(Hawk Eye, The (Burlington, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 23--It's been exactly three months since the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One hit store shelves, and the transition to the new generation of consoles is finally starting to ramp up.
It's far too early to tell who's going to win the console war, though I'm sure Microsoft and Sony won't have any trouble raking in plenty of cash. With Sony pulling ahead in the early stages as Nintendo continues to fall further behind, it's time to issue a first quarter report card for the big three.
For the last two months, my PlayStation 4 has been sitting quietly on the shelf, practically abandoned after I finished "Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag." And I couldn't be happier with it.
My joy is based on a promise. A promise of great things to come. In just a few days, I'll be playing the hotly anticipated "Thief" reboot, which runs at the high-definition resolution of 1080p on the PlayStation 4 rather than the slightly grainier resolution of 900p on the Xbox One. A couple of weeks after that, I'll be playing "Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes," which also will run at a resolution of 1080p rather than 720p on the Xbox One.
It's impossible not to notice a pattern here. As powerful as the Xbox One is, it just doesn't quite have the processing power of the PlayStation 4. Microsoft argues against that point, but the only alternative explanation is that game developers are having a harder time making use of the Xbox One hardware than the PlayStation 4. Either way, it doesn't look good.
Most gamers seem to agree, showing their preference through their wallets. Earlier this week, Sony announced it hit its internal PlayStation 4 sales goal of 5.3 million units weeks ahead of time. Meanwhile, Microsoft announced in early January it sold more than 3 million Xbox One units, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Unfortunately, sales reportedly have slowed down quite a bit since then, and the fact that Microsoft is refusing to release its most recent sales number isn't good. While GameStop stores in bigger cities still are having trouble keeping PlayStation 4 consoles on shelves, big box retail stores like Walmart and Target are offering incentives such as a free game or $50 gift card to get rid of their surplus Xbox One units.
While the slight difference in power is important to hardcore gamers like me, the real distinction for everyday consumers is the price difference -- $399 for the PlayStation 4 and $499 for the Xbox One. You just can't get around it.
If not for the paltry release schedule in the early part of this year, I would give Sony an A+. At this point, it seems the company can do no wrong.
Final Grade: A
How can a company as rich as Microsoft be so wrong and so right at the same time?
Despite the criticism I'm about to level at the Xbox One, it is by far the most used console in my house. One of the first things I do after work is turn the system on with a voice command (it never gets old), then check out my subscribed YouTube channels for the latest in gaming news. I'm also inclined to dink around on the Twitch channel (dedicated to live video game streams) to quell my nostalgic curiosity. I watched a guy complete a speed run of the original "Super Mario Bros." last week, and it was pretty darn cool. The PlayStation 4 doesn't support YouTube as of this writing, which I consider to be a major detriment.
The PlayStation 4 does support Netflix, though the interface is not as clean or user friendly as the Xbox One version. The voice commands for the Xbox One makes things even easier, since I don't have to pick up a controller to watch the latest season of "House of Cards." It's as easy as saying "Xbox, play."
Too bad I don't plan on playing very many third-party games on the damn thing. Microsoft has put out several press releases assuring gamers that the difference between 720p and 1080p doesn't matter, and for the most part, they're right. But when you have a 55-inch TV sitting less than 6 feet away from your face like I do, it makes a big difference. And I'm sure I'm not the only gamer with such a lavish set-up. Video games matter to us, which is why we spend hundreds of dollars on this stuff in the first place. The more Microsoft cries, "Don't look, nothing to see here," the more suspicious we become.
At least Microsoft has the flexibility and good sense to correct their mistakes as they happen. The Xbox One was doomed to fail when Microsoft announced the system wouldn't support used games, and that policy was quickly reversed. The company also has figured out that incentives work far better than restrictions, which is why they're offering deep discounts on digital versions of Xbox One games. Microsoft doesn't want you buying a copy of "Ryse: Son of Rome" for $60 on disc and loaning it to five friends. That's why they discounted the digital version of the game to $40 -- a version you can't loan to any of your friends.
Apparently they've heard the age-old saying, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."
Now comes the hard part. Microsoft needs to bite the bullet and lower the price of the Xbox One by $100. Whether or not they keep the Kinect camera in the package makes little difference, because at this point, no one cares. Gamers care about exclusive titles like "Titanfall," which looks to be a key selling point for the system this March. I tried out the "Titanfall" beta last week, and absolutely was blown away. But the game certainly isn't worth an extra $100.
Good effort, Microsoft. But there's still room for improvement.
Final Grade: B
At this point, picking on Nintendo is equivalent to kicking a dying dog. Too bad sympathy points won't restore its lost profit.
As of Dec. 31, the Wii U (which was released November 2012) had sold 5.86 million units. By comparison, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One sold about 4 million units in their first six weeks. Nintendo has drastically reduced its annual sales forecast, cutting estimates from a total of 9 million units to just 2.8 million by the end of March. Nintendo's CEO and other key executives have taken drastic pay cuts, the founding Nintendo family sold all of their shares for about a billion dollars and the company is mulling the possibility of a merger.
Let's face it. Despite the always excellent Mario and Zelda titles that attract children and aging gamers like me, the Wii U is severely underpowered compared to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Most third-party publishers are fleeing the platform like a sinking ship.
Many experts believe the company could bounce back by offering its games on smart phones and tablets, but Nintendo sees itself as a hardware company, and refuses to even entertain such a notion.
In response to all this doom and gloom, Nintendo is making a few half-hearted gestures to turn things around, such as a health-based initiative that's so vague it's hardly worth mentioning. They also announced all nine Koopa kids will be playable in the upcoming "Mario Kart" game.
When I told my wife this, we both burst out laughing. Only Nintendo would consider such an obscure game fact worthy of a press conference. As sad as I am to admit it, the company is quickly becoming a joke. If they don't turn their act around, Nintendo could flunk out of the hardware business all together.
Final Grade: D
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