Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and the "battle for the living room"

By Peter Gothard
08 Jan 2014 View Comments
Microsoft Xbox One console and kinect

Back in August 2012, all kinds of fanciful notions for the "next generation" of games consoles seemed possible.

Further reading

Instead of being purely games machines, Computing forecast, they would be designed as all-encompassing "home entertainment centres", providing shopping services and maybe even some productivity applications for every home - all from one connected, all-in-one device. 

The winner in this battle would enjoy the kind of global influence and near-monopoly riches that today's entertainment companies can only dream of. 

But so far the reality, certainly as far as Sony's PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Microsoft's Xbox One are concerned, has been quite a disappointment alongside the rumours and hints originally peddled by the companies (especially Microsoft).

Instead of providing a major leap into the future, it feels as if they are only inching closer to the kind of goals spelt out by Microsoft founder Bill Gates in his original preview of things to come, The Road Ahead, published in the mid-1990s.

The problem may have come from expecting video game players to lead the revolution. But instead of enthusiastically accept a totally cloud-based, disc-less ecosystem, they rebelled.

The user reactions to Microsoft's summer "reveal" of its Xbox One console were unprecedented in their ferocity. In the same way that Vietnam is often described as the first "media war" - with full colour television news describing the conflict in near-real-time - 2013's E3 conference felt like the first "social media war" for new consumer technology.

Quite simply, gamers didn't buy it. The result was an enormous backlash against Microsoft's digital-first strategy. Microsoft's promises of software only downloadable from its own servers, with saved data backed up in the cloud and even game content streamed directly to increment experiences just turned everyone off.

Within weeks, Microsoft had pledged to scale down its cloud obsession and focus, once again, on the Blu-ray disc medium. Second-hand software sales would carry on as before, and everybody could be happy playing their games.

Sony's message, meanwhile, was entirely focused on the games - the advertising slogan specifically stated: "This is for the gamers". Despite offering interesting Wi-Fi-based connectivity between its home PS4 console and hi-spec handheld, the PS Vita, the PS4 seems even more games-focused than its predecessor.

Early in 2014, it was even revealed that Microsoft's Xbox One, which was finally released in November 2013, along with Sony's PS4, was once destined to be entirely disc-less. Indeed, Microsoft Studios' head, Phil Spencer, even revealed that "there was a real discussion about whether we should have an optical disc drive in Xbox One or if we could get away with a purely disc-less console. But when you start looking at bandwidth and game size, it does create issues".

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