“We’ve got a year to sell as many of these things as possible.”
Two Xbox bosses bellowed at each other in the aftermath of 360′s Games Convention press conference in 2005. The atmosphere crackled with “go”. Xbox 360 was to beat PlayStation 3 to market and Microsoft knew it had sledgehammered its way into the console industry’s executive bathroom. Chests were puffed. Sony was stuffed. Microsoft benefited greatly from an early Xbox 360 release, especially in America. You have no competition if you’re the only option available.
The same can be applied to mind-share. Going first works.
Commentators call it “first-mover advantage” for a reason. Microsoft’s strategy left Sony in front of a wincing crowd the following year, where it was forced to claim that “the next-generation doesn’t start until we say it does.” It was one of the most ridiculous statements in gaming’s last decade. Microsoft said nothing. It just started.
What a difference a generation makes.
Microsoft exec John Grimes belittled the Sony reveal the week before it happened, saying the “majority of UK consumers won’t know” about PlayStation 4 as a result. This was as puerile as Hirai’s damage control in 2006. PlayStation 4 was front-featured by every news organization in the world. Everyone knows. Sony grasped the opportunity to own the first real news of next-gen games hardware in six years and the world dropped its pants. We didn’t even see the box.
PS4 is real. Microsoft can claim irrelevance, but the next generation has started. Sony said so. And Microsoft did not.
While PlayStation 4′s reveal in New York last week has been just as often criticized for its lack of creativity as it has been praised for its solidity, there’s an inescapable fact related to the entire shebang: we’re all talking about PlayStation 4. Microsoft is now left with everything to prove at its reveal event – supposedly being planned for April – and right now the concept of the next-generation in 2013 belongs to Sony. If this is round one, Microsoft just got its nose spread all over its cheek.
To add insult to Microsoft’s injuries, fresh rumors are circulating regarding Durango’s spec. Apparently the machine is woefully underpowered compared to PS4, with some now saying they don’t expect Microsoft to even talk raw tech when it announces the machine.Conversely, Sony’s finding it easy to shrug off its reputation for creating expensive, obtuse hardware, with PlayStation 4 being a powerful, cheap console that’s easy to work with; exactly the strategy Microsoft used to launch Xbox 360.
Also consider that Sony held its reveal event in New York, not Japan. Guerrilla boss Herman Hulst turned up on Fallon immediately after the show, playing one of the best-looking console games ever created and talking about track-pads and Share buttons. Talking about PlayStation 4. In front of millions of Americans. The next-gen Xbox will be invisible to the US for months.
If the Xbox execs aren’t cringing then they’re foolish indeed. While Nelson’s been forced to resort to slagging Sony off on Twitter, we’re finally starting to see publishers make next-generation announcements, announcements of which Nextbox (we don’t even know its name) currently plays no public role. There was a boat. There was only one boat. And Microsoft missed it.
The Xbox team, no doubt, will have much to say in April. We will see Phil Harrison on stage for the first time extolling the virtues of a Microsoft platform, and we’re sure to see some attractive software. But right now the only future platform is PS4. At this moment, Sony owns the next round.
Will the next-gen start when Microsoft says it does? That we can even ask the question represents one hell of a risk on Microsoft’s part.