Are PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on divergent paths?

Roundtable: The two next-gen platforms are quite similar technologically, but is Sony's developer focus a key differentiator after all?

Back in February, Sony first introduced the PS4 to the world as a console that put developers first. It sounded a bit like hyperbole at the time, but the more we've seen of Sony's new platform, the more it feels like Sony is sticking to its developer-centric guns. This last generation saw two consoles - Xbox 360 and PS3 - which had radical hardware architecture differences, and yet the respective approaches to the marketplace from Microsoft and Sony were quite similar.

This time around, as Microsoft scrambles to continually reverse its policies, and consumers prepare to purchase two pieces of hardware that are actually incredibly alike, one might think that the trends from the two companies in the previous generation would carry over into next-gen. Ironically, however, as close in specs as Xbox One and PS4 are, Microsoft and Sony would appear to be on increasingly different paths when it comes to content. As Microsoft looks to be doubling down on what worked best for the company on Xbox 360 (shooters, online multiplayer, Kinect) Sony is promoting unique titles coming to the PlayStation ecosystem like Tequila Works' Rime, The Chinese Room's Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, and Gaijin's War Thunder, to name a few.

While Microsoft has been making strides to offer a plan for indies with its ID@Xbox program, Sony has put a focus on developers at the core of the PS4 itself. As lead architect Mark Cerny said at Gamescom, "We've been able to architect the console that is by game creators, for game creators." Will the PS4 and Xbox One ultimately offer vastly different gaming experiences because of this? And what will the impact be on the marketplace? GamesIndustry International's staff discusses how Microsoft and Sony have evolved their strategies.

Brendan Sinclair

I can tell you the two systems are diverging because my decision to preorder a PS4 is looking more like a no-brainer with every passing week, while my decision not to buy an Xbox One (at least not anywhere near launch) is only becoming more concrete, no matter how many bad decisions Microsoft backtracks on.

"Consumers have three distinct options when it comes to consoles this generation. I only hope that each company's target market proves large enough to sustain this diversity"

The PS4 just has all the strange and ambitious (mostly indie) games that I want to play. N++, Rogue Legacy, Everybody's Gone to Rapture, the gorgeous Rime, Transistor, Volume, The Witness, Starbound, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, and it feels like dozens more. In light of PS Vita cross-buy on so many of those indie titles, the excellent PlayStation Plus service, and a preference for the couch-based console experience over PC gaming, the PS4 just has everything that I want. Over on the Xbox, I'll miss Below (until its inevitable move to other platforms), Dead Rising 3, Crimson Dragon, and D4. But that's about it. I don't care too much about franchises like Halo, Gears of War, Titanfall, Fable, and Forza. I care even less about Ryse: Son of Rome, and as much as I loved the original Killer Instinct, the idea of a reboot from a new development house with a bothersome new business model doesn't do much for me. However, I know a good number of gamers who would disagree with me on the above points. I also know that their tastes--like mine--are not representative of the industry as a whole. And this is one of the things making me optimistic for this coming generation of consoles. It looks like Microsoft and the Xbox One are focusing on the console market as it existed for this previous generation. And why not? The Xbox 360 did pretty well in a world dominated by shooters and sports games. On the other hand, Sony seems to be betting there's an audience for different, arguably more sophisticated gaming experiences, and Nintendo is off doing its own Nintendo thing with the Wii U. The result is that it looks like consumers will have three distinct options when it comes to consoles this generation. It's not just about which company has the better sci-fi shooter or the lower price tag. It's about which of these different approaches best suits you. I only hope that each company's target market proves large enough to sustain this diversity of offerings.

Steve Peterson

Microsoft is rapidly changing its policies to resemble Sony's policies, whether it's on used games or on working with indie developers. Just as the Xbox One and the PS4 share the same basic architecture, so too will the business models the companies use. Yes, the software lineup will have some variations, and those will be significant to gamers who are fans of a particular brand.

"The two consoles are in the same market chasing the same customers with the same basic hardware"

Ultimately both Sony and Microsoft realize the need for next-gen consoles to have a broader range of content than traditional publishers can provide, in order to compete with PC, online and mobile platforms' enormous array of choices. Both companies still have a long way to go. Sony's been trying to get indie developers on the PS Vita for a while, with some success - yet that hasn't turned into big sales for the handheld yet.

