Your move, Microsoft
We thought we had a good idea about what Sony would reveal at its PS4 event. We were wrong. In a jam-packed two-hour event, Sony revealed the release window, showed off a new controller, talked about the impressive tech that would run it, and demoed a bunch of new games. Microsoft has a lot of work ahead of it if it wants to keep up.
But what does the Xbox One need to bring to the table to best the PS4? How can Microsoft present its console in such a way that makes Sony's announcement seem less monumental? Well, here are a few options...
Announce some sort of streaming plans
The PS4 might not support backwards compatibility, but Sony's promise of game streaming helps softens the sting a bit. The thought of having access to thousands of games--even though a subscription model is extremely likely--is very appealing. If Microsoft is going to compete, and if it's going to secure the next Xbox's position as the ultimate media hub, game streaming has to be an integral part of its new machine.
As we saw during the current console generation, video streaming transformed from a wouldn't-it-be-cool-if scenario to reality, and we're certain the same will eventually hold true for games. Will we be streaming next-gen games right out of the gate? Doubtful, but Sony's next-gen console is built to support such a service, and Microsoft needs to follow suit.
Match their tech or compensate in some way
Sony's got a reputation for building some of the beefiest gaming consoles around, and the confirmed details about the PS4's specs don't disappoint. There's a lot of power packed into that machine, and Microsoft will have to put some similar components in the Xbox 720 to ensure long-term relevance.
As we stated in our Microsoft predictions for 2013, we fully expect the Xbox 720 to have a Blu-ray drive, as well as built-in Wi Fi capabilities. And now that we know the PS4 will come equipped with 8GB of GDDR5 memory (which is usually reserved for graphics processing units), we're curious to see if Microsoft will match or go with less expensive options.
Have real backwards compatibility
We dont fault Sony for skipping native backwards compatibility on the PS4. The Cell processor that ran the PS3 was expensive and notoriously complicated, so its no wonder the company left it out of its next system. But because Microsoft chose to make the 360 with fairly standard PC parts, we cant imagine that the same problem would apply to the Xbox 720 (or whatever Microsoft ends up calling it).
Just as the 360 was able to play a number of original Xbox games at launch, the 720 should be correspondingly capable, so long as its guts are similar enough. Hopefully Microsoft future proofed the 360 with tech that can be repurposed smoothly on the 720, if for no other reason than the early advantage it would have over the PS4. Plus, Microsoft built such an incredible XBLA library that wed hate to leave all those purchases behind like well be doing with our PSN games by the end of the year.
Don't shove Kinect down our throats
Sony brought the PlayStation Move to its PlayStation 4 reveal event, but didn't make a big deal of throwing it in our faces. Sure, Media Molecule took the stage for a weird PS Move dance party, but that was essentially it. It was a breath of fresh air, especially considering how hard Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo have tried to get the hardcore crowd to accept motion controls.
While we're sure Microsoft will have Kinect (or Kinect 2.0, as is rumored) at its unveiling, we really hope it takes a cue from Sony and doesn't try to pretend like it's something the core gamer should be excited about. We've simply been burnt too many times, with games like Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor and Fable: The Journey proving that even AAA developers can't make Kinect work for AAA games. In other words, let's keep the prop children off the stage.
Show off some new IPs
Gears of War, Dance Central, Crackdown, Viva Pinata--all excellent in their own way, and all built specifically new for the Xbox 360. What do we want most from Microsoft at this point? An all-new AAA franchise built specifically to tap into the this-is-AWESOME area of our brains. And given that Sony didn't have a massive new WOW! franchise at its PS4 coming-out party, Microsoft has a real opportunity here.
If we were to guess, that game will come from Black Tusk Studios. Formed way back in February 2010 and staffed largely by EA alums, Black Tusk Studios has explicitly stated that it's working on a new IP that they called "the next Halo." Add that into the actual next Halo, along with many other stand-out current gen franchises, and we're looking at a wholly respectable portfolio of IP.
Focus on real games, not tech demos...
Sony spent the first half of its presentation demonstrating the power of its system with actual software. Beautiful PS4 games like Knack and Killzone: Shadow Fall were shown off, making a damn good case for the need for a new generation of hardware. But then it got into showing tech demos, and excited old men, and weird Move dance parties, and suddenly it lost focus.
Microsoft needs to avoid that. It needs to focus not on speculative demo reels, and technical "what if" displays, but on actual software we'll be able to buy. Make that the focus, and gamers will see the difference; Xbox will be an upcoming console with games, and PlayStation will be an upcoming console with promises.
