The Perils of First Place.
Cast your mind back to late last decade. Microsoft had used its 12 month head start on the Playstation 3 to set the Xbox 360 in a dominant sales position. Not even the red ring of death debacle could slow them down. Things were looking great for the Seattle based computing company. Sony were bringing out all the tricks to try and compete but it wasn’t until the final years of the console that sales numbers began to equal out. But something happened to Microsoft, something changed at HQ and they began to take this success for granted. Poorly thought out or implemented concepts such as the Kinect began to take priority over the core games business. Microsoft tried to shift the focus of the Xbox brand towards being an all encompassing entertainment device as opposed to a video games console, with little success. They tried to innovate in areas that it was clear their consumer base had no interest in. All of these bad choices culminated in the disastrous E3 that launched the Xbox One. This conference not only painted the Xbox One in a bad light, but it showed that Microsoft had grown arrogant and no longer listened to those that supported it.
From this point Sony had an easy walk into first place. It allowed them to take some cheap (yet deserved) shots at their competition and make a solid games machine that appealed to the masses without the superfluous junk that was attached to the Xbox One. The PS4 became an instant hit and since release it has been the best-selling console by a wide margin. But is history beginning to repeat itself. Is arrogance beginning to worm its way into the heart of the leader of the pack once again?
It is hard to say for sure if this is occurring but some recent events would lend themselves to this theory. Thanks to their sound drubbing at launch Microsoft has refocused and installed Phil Spencer as their leader. He has fought tooth and nail to fix the Xbox’s image problem since he took over the reins and it is hard to argue that he isn’t doing a great job. Microsoft has made a number of changes that are designed to bring people back to their system. A much improved Games with Gold program, monthly OS updates, backwards compatibility and deep integration with Windows 10 are just some of the initiatives in place to try and bring back the punters. Add to this a super showing at both E3 and Gamescom with an emphasis on strong first party development and it is clear that the big green box has become the scrappy underdog and is going to give the fight of its life. It is wonderful to see.
Sony on the other hand could easily be accused of resting on its laurels. It is easy to imagine why with a lead such as theirs but there hasn’t been too much done to improve the PS4 experience since launch. In fact compared to the monthly updates on offer from Microsoft the changes to the PS4 ecosystem have been paltry. Microsoft has actively listened to its consumers with the introduction of features such as backwards compatibility whereas Sony’s response to a lot of these sort of requests is they have no plans for them. It seems Sony has a their own idea on how things should turn out and they aren’t going to be side tracked by trying to put in features that players want.
Sony is also struggling with first party titles at this present time. 2015 is positively barren for Sony with the shining light being a HD collection of PS3 titles. Even when they have gotten a first party title to market the results haven’t set the world on fire, just look at Driveclub or The Order: 1886 to prove that. What made matters worse is that while the Sony E3 presentation was without doubt amazing most of the games on show had no release date and what is worse they gave the impression that they are in fact a long way from hitting stores. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the majority of those games at E3 2016 or even 2017. No wonder Sony is entering into 3rd party partnerships with games such as Destiny and Call of Duty to try and fill up some of those gaps with bonuses and exclusives. Compare this to the Microsoft release schedule which is chock full for 2015 and well on its way to being full for 2016 and it should be of some concern to Playstation players.
Perhaps another sign of over confidence is the recent announcement of a price rise for 3 month subscriptions to PS Plus. It seems like an bullish move designed to force users to lock themselves in for longer periods. The price rise is astronomical too. A 40% price rise is insane in any industry not just in the world of gaming. Once again comparing this to Microsoft brings things even further into perspective considering in Australia Xbox Live hasn’t had a price increase since the Xbox 360 launched so that makes it hard to argue that rising costs are the reason for the rise. It seems like an out of touch move that could alienate those people that use the 3 month subscription to manage their money a little better.
So has Sony’s lead let them slip into complacency? It seems likely, even if it is only a little bit. Luckily it hasn’t turned into full blown arrogance just yet. That is not to deny the many many things the PS4 has going for it. Sony have introduced some great new features such as the “Vote to Play” program for PS Plus but compared to the strides being made by its direct competitor there is a long way to go. There is no doubt the PS4 is a great machine that is entertaining its millions of users but to deny there is a lot of room for improvement is naive at best. In fact the PS4 is quite possibly the best games system to ever grace a lounge room but that doesn’t stop it from being even better. The goal of any consumer focused company is to give the paying public what they want and not what it is perceived they want. After all it is only a short step from first place to a Kinect and an always online console.