Next-Gen Role Reversal

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May 22, 2013 by Pete_XXVII

With Sony and Microsoft having both finally announced their new machines we finally have a chance to compare how the two of them will match up. The make up of the actual machines will be very similar, both more similar to current high-end PCs than the traditional console formula. However, since they last released new consoles, 7 years ago, the console space has changed. Casual gaming has become a respectable genre in it’s own right and the rise of mobile gaming has shown that people are hungry for new ways to play. So what kind of response do the traditional gaming giants have? Bizarrely they seem to have just changed positions with each other.

Let me explain. During this generation Sony have focused a lot more than Microsoft on expanding their machine into an entertainment hub. Sure the Xbox is a great way to stream movies or listen to music, but the core focus has been on games. The lack of a blu-ray drive has been a major reason in Microsoft lagging behind Sony in this regard, with the PS3 being the console more likely to become a media centre.

This probably explains why the Microsoft reveal was so entertainment heavy (and so game light). As far as they are concerned the Xbox has always been able to sell it’s gaming credentials to the public, but it’s been light on it’s broader potential. This is why the features on it’s television, internet streaming and social side were so emphasised, perhaps to the detriment of the games themselves.

On the other hand Sony were very keen to show off their games. Despite having the greater pedigree, in historical terms, the emphasis on their reveal show was most definitely the games. The design of the console was intended to give greater control to developers. The stream of developers who come on to testify to this was Sony’s way of saying “look, we listened to you this time.” It’s well known that Sony’s bespoke design for the PS3 led to many difficulties in the console’s early life so the emphasis on how they’ve gone back to their roots was timely. It seems odd that the Playstation should have to sell itself as a gaming machine but the modest success of the Vita shows what happens when Sony stray too far from the task of showing off how good they are at making game.

Once upon a time this was the balance of the two. With the PS2 were the hardcore gamers, those who loved having the exclusives and the best versions of the best games. The original Xbox had the more ‘casual’ gamers, those who liked the custom soundtracks and the new feel of the design. Then came the current generation. With one stroke, and a few months headstart, Microsoft managed to make the 360 ‘the’ gaming machine. Sony had so much catching-up to do that the PS3 became the console that managed to do more, but do it not quite so well. For the first few years at least the ports to Sony’s consoles were definitely inferior to PC and 360 versions.

The definitions between the 360 and the PS3 have become blurred in the last couple of years, and particularly the last few months. The Last of Us has the chance to become one of the games of the generation and it is a Sony exclusive and Beyond is also looking exciting. The reason for this blurring is simple. Right now, Sony and Microsoft need each other. Neither console can survive without the other being successful. There will always be room for a dedicated hardcore gaming machine but if either fails then the chance for casual and mobile gaming to take over becomes enormous.

Rivalry between console manufacturers has always been a good thing. We’ve had Sega vs Nintendo; Nintendo vs Sony and now Sony vs Microsoft. It should be remembered that there has always been a winner and a loser but the competition between the two has meant that both have had to up their game. With what could be the final generation of consoles as we know them coming to us by the end of the year, it’s certainly going to be an interesting fight.

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