E3 – the great Microsoft implosion?

Meet the new PS4.  Yep, that's a black box alright...
Meet the new PS4. Yep, that’s a black box alright…

Well, that escalated quickly, didn’t it?

I was less than impressed with Microsoft’s vision of the future with the debut of the Xbox One console back at the end of May.

In a move perhaps destined to frame the console’s identity for the next few years, Microsoft talked about everything that the console would do other than games, prompting a planetary chorus of core gamers to vent their fury and get bent out of shape about being abandoned.

I confess to being one of those affronted voices – but we were reassured by Microsoft and their press supporters that the full story would be shown at E3 in June when the focus would very much be on interactive entertainment, and that the new system’s list of exclusive titles would silence dissenting voices about the console’s gaming credibility.

Image via Polygon.com
The new sci-fi shooter from Respawn Entertainment, Mech-em-up “Titanfall”

When it came to exclusives, Microsoft’s deep pockets certainly made it rain.  The new game from the creators of “Call of Duty”, Respawn Entertainment’s third-person sci-fi shooter “Titanfall”, “Dead Rising 3”, a new “Killer Instinct”, “Quantum Break”, Crytek’s “Gladiator”-em-up, “Ryse: Son of Rome”, a new “Scott Pilgrim”-meets-“Jet Set Radio”-meets-“Borderlands” shooter from stalwart Sony studio Insomniac, “Sunset Overdrive” were all shown during the Xbox One conference and seemed to inspire a great deal of excitement amongst gamers on Twitter…

…until the price of the system was revealed.

Microsoft, with the tone-deaf and blithely ignorant corporate arrogance which has become their defining characteristic in the last few years, are charging $500.00 for their console.  A price which, of course, remains more or less intact in Europe, with the company using some kind of arcane formula to price the system at £429.00 and 499 Euro.

Microsoft point to the bundled Kinect camera and the fact that it’s now integral to the operation of the console to account for this ludicrous pricing but that’s not really a good explanation – I don’t have a Kinect for Xbox 360 and have never wanted one.  It’s Microsoft’s decision to base their system’s user interface experience largely around a device which only works in the kind of larger living rooms enjoyed by the upscale, cash-rich North American demographic they are solely targeting with this device.

As I’ve posted previously, this will be the first Microsoft system that I won’t be buying and nothing that Microsoft showed or said at E3 2013 has done anything to change that:  draconian digital rights management restrictions on users, games which largely revolve around murdering people, a wholesale lack of interest in engaging with the community who have previously supported their games consoles, a complete inability to head off consumer bewilderment with some of the more divisive messaging employed by MS developers, the utter insanity of having grinning plastic spokes-replicant Don Mattrick head up their conferences…

You have to ask – is Xbox One the biggest troll in history?  Are Microsoft desperately trying some kind of Mel Brooks-like “Springtime for Hitler” gambit in order to once and for all get out of the cut-throat games console business , by publicly espousing notions so dogmatic and abrasive that they alienate the core gamer and allow the company to bail out of the sector once and for all?

As for Sony, they certainly gave the impression of doing everything right.  Their stance on DRM may seem more consumer friendly, but hands responsibility to publishers for locking out access to second-hand games, so is more a guess of letting the EA’s and Activisions of the world be the bad guy than an honest attempt to take an ethical position.

The PS4 is again region-free, with the option again going to publishers to lock-down access to a title – oh hai, there, various Japanese RPG titles! – if they don’t have a publishing deal in a particular global territory.   And their PS4 is around a hundred dollars/pounds/euro cheaper than Xbox One – until you consider the cost of the add-on PS camera and the fact that online multi-player is now embedded within the PS Plus subscriber option, which brings prices of systems roughly in line.  If you’re not bothered about either, or the MS exclusives, the PS4 seems like the system to go for.

I’m going to wait it out and get through my stockpile of PS3 games – which grows ever greater thanks to the wonders of PS Plus – before deciding whether I need to pick up a PS4.  The games don’t appear to be there yet.

For Victoria!  Ready At Dawn's Steamy, Punky "The Order:1886"
For Victoria! Ready At Dawn’s Steamy, Punky “The Order:1886”

We saw lots of multi-platform titles from Ubisoft and Sony promised an extensive tranche of titles in the pipeline but didn’t wheel out much that was concrete – Ready At Dawn’s steampunk action title “The Order:1886” was shown in pretty c.g. trailer form, but there needs to be more meat on the bones.  For a system which is supposed to do games as it’s prime focus, there wasn’t a lot that you couldn’t get elsewhere, bar Sucker Punch’s impressive-looking “Infamous: Second Son”.



A mixed bag, then?  I’m intrigued to see what the second wave of next-gen titles brings us and what that price difference will add to the conversation this Christmas?  Will all that gamer talk of boycotts and contempt for Microsoft translate into real action when the systems are in shops?

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