I really don't think the differences between the Xbox One and the PS4 are all that major, except for the $100 retail price difference. I think the two companies' policies and programs will tend to converge rather than diverge. Neither company is likely to get too far ahead of the other in terms of business models; Microsoft saw what happened when it tried to push too rapidly into the digital future. Some details may differ, but if there's a policy that results in a loss of indie developers it will be changed, sooner rather than later.

Free games monthly with your premium subscription on PlayStation? That's done very well for Sony, so Microsoft has added that. Requiring a premium subscription to player multiplayer online games? Microsoft has made billions doing that, so now Sony's added that little feature to its premium subscription. There will be some exclusive games for each console, but no major genre will be left unfilled. All the biggest third-party games will be on both consoles. In the end, the two consoles are in the same market chasing the same customers with the same basic hardware, and their policies will be very similar. If you want something really different in a console, try Nintendo or Ouya.

Mike Williams

So we have two companies providing featureless black boxes backed by similar policies and game libraries. This means we're going to see a battle over the details.

AAA game development is too expensive for major third-party publishers to favor one platform over another, so the differences in game libraries are down to indie games and what platform holders are willing to pay for. Sony has a lead on the former matter, while Microsoft's big pockets - remember they've invested $1 billion on Xbox One games - are holding down the latter.

"If Microsoft can launch prior to or during major game releases, they could capture the interest of gamers heading to retail"

Sony may be able to gain more ground if the Vita finally takes off and I think their presentation was an acknowledgement of that idea. The number of games coming simultaneously to PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, Vita Remote Play, and the price drop on the portable could make for a compelling one-two punch this holiday. The Vita is quickly becoming a portable Steam console and Sony's focus on indies is paying off... at least to those in the industry. Will the mainstream public care about a wide variety of indie games on their Sony platforms? It'll depend on the company improving the discoverability on the PlayStation Store. Sony also needs to invest heavily in Cross-Buy so that purchasing the PS4 version of a game gives you the Vita version as well; anything that greases the rails.

One area I think Sony has overlooked is the launch date. A November 15th launch puts the PlayStation 4 after a few of this year's major game releases. Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and Battlefield 4 are the last week of October, while Call of Duty: Ghosts is releasing in the first week of November. If Microsoft can launch prior to or during those major game releases, they could capture the interest of gamers heading to retail. It's no good having all those developers if gamers have already bought into the competing console.

I still think it's Sony's generation to lose, but Microsoft's spent the past few months making the gap smaller. Both companies' paths are parallel, not divergent; it's just a matter of who's going to run faster at this point.

Matt Martin

The only real difference I see between the consoles right now is the price. There's only a handful of platform exclusives between them, services on both consoles are looking the same, and Microsoft is catching up with the whole indie self-publishing situation. As cool, fun and innovative as N++, Resogun and Knack look to be, they're not system-sellers.

"Don't underestimate the price of these luxury items. The final decision for a majority of ordinary consumers comes down to the cash in their pocket"

In the first six to twelve months it'll be Call of Duty that sells consoles. Battlefield will sell consoles, FIFA and Madden will sell consoles and so will Assassin's Creed. In simple terms, why not just buy the cheaper PlayStation 4 and an extra couple of games for the same price as the Xbox One? Because on launch day if you're investing what is essentially a lot of money in one go, you want as much bang for your buck as possible.

Don't underestimate the price of these luxury items. Side by side, sitting on or in one of those old-fashioned shops, there's two very attractive home entertainment devices. I see new quirky games, I see familiar games I love and I see reassuring console brands. But then I also see those prices and I know how much I can justify spending on them. It's not about who's got the better exclusives, which console has the coolest interface and social features or where can I try out that weird indie game everyone is talking about. The final decision for a majority of ordinary consumers - not the dedicated early-adopters - comes down to the cash in their pocket. And right now, regardless of everything else, the PlayStation 4 is the better deal on the market.

