Xbox-as-a-Service VS. muddled PlayStation messaging

After the somewhat awkward presentation of the PlayStation 4 Pro a lot of people were understandably confused about the future of PlayStation. Was this aimed at 4K-enthusiasts? If so, why wasn't there support for 4K Blu-ray? And why weren't the games truly running at 4K? Was it aimed at 'pro' gamers demanding higher framerates? Then why did it only offer improvement on a per game basis going forward and doing nothing for existing framerate-locked multiplayer games? (Arguably the only area where improved framerates really matter?)

But more vitriol-based was the mudslinging to and fro Xbox One. Xbox One S already had some features ready and especially the upcoming "Scorpio" model would potentially outperform the PS4 Pro model. While people started getting their knickers in a twist about which one was the better, I found it more important to highlight Microsoft's "endgame".

After all, the Xbox One launch might have been nothing short of disastrous, but Microsoft seems to be a lot smarter about making their initial vision behind the console work. Not that everything is going swimmingly, but – as I noted on Rllmuk – Microsoft is currently holding a better long-term hand than Sony:

To reiterate this, Microsoft has been working towards a universal state for quite some time now. They basically hit 1.0 when Windows 10 was released earlier this year on Xbox One; they have a unified base. On the other side of the equation they've been loading up Windows 10 on PC with an Xbox layer and releasing Xbox One games in tandem. Their endgame is to have Xbox-as-a-Service: choose custom power with a PC or go down the easy-all-in-one Xbox console route. Whatever the case, your (digital) library (as per the original Xbox One plan) will be waiting for you, scaling alongside your hardware. As always, this takes time. Microsoft is pretty good in long-term thinking, yet they're pretty disastrous in short-term execution. The Xbox One launch is still utterly bizarre, but the main idea behind is alive and well.

Don't forget Microsoft has been steadily converting the Xbox 360 library to be Xbox One compatible. This will probably be extended to original Xbox titles as well, and concluded with all three Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Xbox titles being playable on both (future) Xbox consoles and Windows 10 PCs. Sony might have stumbled upon a customer lock-in through PS+' ever-growing digital library, but its Microsoft that's actually learning from it. Sony in comparison is flailing about, as they are slowly realising they don't have an escape hatch to other hardware, and dedicated might become obsolete. They've literally mentioned they were scared that customers might move to PC, and create things like PlayStation Now and PS4 Pro to entice people to stay. In contrast: Microsoft won't care where you game. Buy their consoles or buy a new graphics card for your gaming rig ("like that's ever going to be a Mac"), whatever the case you can play their games and remain in the eco system.

The battle between Steam and Xbox is probably going to be next, as Sony will wither away and Nintendo (apparently) cosies up to Apple and Google. Sony might currently be in the lead, but in my opinion their future is the bleakest of all three. They literally sustain themselves with momentum, and as soon as the PlayStation brand loses momentum again (which is possible as per Xbox 360 era), they most likely won't be able to recover. Considering it's the only money-maker Sony has, this could mean the end for them.

All the more reason to regard PlayStation VR as something far more important than a mere PS4 peripheral. If PlayStation VR succeeds and manages to unlock experiences on PC and Mac as the dominant VR-platform, they may have built their escape hatch in time. Sony has mentioned PlayStation VR benefits from the PS4 Pro, but we don't know yet to what extent. If it turns out to be close to mandatory to get a proper experience, it probably means Sony is betting the farm on VR to make sure the experience is going to be impressive enough (and lesser experiences can then be swept under the carpet as "wrong hardware").

(BTW Microsoft has been investing in Facebook since forever, so expect those Oculus cooperations to be intensified as Scorpio moves into view.)

As an aside to that: it's fascinating to see how popular opinion on Sony is ever so slowly shifting again. Having been the knight in shining armour for gamers for a few years in the wake of the Xbox One launch, their mixed messaging surrounding the PS4 Pro is generating frustration rather than celebration.

It's clear you should get a PS4 Pro if you're a newcomer, but at the same time, the benefits are slight enough to make the new slimmer PS4 a good proposition as well (especially when you cannot show the benefits on current consumer screens). Combine that with a perceived underperforming console compared to the unfinished Scorpio and an unclear benefit for PlayStation VR, and people are having doubts. It's almost as if the PS4 Pro has suddenly undermined the entire proposition of PlayStation 4.

The doubts might not be enough to generate another large-scale collapse of the PlayStation brand, but it's incredible to note that Xbox One in any guise has suddenly become a genuine option next to the PlayStation 4 Pro and slim launch. This in itself would've been unimaginable just a mere month ago and should raise some concerns at Sony.