Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Can The Xbox Event Sway Sony Fanboys?

In case you haven't heard, Microsoft will finally lift the curtain on their next generation system in a matter of hours. A fellow gamer asked me yesterday, "you excited about tomorrow?" Honestly? I'd completely forgotten about the event today. Full disclosure here: I've never owned a Microsoft console, yet I've owned seven between Nintendo and Sony. So as a self-proclaimed Sony Fanboy, is there anything at all Microsoft can show today that will win me over?

It certainly won't be easy as I've enjoyed my PS3 immensely and love what I've seen thus far about the PS4...but I'm entering today with an open mind. I've never been one to shy away from "jumping ship" across generations or even being a multi-console owner. Growing up, I could only purchase one system and it had to be an appropriately priced system. Now as an adult, my chief concern when I purchase a console is all about the games.

Rumors leading up to the Xbox event suggest Microsoft's "Project Durango" will likely focus more on being an entertainment box that happens to play games, rather than a gaming machine that also features useful applications. Such a move may actually propel Microsoft to the front of the pack this generation as they seek to expand the market and draw in more casual gamers.

On the surface (pardon the Microsoft pun), that strategy seems likely to yield enormous profits; however, I'm not so sure. Microsoft could be on the verge of alienating its core base: the gamer. It's crucial they never lose site of who made an Xbox 360 possible. Gamers made it possible, both through their support of the original Xbox and their early support of the 360.

To win over a Sony fanboy, Microsoft must show a focus on the gamer and the games. It's completely understandable to pursue other audiences by offering entertainment options, but the core focus should be about games. Here's a list I've put together on how Microsoft could win me over today and at least pique my interest in purchasing the next-generation Xbox.

  1. Quality, New Exclusives- Regardless of which console you own, there's really no doubt that Sony dominated with exclusives this generation. Xbox had mega hits in both Gears of War and Halo, yet Sony offered a more diverse and unique range of titles such as Uncharted, Heavy Rain, Infamous, Journey, and of course, God of War. Gamers need to see a new commitment from Microsoft to focus on quality first-party titles. I'm not talking timed-exclusive Call of Duty DLC; there needs to be more. Now that Bungie has gone multi-platform, what will be the next Xbox's must-have title? A Gears of War game would certainly sell to the Xbox faithful, I don't know that it would do much to sway a dedicated PlayStation gamer. I need to see something refreshing, new, and innovative.
  2. Powerful and Affordable- Again, early rumors suggest the Xbox will be underpowered in comparison to the PS4 as Microsoft seeks to create a more affordable console. Sony even surprised developers when they revealed the PS4 would come packed with 8GB of GDDR5 RAM. Many expected only 4GB and while rumors indicate the new Xbox will have 8GB of RAM as well, it seems Microsoft is sticking with the slower, but more common DDR3 RAM. I'm not saying it needs to out-power the PS4 in every aspect, but I do think it needs to be close enough that the difference is negligible.  
  3. Free On-line- With the success of Xbox Live and its monthly fee, I find it highly unlikely Microsoft will make this a reality. That still doesn't mean it's the right decision. For years, fanboys argued the premium price resulted in a better experience over Sony's (free) PlayStation Network. Sure, the 360 had a great interface, but I could perform every single feature on the PS3...all for free. I already pay for an internet connection, I pay for the game, and I pay for a console...why should I be forced to pay again just to play that game online? If you're going to charge a monthly fee, there must be something more than just granting permission to play a game online. There must tangible extras that present a significant benefit, such as Sony's PlayStation Plus program, rather than just saying "it runs better."
  4. More Open Xbox Live Arcade- Indie developers consistently cite Microsoft as the most difficult to deal with in terms of publishing an indie title. As we shift further toward an all-digital future, it's imperative Microsofts works to repair these relationships. The gap in quality between a digital release and a full-fledged retail release simply doesn't exist any more. Just scroll through a list of last year's Game of the Year announcements where you'll find Journey recognized as the overall game of the year by several outlets. 
  5. Don't make it "always online"- Yet another incessant rumor leading up to today's event has been whether or not Microsoft will require an Internet connection for the next Xbox. Look, I have a reliable internet connection...so why do I have a problem with this? First, there are so many parts of the world that don't have access to the type of connection the next Xbox would require. On a more personal level, there are times I take my console away from home to visit with friends or family who don't have as strong a connection as I do at home, or don't even have a connection at all. Would these scenarios literally prevent me from playing a game on the Xbox? I can't imagine Microsoft would go down the route of making a console completely dependent on an internet connection. And let's face it, no matter how reliable your internet connection, it's always going to go down at some point. 
I can't wait to see what Microsoft has in store as it will undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping the games industry for the next decade. As for whether or not Microsoft can win over this Sony fanboy, we'll just have to wait and see. 

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