Roundtable: Xbox One vs. PS4 at Gamescom

Microsoft had the biggest bombshell with Tomb Raider exclusivity, but is that enough to sap Sony's momentum?

Microsoft and Sony both had Gamescom press briefings yesterday, giving the two console makers another chance to build momentum for their hardware heading into the holiday season.

Microsoft went first, putting a clear focus on its line-up of high-profile exclusive offerings. The crown jewel of the company's conference was the revelation that Square Enix's Rise of the Tomb Raider would be exclusive to Xbox One, but Microsoft devoted plenty of time to exclusives like Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 2, Quantum Break, Fable Legends, Ori and the Blind Forest, the newly announced ScreamRide, and the Halo franchise. Indies also got a bit of love with ID@Xbox efforts like Space Engineers, Smite, and Below receiving featured placement in the show. Finally, Microsoft pushed its hardware hard, confirming three new console bundles for gamers this holiday season.

Sony fired back, kicking off its show with the news that the PlayStation 4 had sold through 10 million systems to date. And while it didn't have an exclusive bombshell of the Tomb Raider variety, Sony packed its show with new game announcements, from Q-Games' The Tomorrow Children to Ruffian Games' Hollowpoint to Ninja Theory's Hellblade. There was also a Tearaway adaptation for PS4, Housemarque's Alienation, and Wild, the first title from Michel Ancel's new side project, Wild Sheep Studio. And while it's not new or exclusive, a special nod has to be given to Hideo Kojima for devoting the lengthy Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain segment to specifically detailing the myriad ways players can use a cardboard box in the game.

So what really mattered here? How effective will Tomb Raider be in wooing gamers over to Xbox One? Is Sony losing its indie dev advantage? Given these announcements, who are the winners and losers of Gamescom?

Brendan Sinclair

As a gamer, I loved Sony's show. It paid lip service to the blockbusters like Destiny and Far Cry 4, but the focus was on the new, the ambitious, and the unusual. It was about Wild, Rime, Hellblade, The Tomorrow Children, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, Until Dawn, and Alienation. It was about giving the criminally underappreciated Tearaway a new audience, about giving unproven ideas a platform through which they might succeed. But as an industry watcher, I recognize that's not necessarily something consumers look for, much less value.

"Given what we know about all these games, Microsoft had a stronger exclusive lineup on display. The thing is, Microsoft had that same advantage last November when the PS4 and Xbox One launched."

Brendan Sinclair

Microsoft's briefing seemed much more in tune with what consumers have wanted for years. It was FIFA and Call of Duty and Halo. It was AAA exclusives like Sunset Overdrive, Quantum Break, and Rise of the Tomb Raider. And you can't say they ignored the indie scene, either, featuring interesting new titles like Below and Ori and the Blind Forest.

Given what we know about all these games, Microsoft had a stronger exclusive lineup on display. The thing is, Microsoft had that same advantage last November when the PS4 and Xbox One launched. Even today, Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Forza 5 sound a whole lot better than Killzone: Shadowfall and Knack.

But early adopters went with Sony's system by a wide margin. Part of that was because it was cheaper. Part of that was because of Microsoft's botched marketing heading into the launch. But the gamer in me hopes that another part of it was emblematic of a shift in what the gaming community values, and what content it's willing to support. Now that Microsoft has its messaging straight and eliminated the PS4's price advantage, we'll start to see just how big a shift has actually taken place.

James Brightman

At the risk of echoing Brendan, I'd have to say that Sony can put yet another feather in its cap this generation. Sony's presentation at Gamescom had a breadth of content for all sorts of gamers that Microsoft just can't match. Wild from Michel Ancel and the Celda-looking Rime both have me personally very excited, and I've yet to see creative pursuits on that level for Xbox One.

"The biggest takeaway for me is that while Microsoft's approach appears to be commercially driven, Sony's feels creatively driven."

James Brightman

The biggest takeaway for me is that while Microsoft's approach appears to be commercially driven, Sony's feels creatively driven. That may be a superficial difference, because at the end of the day these are both massive businesses and the bottom line certainly matters, but Sony's developer-first focus is enabling it to win the hearts and minds of both indies and gamers, and that's actually helping the bottom line (creativity and money don't always have to clash).

With the Kinect now properly unbundled, Microsoft is trying to lure consumers in with new software bundles, but again, this is commercial thinking. Microsoft has the money to invest in exclusive deals like Tomb Raider, but instead of throwing cash at development deals, it should be investing far more heavily in building up its own studio structure, which feels ridiculously overmatched by the folks at Sony Worldwide Studios at the moment. No offense to Lara Croft and the great work on the franchise recently by Crystal Dynamics, but that alone isn't going to give Xbox One any leg up or allow Microsoft to suddenly close the sales gap with PS4.

