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The Console Retrospective – 2014

Marcus Winchester reflects on a year of gaming

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2014 was a significant year for Microsoft, Sony, and to a lesser degree, Nintendo. It has been the first full year the consoles have been on the market. Both Sony and Microsoft have launched with pretty strong momentum with 3-4 million units having been sold each since the end of 2013. However, this situation has changed rapidly in 2014, with a gap having grown between the two. Sony has been seen as the strongest in the industry and has almost done everything right with the Playstation 4. They built an affordable yet powerful system based on a familiar x86-64 architecture, a system that had precise focus on the core gamer, and this vision was maintained from day one. In 2014, the console marched on stronger with superior 3rd party releases, numerous indie games and PC ports, as well as key exclusives such as The Last of Us.

However, there have been a few issues I have personally felt with Sony’s PS4. Despite the console as a whole remaining appealing to the core gamer, Sony’s insistence on charging consumers for an unimproved PSN service is disappointing to say the least. PSN’s features, stability and security still remain in doubt and introducing a subscription fee has done little to alleviate online issues experienced during the last-generation. Worse still, Sony are also guilty of having done little unique, outlandish or innovative with the PS4 at launch. They chose to play it safe with the departure from the PS3 and although I am happy with the product, I do wish they had shown greater liberty to innovate.

Although I have a few minor grievances with Sony’s PS4, Microsoft in contrast see themselves in an unusually weakened position. For much of the life of the 360, Microsoft had maintained a strong lead in hardware and software sales due to its focus of presenting their console as the core gamers’ system of choice. Over the years, Microsoft’s vision and focus has changed and culminated with the Xbox One. Presently, I have noticed that Microsoft have suffered the same affliction that Sony had faced with the PS3. Arrogance. Microsoft were so certain that their last generation lead would be maintained that they felt they could do what they wanted with the Xbox One. The Xbox One was not initially designed with non-gamer consumers in mind in contrast to the PS4. It was an expensive machine, with the price only now having fallen from £420 to as low as £329. And the biggest mistake was including a peripheral in the form of Kinect. A device that many didn’t want and was as flawed as its motion detection predecessor. Also, Microsoft’s DRM policy regarding used game sales brought upon Microsoft the wrath of the entire gaming community. Sony capitalised on this in a public mocking at E3 2013 that swiftly resulted in Microsoft back tracking throughout 2014 and eventually removing Kinect from the console package.

In the current market the early shortcomings of the Xbox One have hurt Microsoft dramatically and opened up a leadership position for Sony in the console market once again; a situation reminiscent of the PS2 days. By the end of 2014, Sony had sold over 18 million PS4s into people’s homes whilst maintaining a profit on every console. Microsoft, conversely, sold nearly 10 million units by the end of 2014 and even this inferior sum would not have been possible had it not been for the removal of Kinect as a compulsory accessory and the reduction of Xbox One’s price to consumers.

Ultimately, I believe it is a positive that both consoles have recovered and are now selling relatively well. For as much as I am angry with how Microsoft introduced the Xbox One into the world, I am happy for the competition. Having both of these systems in the market is good for us as consumers. We benefit the most when competition keeps both of the two companies pricing the consoles fairly and it pressures them to continue building a list of strong exclusive content. It keeps the industry from stagnating.

For the future, both companies must remain vigilant, keep their eyes on the horizon, and put their predecessors to sleep to signal the end of the 7th generation of consoles. Both companies must also remain aware of the threat posted by a resurgent PC market, particularly with Valve’s Steam Machine lined up for release. Worse still for Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo has been continuously strengthening the Wii U since its release and are already planning for their next generation release that I personally believe will be the console that delivers what Nintendo promised with the Wii U – A system designed for the core gamer.