When the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both launched in November last year, they faced both their fair share of fans and critics, with some folks not getting enough of the new technology going into them, while others insisting that there needed to be more games in order for them to take off. You know, the typical praise and criticism you're likely to see with any new game system.
However, now that the dust has settled and both systems have fallen into a comfortable groove (with various titles on the way leading into the holiday season), it's time to look back and see how both companies have fared since that time. A lot of changes have been made, particularly in Microsoft's camp, and it's time to see if they're continuing to make the grade, or if there are still things that need to be worked on.
So let's begin with the report cards!
First off, Microsoft has made significant progress with the system since it's been announced. It's done away with the strict DRM model in favor of accepting used games (like Sony announced at E3 last year) and has even managed to woo the indie game scene, something that a lot of gamers though it would never do.
In terms of game releases, Microsoft has also managed to score some rather big fish in its pond. Leading the charge is Titanfall, a terrific multiplayer shooter that continues to make big strides today, thanks to the release of the new Frontier's Edge pack. Microsoft also earns points for including the game prominently in its advertising, even if Aaron Paul does accidentally turn on Xbox One systems that are connected to a Kinect. (Hey, small setback.)
Finally, perhaps the most crucial move on the company's part is allowing the Kinect to be optional. A lot of people weren't thrilled about having to pay an extra $100 to have a Kinect sitting on their shelves, particularly for two reasons: they're not using it, and some even consider it a surveillance device, even through Microsoft has argued otherwise. With the $400 bundle not including the device, it allows players to have a little more freedom (and relaxation) with their purchase, even if that means having to manually log in. It goes a long way when it comes to competing with the PlayStation 4.
As great as it is to see Microsoft make the Kinect optional, it forgot how to make it essential for some players. As a result, games like Kinect Sports Rivals have failed to find a truly stable audience, and Harmonix will see an uphill struggle when it launches Dance Central Spotlight and Fantasia: Music Evolved later in the year. Microsoft should do more for developers who are looking to continue making motion-supported games.
Also, the interface could use a little more work. While it's easier to find games and movies on the service, having to manually log in (without the Kinect) is tiring, and sometimes the Bing search tool isn't nearly as helpful as it could be.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that we haven't seen too much first-party push for the system since its release. Sure, we've gotten some good games like Forza Motorsport 5 and Ryse: Son of Rome, but more effort to keep consistent releases coming would've been nice. Thankfully, Microsoft will rectify this issue sooner rather than later, as big releases like Forza Horizon 2 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection will certainly keep us busy.
Microsoft has come a long way to earning the favor of gamers, even if some things still need to be settled to make the Xbox One the true system to beat. Still, this next year will be interesting for the company, as well as those tagging along for the ride. Let's see what happens next.
Sony has proven that it's caring about the gamers with its newest console, and last year's E3 was a big push in that direction, with a lower price point, no DRM from the get-go, and the promise of an expansive game library with the PlayStation Now service. It's also managed to stay consistent with online connectivity through the PlayStation Network, even if a few bugs still need to be worked out here and there. Hey, it beats trying to connect with the Nintendo Network, at least.
Comfort and convenience have been two of the system's high points. The DualShock 4 has proven to be the company's best controller in years, while the PlayStation Store is easy to access when it comes to buying games, movies and such. The interface isn't half bad either, as you can scroll through to your favorite games and services with ease.
Sony also has the better system when it comes to setting up video clips and live streams, thanks to the introduction of the SHARE Factory and its numerous features. More people are streaming now than ever before, even if all the channels aren't exactly noteworthy with content. No matter, as there's something for everyone.
Finally, the game supply has been great, with such titles as The Last of Us Remastered and Infamous: Second Son gathering strong first-party support, and plenty of third parties like Ubisoft offering exclusive content for the system. There are plenty of positives here.
There was a time that Sony was suffering setbacks with availability of the system, a problem that has since been remedied thanks to a slower summer season. However, the team will probably have to work overtime this holiday season to prevent such a shortage from being a repeat issue. Chances are there will be a lot of work that needs to go into that.
Sony also needs to do more to give its holiday line-up a push. There hasn't been much say about what to expect from either DriveClub or LittleBigPlanet 3, and these are coming from high-quality developers. Worse yet, the word continues to be mum on The Order: 1866, despite a somewhat large push at E3. Sony should also put indie games in its promotion somewhere, especially considering such great games as 1001 Spikes and Rogue Legacy are in its line-up. Where's Kevin Butler when you need him?
PlayStation Now has recently launched in beta, but it's severely laden with problems. The game rental prices in themselves are way too high for their own good, as they're even charging more than the games initially sold for on the PS3/PS Vita. Worse yet, there's no sign of PS1/PS2 releases as first promised. Sony just needs to get a working program for this, before people lose interest in the service altogether.
Sony has lived up to its name of being a powerhouse in the game industry, as the PlayStation 4 is quite an impressive piece of tech, with a number of great retail and downloadable games to choose from. There's a lot that's on the horizon as well. However, now the marketing team really needs to step up and get people excited for what's ahead, and PlayStation Now needs to shuffle around to being useful, rather than overpriced and underhyped. Sony needs to make the right moves to become king of the industry, before Microsoft can steal its thunder.