Go Ahead, Abandon the Xbox One

Xbox One

No, seriously. If you have an Xbox One, get rid of it. It’s a completely rational move to make, considering how badly Microsoft botched the launch of its latest failure. And, now that sales figures indicate Sony’s PS4 is the runaway victor in this epic, two-month-old battle, experts are encouraging all Microsoft supporters to self-flagellate until rationality is attained, or consciousness is lost, whichever comes first.  (Additional discounts are available if you record the flagellation on your NSA-activated Kinect.)

Sigh.

In just a few short months since the latest round of the console wars began, the gaming media has managed to reduce its credibility to new lows. “Mommy blog” lows. “Supermarket tabloid” lows. “Glowing reviews of direct-to-DVD action flick” lows.

This week, the NPD released its US sales figures for January 2014, which showed that Sony’s impressive new machine outsold the more enigmatic Xbox nearly two-to-one since the beginning of the year. This added unneeded fuel to a fire already riddled with questionable sales figures, obtuse console specs and misquoted game developer opinions – all of which have declared a clear winner in a race that has just begun.

Now, make no mistake, Sony has done just about everything right since launching the PS4, while the once-mighty Microsoft is now in the rare position of underachieving with each of its big products. Instead of dominating the console war out of the gate, as it did in 2005, Microsoft now must include the Xbox One alongside Windows 8 and Windows Phone—strong products hampered by a lack of understanding and public acceptance.

The only difference is that, while Windows 8 and Windows Phone remain a little too radical for an icon-dependent consumer base, the Xbox One stands a very good chance of reclaiming a good chunk of lost ground from Sony, even if it’s not “the better machine.”

Here are a few reasons why…

  1. Gaming’s Future Lies in the Cloud

As of this writing, no one really knows what Microsoft has planned for its supposed cloud-based gaming services. While company reps have repeatedly vaunted the One’s future ability to render graphics and game AI through cloud services, they have been tight-lipped about how it will actually benefit the system’s performance.

Will it produce better graphics on par with the PS4? Will games load faster than the PS4? No one knows for sure, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear explanation coming anytime soon.

Still, Microsoft didn’t become a juggernaut by accident. The odds of them releasing notably inferior hardware without having a hidden trump card are slim. The odds of them accepting “also-ran” status for living room dominance are even slimmer.

Maybe the cloud-based services are just that – gas and vapor. But, you just have to believe that the Xbox One is going to be more competitive as the generation rolls on. The cloud is likely a big part of the plan.

  1. My Exclusives Can Beat Up Your Exclusives”

More than a decade ago, Microsoft went from a computer company to a gaming contender on the shoulders of one game: Halo: Combat Evolved. Though the series has seen its share of peaks and valleys, the epic shooter has become as synonymous with console video games as Mario, Link, Pac-Man or Lara Croft. No matter how many more pixels the PS4 churns out, it will never have Halo. And, when the game is released, you can bet a slew of Xbox Ones will be purchased at the same time.

This isn’t limited to iconic space marines, either. Microsoft’s upcoming exclusives include next-generation versions of popular franchises Gears of War and Fable, as well as a massive new IP known as Titanfall, which Microsoft is banking on in a big way.

Sony has plenty of good exclusives of its own, but none are system-movers like those slated to appear on the Xbox One.

  1. Kinect and SmartGlass

When Microsoft launched Kinect for the Xbox 360, most gaming insiders knew it wasn’t a peripheral as much as it was a litmus test for the next generation of machines. It was gimmicky and under-utilized, but hinted at a more interesting gaming future.

The Xbox One comes standard with a much-improved Kinect sensor, and Microsoft – despite mounting concerns over gaming privacy (and perversion) – plans to implement it into most titles moving forward.

The same can be said for Xbox SmartGlass, a mobile phone and tablet app that serves as an active second screen for a variety of gaming purposes. Though currently a novelty, upcoming games are being designed with SmartGlass immersion in mind.

In a generation that is currently being defined by better-looking rehashes of well-worn content, having new, unique ways to play will likely be a large factor in console sales over the lifetime of this generation.

  1. People Love an Underdog

Sony has clever marketers. When Microsoft swung and missed with its public announcement of the Xbox One, focusing on entertainment rather than game titles, Sony quickly swooped in and deemed itself as solely focused on games, gamers and gaming. It was smart, opportunistic branding, and seems to be paying off handily.

But, lest we forget, it was just seven years ago that these same fans “abandoned” Sony’s Playstation brand for Xbox, because of the myriad entertainment and online experiences offered by the 360. Did that really affect the long-term performance of the PS3? Not even close. The only difference between 2006 and today is which corporate giant is playing the role of “underdog.”Both of these machines want to dominate your living room. Both will stream movies, browse the Web, download apps and let you call Grandma in high definition. And both will play amazing video games.

Once the hubbub about system power and brand loyalty quiets to a dull roar, fans will notice the Xbox One has some pretty neat tricks up its sleeve. Maybe not enough to make the Xbox One a top-seller, but certainly enough to end some meaningless discussions.

  1. Diminishing Returns

For all the talk of differences in graphical fidelity, console memory and the like, no one seems to be addressing the obvious – both of these systems produce fantastic looking games, and are equally significant upgrades over their predecessors.

Yes, the PS4 is a side-by-side winner in the looks department, and appears to have the most hardware upside. But, by a show of hands, how many gamers are noticing grass textures or light reflections when digital bullets are whizzing by their headsets? Likely, not many.

Unlike previous generations, this round of console wars sees technology approaching the ever-elusive “Uncanny Valley” – that grail-like line between digital images and reality. And, with each incremental step we’ve taken closer to that line, we are “wowed” less and less often.

Do the systems differ in graphics? Absolutely. Do they differ as much as much as the Super Nintendo did from the Sega Genesis nearly 20 years ago? Not even close.

No matter how many technical specs are bandied about, both of these systems produce unprecedented visual experiences, yet neither will overwhelmingly trump the other. Over time, gamers will put these numbers aside and just enjoy the games for what they are, rather than what they could, or should, be.

In the end, games are what it all comes down to. The system with the best, must-have titles will “win” this round. Of course, it will likely end in a near-tie, setting consumers up for another exciting, statistics-driven console war in the next five to seven years.

The gaming media probably already predicted a winner of that race, too.

Editorial by Brad Bortone

Sources:

Venture Beat
International Business Times
Xbox Wire