Microsoft recently announced a dramatic reversal of its plan to change the way we play games on the next generation of hardware. While the plan had promise, its benefits were too esoteric for most gamers to grasp and were so poorly marketed that 95% of respondents to an Amazon consumer poll indicated their favor of Sony’s competing Playstation 4. The episode has emerged as an instructive testament to the power of the market.
Certainly, brand loyalty exists among gamers. Limited budgets require most of us to choose one console in a given generation. Even if you have the money to spend, it can be hard to justify cluttering a room with multiple consoles and a jumble of controllers unless you happen to be single with no children. Gamers want to believe that they have chosen wisely, and thus root for their chosen brand to succeed. Nevertheless, that loyalty runs thin during the transition from one generation of hardware to another.
The Xbox 360 has provided the highest value of any console I have owned, changing dramatically over its lifecycle to become the central entertainment platform in my household. If our television is on, so is our 360. Whether watching YouTube clips with my wife, streaming children’s programing for my sons over Netflix, or sneaking in some Battlefield 3 when no one else is around, I do it all on Microsoft’s console. Since first waiting overnight in the freezing December cold to buy the gadget in 2005, I have accumulated a diverse library of games, both on disc and digitally via Xbox Live Arcade.
Despite all that, despite being a happy and thoroughly satisfied Xbox 360 owner, I must confess to taking a serious look at the Playstation 4 after this month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo.
Even considering a brand switch reflects poorly upon Microsoft. Switching to Sony at this point means abandoning an established online presence, scrapping my current friends list, abandoning exclusive franchises in midstream, and kissing my achievements and gamerscore goodbye. All things being equal, remaining with Microsoft would be a no-brainer for that reason alone. Alas, coming out of E3, things were not equal.