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Latest comments (14)

James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
I'll probably get a PS4 (as soon as I'm able due to availability outside of the core markets! :) ) despite first owning a 360 this past generation. Mostly due to price, partially due to enjoying the PS3 since I bought it but also partially due to the fact that I *think* I know what I'm getting when I purchase a PS4. Microsoft's messaging is so messed up and convoluted that I don't know where I stand any more if I choose to buy an Xbox ONE.

I also don't really like the U-turns that MS have been making. Not that I dislike the decisions that result in what I believe is a more consumer friendly device... more that I don't know how much I can a) trust those decision-making processes going forward and b) how fully fleshed-out and supported those changed decisions are and will be. You don't just change your mind on a multi-year strategy overnight right before (figuratively) launch and end up with a working and streamlined product...

Not to mention Microsoft's very Americano-centric strategy which effectively means I'm paying a lot more for a lot less.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 21st August 2013 11:14am

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Adam Campbell Product Manager, Azoomee6 years ago
I'm left feeling a little confused. Whilst Sony have upped their game in terms of developer focus (offering good architecture and tools from the start compared to PS3), I wouldn't necessarily think Microsoft do not have one.

After all, they have been famous for offering fantastic developer tools and support (from what I've heard and been told) over the years with Xbox and Xbox 360.

Perhaps restrictions on indie games is part of the bad impression given, but for all intents and purposes, I would expect Xbox One to carry on the trend of sensible architecture, strong Microsoft tools and collaboration with middle-ware companies. Unless we're really talking about something else?

Assuming Microsoft are still offering these, it does make it sound a bit more like hyperbole again, great support and platforms being something you should get as a standard.

I think it would also be interesting to compare Nintendo/WiiU, their work on openness and developer focus. Nintendo have been changing in that regard, especially with indie studios. We have also seen recent strides in tools helping mobile devs and Web/HTML5 devs to convert games to the Nintendo platform, giving rise to a lot of potential there.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Adam Campbell on 21st August 2013 11:20am

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Brian Smith Artist 6 years ago
Personally I think it's pretty even between the big two and they will be more alike than last generation. They'll both be reading the market for directing their strategies and if they both make the right decisions then they'll likely take the same routes. I don't think any of the policy nonsense of xbox one or the apparent halo sony has with the media will have much effect at all on market performance. In the end it'll collapse down to fanboys buying the same consoles they had before and the general public splitting their decisions fairly evenly between the one and ps4. Exlcusives for one system or other could make an early difference but I'd bet that a few years down the line we'll be seeing similar sized audiences in both camps.
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Show all comments (14)
Kevin Patterson musician 6 years ago
I haven't bought a Sony console at launch since the original PS, I bought the last two Xbox's instead.
I was so dismayed and disappointed by the Xbox One's reveal and E3 presentation that I pre-ordered a PS4 shortly after the Sony conference. I am really glad that MS has backtracked on many of their decisions, and may eventually get an Xbox One, but I am sticking with PS4 at launch. I am still not a fan of the mandatory Kinect with it's $100 extra cost for an item I don't really want, MS will need to prove to me why I should want it. I actually hope they manage to do so.

I applaud MS for making these changes and I believe they will be back in the running, but they have given their competitor a head start for this next gen, it Will be interesting how it plays out.
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Richard Anderson General Practitioner 6 years ago
At home we've always used Xbox for nearly everything. The online experience is almost seamless. Playstation has always been bought later on mainly because of Naughty Dog. Indie games are great but trying to actually find them on the playstation network drains you to the point where you can't be bothered. But Microsoft have set themselves up, with all the back tracking, as a company I simply don't trust anymore when it comes to second user games and sharing. The timing of the console releases is wrong. I can't see any reason to buy either until at least the New Year. Our house will be buying all the AAA releases on Xbox 360 for the foreseeable future.
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Steve Goldman Journalist. 6 years ago
I can live with ps4, wii u, 3ds
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Ian Hultz Student, GSC6 years ago
@ Brian Sinclair

“Microsoft and the Xbox One are focusing on the console market as it existed for this previous generation.”

MS was forced to reverse one of their policies where a community of 10 individuals could’ve shared a wealthy amount of games amongst themselves. It was a system that even if each person within the group was only limited to share only two games via their shared folder, that would’ve meant 20 games available for free and unlimited play within that group, no matter what part of the planet they lived. Keep in mind the amount of shared games would’ve increased over time within a small community of 10.That now defunct sharing function had tremendous value. Sony idea of sharing games was passing along a physical disc. What if my friend lived in a different state?

