It is no secret that Xbox One has been struggling to keep pace with the PlayStation 4 since both consoles were released last November. Microsoft corporate vice president Phil Harrison addressed the issue while trying to downplay their concerns using the reliable this is "a marathon, not a sprint" analogy. While I agree that it is too early for Microsoft to admit defeat, they do need to address certain issues. History has proven that a slow start can be detrimental to a console's standing. There are three key areas that Microsoft should take a closer look at.
3rd party exclusives are a dying breed. PlayStation and Nintendo have first-party studios that create exclusive content for their systems. Microsoft on the other hand, relied heavily on third-party exclusives, such as Gears of War. This is an example of a strong and profitable partnership for Microsoft. Even some die-hard Sony fans purchased the 360 in order to play that blockbuster title. Epic sold the franchise rights to Microsoft earlier this year to assure that this game will be kept off of competing consoles. This may not be a feasible route to take in the future.
While exclusives can draw the consumer in and help boost the popularity of a console, it can sometimes come with a hefty price tag, especially when using third-party developers. You have to give them an incentive to make sure the game is kept off of other systems. Microsoft Studio boss, Phil Spencer stated last year, " I think that to some out there, there is a fixation on which studios you own, which studios you work with, and for better or worse I am not fixated on that".
It's that thought process that can spell trouble for Microsoft. They will have to compensate these developers for keeping the game an exclusive and out of reach of other consoles. Titanfall, Sunset Overdrive and Quantum Break are already being kept off of other consoles. Will these developers take this same route next time, knowing they are alienating a vast part of their potential audience?
The Social aspect of gaming. Video games are no longer seen as simply an escape from the world. It's actually a digital hangout. Friends, neighbors and strangers all gather to slay villains or square off against one another in a fight to the death. You can be completely alone in your home and still surrounded by friend or foe thanks to the strides the gaming community has taken. Online gaming has become a very important feature when considering a system for that very reason.
Like it or not, gaming has become a social affair and players will lean toward buying the system that will allow them to play with their comrades. So as more people move to purchase the PlayStation 4, multiplayer gaming communities, will also gravitate toward the PS4. This would end badly for the Xbox One. Even the gamer who prefers solo play will want to compete. They want to be able to see high scores, side by side and determine who among them is dominating. It's only natural.
Word of mouth a powerful tool. We may see TV is king, but PlayStation has proven that commercials aren't a necessity when selling a system. Microsoft plastered the television with commercials about their latest console still Sony could not keep their systems in stock. They were flying off the shelves (if you could find one). We put a great deal of thought into our console purchases. We consider the price of the system, the price of the games, the cost of extras (mics, cameras, etc) and we consider which system our friends favor.
Yes we are still flattered by commercials, ad space and billboards, but word of mouth is still the most effective tool to get you to make a purchase. We cannot help but consider what our friends and neighbors play and prefer. Their opinions stick with us and believe it or not has a discernible amount of sway over our purchases. If popular opinion starts to favor the PlayStation 4 this can end the console war. Word of mouth can actually be the most dangerous threat to the Xbox One.
Microsoft has had difficulty with the Xbox One's image since it was unveiled last year. They even tried to put restrictions in place that gamers were not receptive to. So they backtracked. However, the damage was already done. They also marketed it as an entertainment system in order to draw in new consumers. They didn't place any emphasis on the gaming features. So it did not appeal to their core audience. So reaching their core community has been a struggle.
Still Microsoft is right. The console war has just begun. As long as Microsoft starts addressing their issues now they have a fighting chance. Sony only appears to be winning the battle, but the war is far from over.