...and label the tech demos as such
Tech demos do have a place, though. We wouldn't be against seeing a next-gen reel of what a new Halo could look like, and we certainly wouldn't be opposed to getting a glimpse into the console's future software. Rendered "target footage" is harmless, under one very important condition: it's labeled as such. Sony missed the mark on this, and we're still not sure what was real and what wasn't.
Microsoft needs to be super transparent about this. If it's showing off real-time footage be proud and say it! Be open about it! And if a publisher walks on stage and shows target footage of what it expects its next-gen game will look like, be proud of that too and note it at the bottom of the screen. Gamers will appreciate the honesty.
Don't focus on the media capabilities
Guess what's old news? To everyone who said, "Those damn game consoles that double as entertainment hubs," go ahead and reward yourself with a three-day vacation to beautiful Cabo San Lucas! Or something. Look, the Xbox 360 and PS3 nailed multimedia in the current generation, and for the next generation to truly shine, we're going to need something new.
Plus, gamers are nothing if not an entitled bunch, so they're already taking for granted that next-gen will stream Netflix and Hulu, hook up to Facebook, have Web access, and so on. Dedicating any time beyond a handful of sentences to the Xbox 720's non-gaming related features is going to be wasted breath. And given Sony's strong PS4 showing, Microsoft can't afford to waste its words.
Reveal the system itself
So here's an easy one, with a caveat. The best way for Microsoft to steal some momentum from the PS4 announcement is to do what Sony didn't: show off the goods. PS4 mock-ups notwithstanding, we still have no idea what Sony's next console will look like, and Microsoft can easily capitalize on that omission by showing off--or, gasp, letting folks touch--the Xbox 720.
Unless, of course, Sony's playing this one clever. Let's say Microsoft announces the Xbox 720 on March 26, giving folks the full monty in terms of console design, controller, and games. On March 27, all Sony has to do to swing the conversation back to the PS4 is show off its console. Not a bad ace to have up its sleeve. So maybe Microsoft will want to reserve it's own console reveal until after we know what the PS4 looks like...
Announce the actual date and price
Fiscal irresponsibility is a thing that's just going to be happening this holiday. Between the PS4 and its games and accessories and the Xbox 720 and its games and accessories, that's an absolute fact. However, just because we're resigned to doing dumb things with money doesn't mean we can't start clearing up our credit cards now. And to do that, we really need to know a) if the Xbox 720 is indeed hitting in 2013, and b) how much the thing will cost.
Sony didn't help us out at all in this regard, offering nary a peep on the cost of what could be a pricey piece of hardware. It also floated a nebulous holiday 2013, which could mean anything from October 1 to December 31 (our money's on early November). For Microsoft to one-up Sony in this regard, all they've got to do is give us hard details--an end point that we can latch onto and really get excited about.
Discuss the future of Xbox Live
Sony's online efforts were pitiful early this generation, but over the years it has built up the PlayStation Network into a true competitor to Xbox Live--and that's without factoring in the great benefits of PlayStation Plus. Microsoft has added some new features to its online system, but has spent the last few years revamping the UI and adding advertisements instead of expanding its lead. With Sony doubling-down on streaming and a digital storefront, Microsoft has to respond.
Charging money for online play was fine this generation, but with Sony packing so much more into its online system we don't know if that, alone, is enough. Microsoft's killer app for this past generation was Xbox Live, and we need to see how it will evolve. Will it offer some discounts for members? Will it upgrade Achievements in some way? These are the things that gave it a leg up on Sony, and we're anxious to hear about the system's future.
Answer the used game question definitively
Sony has confirmed, flat-out, that the PlayStation 4 maybe, sort of, likely, probably won't block used games--maybe. Though it said that PS4 will be able to play used games it did so with a knowing wink, leading us to believe that there's more to the story that it hasn't discussed yet. In other words: we're not convinced, and we're not at ease.
Microsoft should take this opportunity to come clean, and lay out its system's plan for used games. Does it block used games? Fine, explain how. Will it work the same way the current generation works? Sing it from the rooftop. We want answers, and Microsoft would garner some positive feedback by giving them to us.
Sony surprised us. It showed off more games than we expected, it went into more details about the hardware than we expected, it revealed more about its streaming plans than we expected, and, in general, it simply surpassed our expectations. And we're ready for Microsoft to do the same.
Wheel out a big, shocking exclusive, or tell us about a feature we never would have dreamed of. Say it's launching in a month, or reveal a surprisingly low price point. Do something that'll get us talking about the Xbox instead of the PlayStation--because, as of now, that's the most important thing Microsoft can do.
Microsoft does what Sonydon't
Sony has thrown down the gauntlet--hard--and we're excited to see how Microsoft responds. What do you expect to see from the company's showing? Think it'll hit back, or do you expect Microsoft to stay the course and talk up Kinect and media and social and stuff? Let us know in the comments below!