MS will also implement same day digital release for new games, and even more modernizing how games are distributed for home consoles on day one. I do it for my music, so why not for my games. Sony on the other hand, tells us they will implement their same day new digital game release sometime next year. When next year? We don’t know.

MS approach to next gen is that a platform no longer needs to be static, and that its capabilities shouldn’t have to be limited to what’s encased in the box. They have invested in cloud technology that changes social gaming experience for the better.

In comparing to other services out there, Jon Shiring of Respawn Ent said, “Microsoft thought about our problem in a bigger way. Developers aren’t going to just want dedicated servers – they’ll have all kinds of features that need a server to do some kind of work to make games better. Look at Forza 5, which studies your driving style in order to create custom AI that behaves like you do. That’s totally different from what Titanfall uses it for, and it’s really cool! So it’s not accurate to say that the Xbox Live Cloud is simply a system for running dedicated servers – it can do a lot more than that.”

Sony’s idea of the cloud is a service that will take me down memory lane, by allowing me to play old PS3 games.

MS even thought about the fact that us console gamers, have been interacting with video games pretty much the same way for the last 30+ years? We build more powerful machines with each new generation, ushering prettier graphics to match only to interact with them via a control pad, just like what Sony wants us to do, yet again. Gamers come in all kind of varieties now, and the fact is we can’t move forward in figuring out what will be the next big thing in game interaction if we don't learn to put down that 30+year old controller. With Kinect, DEVs can now create games that interact with real world events, adding a brand new dimension to gaming. It takes only one brilliant innovation to change everything. If anything Xbox One is the only platform that is ready for everything in regards to TRUE innovative gameplay and interaction.

What Sony is doing in regards their policies is great, but are they really next gen in my opinion, NO! What they have done is built a more powerful platform than its predecessor, and stuck a game controller into our hands once again. No innovation there. In fact their thinking is very last gen. The PS4 is powerful, but not dynamic. Sony is only now understanding the benefits of having a paid online service. MS have been doing THAT for the last 8 yrs, and has improved upon that service with the implementation of their cloud service.

In regards to all this fuss about indie games, they remind me of prettier 16bit games. Don’t get me wrong, I love them, and I appreciate the diversity they bring, but in the end, they are just prettier variants of the 16 bit era. Nevertheless, I cant wait to play some of them.

In the end, I will be supporting both platforms, but I have higher hopes for the Xbox One, because as it stands, DEVs have more tools at their disposal for that platform, not to only paint a pretty picture, but also a more innovating one.
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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
@ Ian

I'd have believed the 10 game sharing when I saw it implemented. It's easy for people to say that "yes, that's how it worked" after they had cancelled it. I still couldn't see publishers being au fait with a system like that.

I'll also believe these "cloud features" when I see them. Sceptical about the Forza thing (you could create an AI that spins off at every corner if you're a rubbish driver - so the implementation can't be exactly as described thus far...) and the off-site processing for lightning and such is completely unneccessary on (25GB?) Blu Ray discs where a little bit of a couple of MB file will be able to store all that pre-calculated stuff anyway.

I also don't get how kinect can react to real world events. Are you talking about amount of light (time of day) stuff? Because that's doable via a clock setting. Other than that, what visual observations is kinect going to see that are really valuable to a game experience? Heart rate? Body heat? You might be surprised to know that these biometrics vary wildly within the population along with biological response to the exact same stimuli. I'm not sure how consistent detecting these things will be over such a broad range of people. It's hard enough working out difficulty curves, let alone layering on another one or two levels of complication based on arbitrary organic response.

Just for an example: You ever seen one of those youtube videos of "scared" gamers? The ones who can't even play Luigi's Mansion without sweating profusely and screaming? You start kinect calibrating those people for that game and you'll never come across any ghosts to capture because the game might think that it's going too far... or, conversely, not far enough.

