After years of only playing on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, gamers finally saw the next generation of gaming arrive in 2013, when both Microsoft and Sony released their new consoles.
Immediately, the war for console gamers heated up, but after E3 that year, Sony clearly came out on top. First, Microsoft took a lot of heat for some of its controversial leaked policies regarding the Xbox One, including an always-on digital rights management system, as well as forcing players to use Kinect. Eventually, Microsoft renounced those policies, but when the consoles went on sale later that year, players didn’t forget those initial fails.
Sales for the first two years of the next-generation consoles clearly saw the PlayStation 4 as the winner in the next-generation competition. Although Microsoft has done its best to placate gamers, the Xbox One still struggles to keep up with the PlayStation 4.
With Black Friday right around the corner, with special deals for both consoles likely to happen, what can Microsoft do to turn the tide? Here’s how Xbox One can become more competitive with the PlayStation 4.
This month saw the arrival of backward compatibility on the Xbox One, which did a lot to drive sales for the console (October 2015 even saw Xbox One sales beat PlayStation 4 sales). Backward compatibility means that players can still play many of their Xbox 360 games on their Xbox One, motivating many to finally upgrade to the next-gen console. More than 100 Xbox 360 games will become playable on the Xbox One, with Microsoft promising more titles to come.
“Xbox One Backward Compatibility will be available at no additional charge, so you won’t have to pay to play games you already own,” wrote Microsoft on the Xbox website. “Not only is backward compatibility one of the most-requested fan features, it’s also part of our vision to provide the biggest and best games catalog without limits, so you can get more out of the investment you’ve made in your game collection, and your games library is not limited to just one device.”
Of all the moves that Microsoft could make to become more competitive with Sony’s console, backward compatibility is probably one of the most important. Sony has PlayStation Now, which charges players for the service of playing older PlayStation titles, but with Microsoft offering something similar for free, Sony can’t compete.
Another way Xbox One can move more units is by lowering the price. Adopting next-generation consoles early on isn’t exactly cheap (with both systems initially going for around $400), but now that these consoles have been out for two years, the price wars will likely begin this year. Microsoft already started offering a Kinect-free version of the Xbox One for $50 less, making the console less expensive than the PlayStation 4.
However, to win the next-gen console race, Microsoft needs to do even better, perhaps by knocking off $100. It’s likely that Black Friday will see such a price drop, perhaps for both systems, but Microsoft could do even better if it kept the price at $299 or less year-round.
Although gamers generally have a little money to throw around, those hesitant to upgrade might become more willing to do so if the price of the console costs less than a PC.
Perhaps where the Xbox One fails the most is in its games exclusive to its system: Microsoft seems focused on only capturing players with interest in third-person shooters and Call of Duty clones. However, it completely misses that market of players who like games with a little more story and content.
Innovative games is where Sony excels, with this year seeing the release of Until Dawn, a story-driven game where every choice made has a consequence and affects the story. These aren’t the kind of games players see much of on Xbox One, and Microsoft needs to start partnering with new game developers who can see beyond the box of standard shooters. Sure, Xbox One gets Rise of the Tomb Raider as an exclusive, but only for a limited time. The game will eventually get a release on the PS4, too. That’s probably not enough to drive console sales.
Also, Sony has always had a good relationship with smaller game developers and embraces the indie game market. Xbox’s relationship with indie game devs is less than stellar, and the company even once established that all Xbox One games had to have a publisher, something many indie games do not have. However, the company changed its mind and now states it allows self-published games.
However, is this a case of too little, too late? Small developers already have a good working relationship with Sony. Most prefer to spend their valuable time and money working with just one platform. Microsoft really needs to start holding out its hand out to these developers to entice them to embrace the Xbox One.
Regardless, Sony has more of a variety of games that cover different genres and appeal to more gamers. Microsoft needs to embrace that if it wants to catch up.
If this year’s E3 was any example, virtual reality will soo become not just the future of gaming, but the present of the industry. Although developers always toyed with the idea of VR, 2015 was the year that those ideas became a reality. Sony released the prototype for its PlayStation VR system (formerly called “Project Morpheus”) and had more games to demo than any other company at E3 2015. It also works with any standard PS4 console, which means it could come in at a lower price than other systems, too.
However, Microsoft could quickly catch up to Sony with VR because the company has a partnership with Oculus Rift, a system that’s been in development for years. Microsoft also announced a partnership with Valve for that company’s VR system. However, neither of these are proprietary to Microsoft, which means that users would have to pony up more dollars to play VR on the Xbox One than on the PS4.
Microsoft needs to compete in the VR arena, though, to keep up with the PlayStation 4. The company should eventually invest in its own VR system, because working with third-party systems makes the process too complicated for gamers. Microsoft also needs more games to show off with VR, but partnerships with two separate systems could help it achieve that goal.