To be fair, Microsoft's been steadily taking steps to improve its messaging and its software portfolio on Xbox One, and as EA's Peter Moore likes to often point out, it's early days. We're not even a full year into either system's life, millions upon millions of gamers have yet to purchase either console, and a lot can happen in this industry in a very short time. Do you remember how people were burying the PS3 after its launch? Xbox One has a lot of potential and isn't remotely in a situation like that.

Steve Peterson

Surprisingly, at these Gamescom presentations, Microsoft had the energy and excitement and audience enthusiasm, while Sony's staging was rather flat and the audience was mostly silent. Despite that, both companies showed an impressive array of games coming up, and both featured indies prominently. Microsoft seemed to generate more immediate excitement with the upcoming Halo Master Chief Collection, while most of Sony's more impressive exclusives are something to look forward to for 2015.

"I expect to see a picture of Kinect on the next milk carton I buy, because it certainly went missing from Microsoft's presentation."

Steve Peterson

As is almost always the case at company presentations, what wasn't said was also very interesting. I expect to see a picture of Kinect on the next milk carton I buy, because it certainly went missing from Microsoft's presentation. It's become persona non grata at Microsoft, not even given a nod or a wink - much less a mention of Harmonix's fascinating Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved or other titles that use Kinect. Sony did almost the same thing with the PS Vita, though the Vita did get an offhand mention once or twice - more than Kinect garnered. Sony mentioned Project Morpheus, PlayStation Now, and PS TV as evidence of continuing innovation, though the only new detail forthcoming was that PS TV will be launching across Europe at €99. Otherwise, these all remain interesting ideas that you can't buy yet.

Microsoft may be well behind Sony in the number of consoles sold, but it seems to be on an even footing now with pricing and many exclusives coming up. Microsoft's got several bundles on the way, but Sony will probably get into that action this fall. Sony will probably maintain its sales edge over Microsoft for some time to come--and maybe for years. But buyers of either console won't lack for interesting games to play. Both companies will probably spend a lot on marketing this fall, so expect to be bombarded with messages about where the best place to play games is located.

One thing to remember: All the games looked great in the trailers and demos, but as Ryse showed us all too well, pretty pictures don't necessarily mean a great game. Don't be surprised if some of these games that looked great in the trailers turn out to be much less exciting when you play them. In the end, that's going to be the biggest challenge facing both Sony and Microsoft - keeping players from the disappointment of spending $60 on a game that isn't very good.

Rachel Weber

I hate to say, once again it feels like Microsoft has misjudged its audience and irritated potential future customers. For all its Gamescom pomp and bluster, the one piece of news people took away from the show was that Rise of the Tomb Raider would be an Xbox One exclusive. And there were only two real reactions to that news: anger, or the giving of precisely zero [redacted].

"PC gamers, PlayStation owners, they're all rolling their eyes, placing bets on when the 'exclusive' will run out. What they're not doing is ordering an Xbox One."

Rachel Weber

People aren't going to buy an Xbox One for Tomb Raider, the audience that already has that consoles has shown that they're not hugely enthusiastic about the franchise, so all you've really achieved is seeming evil to people who love games and who haven't bought your console... yet. PC gamers, PlayStation owners, they're all rolling their eyes, placing bets on when the "exclusive" will run out. What they're not doing is ordering an Xbox One. (And there's not enough space here to explore what Square Enix was thinking, other than, "for the love of god let's take the money.")

Sony, meanwhile, decided to just flood the room with games and flashy montages and LOUD NOISES. Not one person watching could list all the titles that got a mention, but I guarantee you there was something in there that made them tweet a smiley face. Destiny for the AAA whoopers, Michel Ancel for the indie kids and Drive Club for people who really like weather.

Ultimately this is an industry where people want to pay you to make them feel happy. It seems like Microsoft hasn't quite figured that out yet.

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Latest comments (12)

Steve Wetz Reviewer/Assistant Editor, Gamer's Glance3 years ago
The Tomb Raider deal is so bizarre. Square Enix initially claimed that Tomb Raider underperformed despite selling millions - at a time when Tomb Raider was a multiplatform release. Okay, so may Square Enix's views on possible TR sales and metric by which they measure success is unreasonably high. I've waxed philosophical on this before. But now, a company that was upset its title sold in the low mil's has signed an exclusivity deal with the next-gen platform with the lowest install base? WHAAA?!? Even if Microsoft pulled up with trucks full of money (highly likely), this seems completely counter to their concerns for the (reboot) original! I'm flabbergasted by this decision. I can't make sense of it.