However, the only way to really test your hypothesis that MS were truly next gen in their offering and Sony aren't was to have MS stick to their guns (something I would have liked as well!). MS didn't cancel their plans because of internet backlash (it probably was a part of the reason) but because the poor reception extended to the mainstream (TV, radio, etc). If the XBO policies were truly next gen - and people were ready/wanting it - then they would not have had the reception they did.
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Paul Shirley Programmers 6 years ago
@Ian Hulz

There were plenty of cheerleaders talking up the shiny new possibilities Microsoft had on offer. The problem was (and remains) Microsoft hadn't explained how any of them would actually function. They then learned the hard way that for every 1 like you willing to imagine good things, things so good losing other rights wouldn't matter, 10 others wanted to know WHY they were being screwed. And a fair number of us didn't find the optimistic guesswork justified the price in any case.

As of now, no-one outside Microsoft will ever really know what MS really planned because no explanation they give will be believed this late in the fiasco. I doubt many of us even believe there was a solid plan, every statement made seems so hurried and badly considered. But what was said was deeply disturbing.
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Ian Hultz Student, GSC6 years ago
@ James Prendergast

1st I want to thank you for your response. I learnt a lot & I appreciate it.

It’s natural to have that kind of reaction when too good to be true features are discussed. I mean, if you would’ve told me a few years ago that they’ll be a time where I’ll pay only $10 for a brand new AAA title via download on a service like Steam. I would’ve responded, I’ll believe it when I see it. Steam and all the benefits that comes with that service is here now. That’s lesson for us, so yes, I can see digital game services offering more to the consumers in order to stare them away from physical media. If I was a DEV, and a platform existed that lean more towards a digital distribution model, I would’ve been game. I would say, let that community of ten share my FULL game digitally, just like how they would’ve shared it physically. Being that games now evolve through DLC pack, it would be fair to ask each individual in the group to purchase their own packs when that time comes. If my game is worth it, loyal fans would support me. They win, and so will I. Tech have a habit of replacing old ideas with new ones, and these new ideas are always greeted with a great deal of skepticism and reluctance. So in regards to how you feel about the idea of a community of 10 sharing a wealth of games, I understand.

“I'll also believe these "cloud features" when I see them.”

Fair enough. Me, I don’t doubt the ingenuity of people like Jon Shiring, Joel Emslie, Josh Bridge, and Dominic Guay. They are experts in their fields, and if anyone would know, they would. DEV tools will get smarter and more optimized as these platforms progress. I can’t see it NOT happening, but I understand your skepticism. Back in the day, the idea of replacing your CD collection with mp3, which you will have to get as a download from the internet, was once a ludicrous idea too.

“I also don't get how Kinect can react to real world events”

I’m no brilliant DEV, so my ideas were for my own amusement & meant to scratch the surface. Like in game characters that recognizes when another individual is sitting next to you while you’re playing, and then enquire about that individual in some clever way. Or maybe games that involve writing, drawing, biometrics. I mean based on what the Kinect 2 is capable of, what creative things can you come up with? It pretty much just boils down to that. Puzzle games that are independent of a traditional controller, where you need to grab, twist, rearrange and place objects. Just use your imagination. We’ve been playing games with a standard controller for over 30 yrs. It is definitely time to explore new methods. I’m not saying replace the controller, but marry it with something new. I’m pretty sure the idea is to look at sensible ways to use it as oppose to pointing out obvious ways on how you would not. That’s easy.

“However, the only way to really test your hypothesis that MS were truly next gen in their offering and Sony aren't was to have MS stick to their guns”

Aside for policy changes, MS had stuck with the MAIN plan, which are the Xbox One, Kinect, MS Cloud. I completely understand why you underestimate, the tools, but we have 8-10yrs to see how things will work out.
People are stuck on the policies like if they won’t change somewhat when gaming go completely digital. Just look at how the services you enjoy are implemented on your smartphone, and if you are a gamer, on PC and Steam.

Thank you on your point of view on why MS changed their policies. From my experience, most people I knew who were complaining didn’t even knew what DRM was, and based their whole argument around that ignorance. I was on sites that did more speculative reports than factual. In the end, all my friends including me were more misinformed by the media, than by MS. How do we know, because all we had to do was go to MS own sites to view their policies, and then common sense took over. Aside from the mandatory 24hr check, we are pretty much supporting those policies now on our tablets, smartphones etc. People were misinformed. You can say MS was to blame, but add tabloid style journalism to the mix, then throw in forums of misinformed people, trolls and you pretty much got a mess on your hands. Click worthy, but a mess nevertheless. Your best move as a company is to then give them back everything they had for the last 8 years. The way services are implemented these days, it will revert on its own anyways.

