Microsoft is a very unique position to sweep in and topple Sony's mighty PlayStation empire--but it'll take lots of careful planning.
Remember back at E3 2013 when Don Mattrick revealed the always-online Xbox One with its non-shareable games? That event nearly demolished the Xbox brand altogether, and it's taken three years for the company to put the pieces back together. Sony won this current generation simply by doing the complete opposite of Microsoft and listening to its consumer base. Now the roles have been reversed--Sony's new PlayStation 4.5 is the company's pre-E3 2013 Xbox One, and Microsoft has found itself in a very advantageous position to steal this generation.
Microsoft has a singular advantage over Sony: the new Windows 10 Dev Mode. This new tool allows devs to make a single game that's playable on both PC and Xbox, alleviating the need for multiple ports. Sony's PlayStation 4.5, on the other hand, is a nightmare for devs because they now have to make two PS4 ports of every game, meaning multi-plat will need four ports (PS4, PS4.5, Xbox One, and PC). Every PS4 game released after October needs to have two versions--a PS4 and a PS4.5 flavor that supports 4K upscaling. As a result of this news, the new PS4.5 is pissing off lots of devs, and BioWare's co-founder even went so far as to say its a "gigantic pain in the ass".
Remember that Microsoft is making a new Xbox One mid-cycle refresh with upgraded hardware. Redmond has been experimenting with new Xbox prototypes for a bit now, and we've already seen the new console's wireless chip. The key difference here is that developers won't have to make Xbox One.5 adaptations of every Xbox One game--devs can simply uses the Dev Mode tool and make a single port that's compatible across Xbox One, Xbox One.5 and PC.
Despite Dev Mode, Microsoft has repeatedly shot itself in the foot with its Universal Windows Platform. UWP has further damaged the company's reputation, this time in the realm of PC gaming, and if the company continues down this path it could jeopardize everything. Microsoft promise that UWP will soon support basic PC staples like FreeSync and V-Sync toggling, but the whole platform needs a lot of work.
I recently posited that Microsoft's plan to take over gaming could actually work, but the company has to move quick to patch its sinking ship and then build up morale. Sony already has tons of morale, but the new PlayStation 4.5 could change everything, and gamers are flummoxed and rather frustrated by the new console.
The idea of having to buy another system just three years after the PS4 released isn't too exciting. On the other hand, users won't need to buy the system to play the games--they just won't be able to take advantage of 4K upscaling and other hardware benefits. Although this is incredibly convenient for gamers, it's the opposite for developers, who now have to do tons of extra planning to make two PlayStation 4 games.
Microsoft can't just do the total opposite of Sony, however. It needs to borrow the great ideas, like not phasing out current-gen consoles and releasing the mid-cycle upgrades alongside the new systems. Again, Dev Mode is a huge bonus here because developers will only have to make a single game that's compatible across all Windows platforms (and yes, the Xbox One is a Windows 10 platform now).
Plus, it needs to scrap everything about about the Xbox One (like the UI and Snap Mode) and inject fantastic new features. Now that the Xbox One is getting a refresh, Microsoft has the opportunity to hit the reset button on the system, and it'd be wise to do so. If the new Xbox One is an exact mirror of the current Xbox in terms of feature-set and UI, it's going to be bad news for the company's image.
In conclusion, Microsoft needs to sit back and watch how gamers and developers react to Sony's PlayStation 4.5 and take notes. E3 2016 will be a huge deciding factor for the future of the current generation, and Microsoft better take full advantage of Sony's missteps if it wants to ever win again. First, though, it has to actually fix UWP--no promises, no PR-laden speeches, actual working fixes. Until then, gamers won't trust Microsoft, and Redmond can't win without morale and trust.
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