EDIT: Apparently the main discussion for this is taking place on a different article's comments... :-D

I know why it makes sense for Microsoft, of course. They have to compete with Uncharted (not that TR will ever outsell Uncharted, but it's a step in the right direction). But I don't see how this makes any sense for Square Enix. They've essentially thrown away a good two thirds of their supporters from the last game, which they complained did not sell enough... I know I'm repeating myself here. I just don't get it.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Steve Wetz on 13th August 2014 4:09pm

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Dave Sullivan Senior Audio Designer, Codemasters3 years ago
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Joe Winkler trained retail salesman, Expert3 years ago
Why so serious? Sony made a lot of "console exclusive debut on playstaion" phrases on the E3 this year and even some at the gamescom press conference. And now it's Microsoft who get's the shitstorm?
I can't stand it. It's like the Internet is full of hypocrites who only cry out loud if their prefered console or Publisher has a disadvantage. Yes I still like Microsoft. And I'm pretty angry about NOT getting the Grim Fandango Remake, and yes I am very angry about the timed exclusive release of No mans sky. And now I will crawl through the Internet starting disussions about how much Money Sony spent to get those exclusives!! Not. I'm unfortunately to old for that.
And yes Tomb Raider Definite Edition was mostly sold on PS4, with the bigger Hardware base of PS4 compared to Xbox One, and the fact that most of the last gen Versions got sold on the 360 this is Kind of a logic conclusion. More People owned the original on 360 therefore didn't pay the full Price again for an graphical update- and so on.
Nice conferences anyway- I still love the Indie oriented ways both Publishers are pushing the industry.
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Show all comments (12)
Nick Wofford Hobbyist 3 years ago
Joe, it's the difference between the types of hypocrites that makes the difference. Adam Sessler backtracks on his statements, and the Internet's in an uproar. Other journalists are backtracking on their statements during this debacle, and not a word has been mentioned. Let's see: Sessler backtracks to make MS look good, gets flak for it. Other journalists backtrack (specifically on whether a platform holder should have exclusives) to make MS look bad, and nothing happens.

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Simon Weisgerber Independent Japanese/English to German Localization Specialist, Freelance - Gaming3 years ago
Sorry, maybe I am missing something here, but as far as I have seen from discussions, comments etc., I don't think that it is MS who are getting a lot of flak for this. Rather the opposite, as it makes a lot of sense for them to make a deal like that.
The biggest shitstorm was and is coming down on SQEX and Crystal Dynamics.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Simon Weisgerber on 13th August 2014 4:51pm

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Pete Thompson Editor 3 years ago
Wasn't impressed by Sony's presentation at all, Infact I found it quite boring and lifeless.. Lots of talk about games we already know about because most of them are multiplatform..

MS had a far stronger line-up, and still they take flak.. Go figure eh..
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Steve Wetz Reviewer/Assistant Editor, Gamer's Glance3 years ago
I think this is all about presentation and back story.

First, Microsoft played coy with the word "exclusive." No one mentioned a duration until Major Nelson was directly questioned about it, and even then his answer was kinda vague, with statements like, "I didn't buy every iteration of Tomb Raider.' Well, no one asked if you had, but okay.

Second, you have Square Enix coming out and saying Tomb Raider is a disappointment, despite selling millions. And there was a lot of support from the players at that point to say, Hey it's not a disappointment, guys. And TR has done really well post release.

This isn't about fanboys or consoles or whatever. I don't care much for what a console is on. But to play coy on whether it is true exclusive or not, to write an open letter to fans saying this is essentially best for them, etc.... this was handled REALLY poorly. And that's the main reason for the backlash. Put the word "timed" in front of "exclusive" on that announcement? No backlash. See how easy that is? Sure the fanboys would have cried, but it wouldn't have been the $#!Tstorm it turned into.
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Caleb Hale Journalist 3 years ago
When you've got two products that are essentially the same thing, marketers have little more than words to try and impress the consumer.
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Paul Jace Merchandiser 3 years ago
PlayStation owners, they're all rolling their eyes, placing bets on when the "exclusive" will run out. What they're not doing is talking about Sony's Gamescom show
Fixed that for you.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Paul Jace on 14th August 2014 8:18pm

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James Prendergast Research Chemist 3 years ago
To echo Steve Wetz, Joe Winkler:

"Exclusive to XBOX" is very different from "gets its debut on Xbox". That's exactly why one side is getting flak and the other isn't. There's a predictable outcome between being intentionally dishonest and being essentially honest.
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 3 years ago
Heh. Ive already forgotten the whole TR crumble-fest and have moved on, thanks to the P.T. demo, which made me wonder if Silent Hills is "exclusive" to the PS4 or coming to other consoles at some point. As crazy and frustrating as the demo was, it's still some damn brilliant marketing in action (shakes fist at the hours spent before finally cracking it)... :D
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From a gamers perspective, you could always play TR on any platform, and seeing as Crystal is not a MS first party developer, it resulted in this guttural, whhha? As such, it probably feels as a betrayal of sorts.

Now, if something was being developed exclusively for XBOX series of consoles, no one would really argue too much, Buy the xboxfor it or not if you want to enjoy a HALO experience. zero debate and very very obvious choice.

Lastly, although everyone seems to be able to afford a smartphone of sorts equivalent to a console, not many folks will be sufficiently cash rich/liquid/disposable to afford two current (next) gen consoles, and would have to some extent made careful research for choosing a platform for future gaming prosperity.

The initial TR news would probably have shocked. SHOCKED many gamers...
hence the Shizer-storm
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