As a consumer what I want is to have the ability to share my digital content like how I would share my physical content. I want a service that goes well and beyond my expectations for the money I paid for it. What game developers and publishers want are platforms that give them the abilities to maximize in everything regarding the games they create. The same goes for the content owners of the other kind’s entertainment that will be accessible through these platforms. For them, that reality will come when they all go 100% digital. Either way, the policies that won the day, will be replaced by a more convenient and YES, controlled version to that of their physical counterparts. Meaning Content owners will limit our abilities to resell and exchange digital content. You have a smartphone, you know the deal. It’s just a matter of time.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Ian Hultz on 22nd August 2013 5:33pm

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Aaron Brown BA Computer Science Student, Carnegie Mellon University6 years ago
@Brendan Sinclair
On the other hand, Sony seems to be betting there's an audience for different, arguably more sophisticated gaming experiences,
Sony is struggling as a company. You are reading way too far into their policies. What they have done is capitulate to the consumer, and Microsoft has been forced to do the same. They are attempting to widen their support base purely on policies, the same way a politician can expand their support base by backing to a certain cause, when the reality is that they just want more votes; and could very well be deceiving you. (I hope not, but who knows man!)

What we can say is that Sony is trying to reach as many consumers as possible. We cannot say that they are gambling on the future of games more than Microsoft.

Nothing in their approach says that they are betting on more "sophisticated" gaming experiences. Sure, they are betting on different experiences, but their approach could easily play out poorly if the PS store is flooded with half-baked, misguided, crap like the App Store.

I think you need to be more skeptical of Sony as this point. People are praising them, and praising them, and praising them. There is no doubt in my mind that this praise is too good to be true.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Aaron Brown on 22nd August 2013 9:08pm

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James Prendergast Research Chemist 6 years ago
@ Ian

Thanks for your response, Ian. I agree with you on some points but I think life, in general, has led me to be more pessimistic over the potentials offered by new products and from marketing spin.

People were misinformed. You can say MS was to blame

100% MS were to blame. Take away the forum posts, the news sites and everything else. MS had the worst "message" I've ever seen in sales and marketing to the point were similarly placed executives were contradicting each other on supposedly "locked-in" features. That's never a good thing and never inspires confidence.

The thing with all their features is that, yes, I can imagine implementations and features that might be great. However, it's that word "might" that currently holds back my enthusiasm. For every Steam we have an Origin, Ubiplay or Games for Windows Live! For every digital sale we have hugely expensive download versions when compared to physical prices. For every Dance Central (was that the popular one from Ubisoft?) we have kinectimals or Steel Battalion. For every WoW we have Sim City or Diablo 3. The failures (or what some people perceive as failures) that rely on these features are more numerous than the successes and until that changes I'm going to keep being sceptical about the possibilities. :)

You have a smartphone, you know the deal. It’s just a matter of time.

I disagree with this in its entirety. A) Smartphones are not consoles and smartphone apps are not console or PC apps. B) It's just a matter of time until we get personal jetpacks, hover cars and hover boards. For the most part, the market will decide what is successful and what is not. Consumers appear to have already spoken out on this - digital only with strict DRM will not work with a physical format. Moving 100% to digital might be the road map of every business out there but then so was outsourcing a few years ago in much of the industrial world - now that's being back-tracked on somewhat. These things are fads and there is no "one-size-fits-all" implementation. My gut feeling is that physical and digital will be around for a long time to come because of human psychology on both sides of the producer/consumer equation.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by James Prendergast on 23rd August 2013 6:59am

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Rick Lopez Illustrator, Graphic Designer 6 years ago
Well.... they were.... But not anymore, since Microsoft is just copying SONY's every move....
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Richard Pygott Level Designer 6 years ago
I have all consoles of the last generation but the Xbox 360 was my console of choice in all honesty,

I have only one console pre-ordered, and thats a Playstation 4.
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