This year’s E3 felt almost like it was over before it began. Though the conference lasts for days, both Microsoft and Sony made their announcements before the doors opened, showing not just hardware but also their lineup of launch and near-launch titles.
In doing so, each company has ignited a new chapter in the console war. While an ideal gamer’s den will have both, most people don’t have the money or need to grab two consoles at launch, so a choice must be made; Xbox One or PS4? I’ve put my money down for the Xbox, and here’s why.
The Games – Duh!
As a Wii U owner I’ve learned the hard way that games matter. A console without new content doesn’t get much playtime, so the exclusive titles slated for each system in the year after launch is important. And Microsoft has the stronger roster.
Surprisingly, only three of the One’s console exclusives come from recently active franchises, but they’re among the strongest in the industry; Forza, Halo, and Dead Rising. Other strong titles include Sunset Overdrive, a stylized shooter from Insomniac Games (best known for Ratchet & Clank and Resistance) and Titanfall, which comes from the developers who worked on Modern Warfare before it became the Madden NFL of first-person shooters.
When I say this roster is strong, I mean so in an objective sense. Most of the exclusives revealed are either part of a popular, well-reviewed franchise, or come from a developer with an excellent record. Sony’s got some decent stuff too, but Killzone is not as promising as Halo, Drive Club is not as promising as Forza, Knack is not as promising as Sunset Overdrive, and so on.
Many critical games that seemed like PS4 exclusives during its conference actually aren’t; Final Fantasy XV, Destiny and Kingdom Hearts III, for example, are cross-platform. The PS4’s exclusive list is now down to just six games, and two of them (Deep Down and The Order: 1886) are new IPs with few details released so far.
Television Does Matter
When Microsoft held its first press conference, the focus was on features besides games. Gamers were outraged! How dare anyone acknowledge other forms of entertainment!
But here’s the fact; television is important. Most of us watch it, and it’s not going away. The problem is that while technology becomes more advanced, our access to television has fragmented, which makes for a confusing experience. Personally, I have a Roku for streaming, a PS3 for Blu-Ray, and a computer for everything else. The result is five different remotes to shuffle around.
Xbox One aims to solve this inconvenience, and that’s actually a rather big deal, because none of the currently available solutions (like smart TVs) is adequate. There is a catch here; Microsoft has to deliver. If its interface is terrible, then it’s game over. But if the interface is good, the value Xbox One adds to the living room will be astounding.
A Better Kinect
The original Kinect was a huge commercial success. About 30% of all 360 owners bought one, which is a crazy good attach rate for peripheral, never mind one that sells for over $100. But Kinect also had its problems, including a general lack of precision and an inability to handle small rooms.
Kinect solves these complaints in three ways. First, resolution has been increased from 640×480 to 1080p, which translates to an almost seven-fold increase in sensor data. Second, a wide angle lens has been added to make the Kinect usable by someone standing just a few feet in front of it. And finally, the Xbox One’s more complex hardware will allow for more complex movement algorithms and faster processing of input data.
In practical terms, Kinect will give Xbox One a lock on the party game business. If you want to play a game like Just Dance, you’re going to want to do it on the Xbox One, end of story. Core games, on the other hand, will benefit from the increase in sensitivity. Facial tracking will be far improved, and gesture input can consist of a small hand wave rather than large, exaggerated movements. And since Kinect is bundled with every Xbox One, developers won’t feel that adding control for it is a waste of time.
The Cloud Is Here To Help
One of Microsoft’s big selling points is the cloud. While Sony intends to use cloud technology to stream games to the PS4, the Xbox One goes much further by offering developers access to a huge number of Xbox Live servers which can handle any sort of data imaginable.
Most people think of improved graphics as a potential benefit, but that’s actually one of the least suitable applications. The true benefit of the cloud is in features like persistent world-building, AI development and social sharing.
Forza 5 is the perfect example. The game will include a feature called “Drivatar” which builds a custom driving profile based on your movements that can be used to run races you don’t want to. More importantly, it’s uploaded to the cloud and used to build AI that drives like you and populates your fellow gamer’s single-player experience. Your Drivatar continues to race online when you’re not playing; when you log back in, you receive credit for races it won.
Now apply that thinking elsewhere. Developers could make multi-player team games more balanced by the insertion of AI bots that play according to a profile built from players who recently left the game. Or developers might let your AI profile manage your base in a strategy game while you fight a battle. Or there might be a persistent open-world combat game where players fight while also commanding an AI squad that uses profiles built from the play-styles of Xbox Live friends.
And this is just AI. The possibilities are almost limitless, and I’m sure developers will find many creative ways to use this feature.
Digital Is A Blessing, Not A Curse
I’ve been somewhat slow to embrace digital content, haven written in the past how I don’t like to buy games off Steam (particularly if not on sale). My concern, more than anything, is that the games we play have no future; they’ll eventually go offline and then never be experienced again.
But with that said, there’s good reason why Steam is the most popular PC gaming platform and phones have embraced digital as the only form of distribution. Digital distribution is convenient, instant, and just works. Yes, you can still buy games on disc for Xbox One, but there’s no particular reason to do so.
The complaint that gamers can’t share games by toting a game disc to a friend’s house misses the point. With the Xbox One, there will be no reason for that to ever happen. You can either log in to your friend’s console with your account, thus giving you access to your games, or you can share your game library using the Xbox One’s built-in share feature. Your friend can then play your games as long as you keep them on your share list, and the only restriction is that you can’t both play the same game at the same time.
Going digital also offers more opportunity for promotion and unique business models. We could see more aggressive sales, as Microsoft will have the ability to coordinate with all developers, rather than just those who opt in for digital distribution. And Microsoft has hinted developers could sell short-term passes to a game or even monthly access to a developer’s library – so perhaps rental is not dead just yet.
Update: Microsoft has changed its policy in the face of criticism. The Xbox One no longer requires an Internet connection every 24 hours and disc games can be freely re-sold. Unfortunately, this also means the digital sharing features will not be implemented. All games for the console will be available to download on release day, however.
The Xbox One is an incredible bundle of new technology and forward-looking initiatives. There are numerous features, including Kinect, Xbox Live cloud connectivity and HDMI-in, that the PS4 simply does not have and, more importantly, can’t easily emulate. And I didn’t even get the chance to talk about the Xbox One’s operating system, which is based on a Windows kernel and supports multi-tasking.
But ultimately, the core reason why I’ve picked the Xbox One over the PS4 is the game library. The list of PS4 exclusives is down to six, while the Xbox One has fourteen. Why buy a console with less great games to play?
Think you should buy a PS4 like my colleague Dave Parrack? Read his 5 reasons to buy a PlayStation 4 over the Xbox One.