The Xbox One has endured a bumpy start and now it’s Sony’s turn, and while it may have had an easier time promoting the Playstation 4, exploiting Microsoft's blunders to its advantage, does Sony risk narrowing its audience by creating a more dedicated gaming machine?
The Playstation 4, and Sony's approach to marketing and content, is very different to Microsoft, which spent a lot of time spruiking the Xbox One as an "all-in-one entertainment hub",
While the Xbox One promises smooth transition between games, movies, TV and internet browsing. The PS4’s core focus is on gaming and gamers.
In fact, much of Sony's marketing material has been designed to accentuate how the PS4 differs from the Xbox One. In response to Microsoft's unpopular game sharing restrictions, Sony slapped together a short, tongue-in-cheek video, which shows two execs demonstrating how to share Playstation games: one simply passes the disc to the other.
After Microsoft backtracked, Sony was again quick to exploit the inconsistency. During Gamescom in August, the president of Sony Computer Entertainment, Andrew House, stated, "while others have shifted their message and changed their story, we were consistent in maintaining policies and a model that is fair and in tune with consumer desires."
Phil Spencer, Microsoft Studios' vice-president, responded by saying “the two-way conversation we have with our customers is a strength. Certain people have tried to turn that into something that’s a bad thing about what we’re trying to do, and I just disagree."
Sharing considerations aside, Under the hood the race is close (although some developers report that PS4 is marginally more powerful than Xbox One), but what really matters is each company's focus.
While Xbox branches into more general entertainment, Playstation doubles down on gamers. So what's in Sony's hand that makes this bet seem wise?
For one, there's the classic controller, radically redesigned with gaming in mind. The DualShock and its button symbols are company icons, and have remained largely unchanged since the original Playstation. This iteration has added a touchpad - a surprising but logical carry-over from their handheld system, the Playstation Vita - and an instant Share button.
With that button, players can easily upload videos of their gaming accomplishments to Facebook, Twitter, twitch and UStream - although interestingly, not YouTube. It's nice to see the big companies supporting fans who take the time to record reviews or "Let's Play" videos, and recognising the word-of-mouth effect they can have.
Sony is also taking more steps to support independent developers. Xbox One offers very little indie content beyond Minecraft, a title so successful it almost doesn't count anymore. Meanwhile, the PS4 will host indie darlings like Fez, Outlast, Don't Starve, Octodad, The Witness and Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty, among others.
To further cement Sony's focus on gaming, it's reported that around 60 PS4 games will be released by the end of March 2014 - more than double the Xbox One's library in the same period.
And the final nail might just be a poll conducted at this year's Eurogamer Expo. Of 2,450 people surveyed, 34 per cent said exclusive games were the most important factor in their next-gen console preference. Another 21 per cent listed it second. At the bottom of the list? Media centre functionality, with a meagre two per cent.
Suddenly, concerns of narrowing the audience aren't all that compelling. After all, focusing on games is the path Nintendo have successfully walked for thirty years. Perhaps it's fair to say that the Xbox One is designed primarily for an American audience, where a solid internet infrastructure means being always online won't trouble most gamers, and streaming content services like Netflix are native.
Outside the US, the services that make the Xbox One an entertainment hub are limited, reducing the console competition to the games on offer. It's not surprising then that the PS4 seems better positioned to lead on that front.
Even then, it will still offer subscription-based music and video services in the UK, Europe and, to a lesser extent, Australia. Most users seem satisfied with this secondary media functionality, although there was some backlash over the removal of playback from audio CDs, MP3 files and DLNA servers. The Blu-Ray player also won't support 3D or 4K video, but Sony has said that due to the response, these features might be added in the future.
The wider market that an all-in-one entertainment device appeals to may not be quite as juicy as assumed. Microsoft will do well to pursue that path, but choosing to focus directly on games doesn't leave Sony in a weaker position. Instead, it broadens the dawning console generation as a whole.
Between the Xbox One, the Playstation 4 and Nintendo's Wii U, there truly is something for everyone to be excited about.