It doesn’t feel as if Microsoft and Sony launched their respective gaming consoles almost six months ago. A lot about the Xbox One and PS4 has changed, the biggest of these changes being the new $399 Xbox One.
Both consoles have started their evolution. Whereas the Xbox One was the only console to launch with a way for Xbox One users to quickly record and edit video clips without having to go to their computer, this functionality is now found on the PS4 as well. Where the PS4 gave users the choice to pick up a sensor for voice commands completely separate from the console itself, Microsoft has followed suit and what we’ve known as the Xbox One is now a premium Xbox One bundle with a lower-priced counterpart that doesn’t include the Kinect 2 sensor.
Of course, anyone who purchased an Xbox One or a PS4 last year could have predicted that things as early adopters knew them last year would change. The feature line-up and list of upcoming exclusive titles for each console always do. This constant need for change is why video gamers fight tooth and nail for the latest information and celebrate victory after their particular camp’s presentation at the Electronic Entertainment Expo every June.
But Microsoft’s decisions have made this a completely different fight; one that technology reviewers and early buyers couldn’t have possibly anticipated. All at once everything has changed but stayed the same.
The Xbox One and PS4 went into this console generation in pretty different positions as far as pricing is concerned. Microsoft, because of the Kinect 2 Sensor, had decided that users would need to pay $499 for the Xbox One. Back then, the higher price tag when compared to the PS4 was easy to justify. Microsoft was hoping that users would see the value in having a complete entertainment experience. Having the Kinect 2 sensor in every box and thus a higher price tag would be tough to overcome but the company thought it could sell users on its vision of integrating their entertainment.
In preparation for Titanfall, Microsoft announced that it would begin bundling copies of Forza 5 and Titanfall and lowered the price to $449. With that bundled game, a $60 value, and $50 in savings the Xbox One was temporarily cheaper than buying the PS4 with a game It cost $499 without a title. The problem is that Microsoft had to convince potential Xbox One buyers to sit down long enough to hear that argument. Clearly they didn’t, now a base level Xbox One costs $399. It doesn’t include the Kinect 2 sensor so users can’t control their television or talk to their Xbox to perform different commands.
In short, the cost of buying an Xbox One or PS4 is now exactly the same depending on whether a user wants the extra Kinect functionality or not. If they decide that they do later, Microsoft says that users will be able to buy a Kinect 2 sensor separately this fall. Presumably, some enterprising current Xbox One owners who didn’t want Kinect functionality are already gearing up to sell off their Kinect 2 sensors second-hand to places like GameStop.
Whereas the costs of owning an Xbox One were slightly higher than on the PS4, Microsoft has done an completely changed on that too. Going forward, the company will stop requiring that users have an Xbox Live Gold subscription before watching videos and listening to music in apps like Netflix. That’s gone and today both Xbox One and PS4 users can enjoy entertainment apps without having to pay a monthly fee.
Microsoft also bowed to pressure on another front. Until this week Xbox 360 users with an Xbox Live Gold account were given two free games a month. It was a program introduced after Microsoft saw the success of PlayStation Plus and its free game giveaways. The key, was that Microsoft’s program allowed Xbox 360 users to keep the games. As such, users could get an Xbox Live Gold account, download a month’s two free games and cancel their subscription at any time. Whereas PlayStation Plus users lost access to their free games if they stopped paying, Xbox 360 users didn’t. Unfortunately, being able to keep those games meant that Microsoft only offered older titles to users through the Games With Gold program.
In June that all changes and Microsoft says Xbox Live Gold users on the Xbox One should see the selection of free Games With Gold titles improve. For the first month it’s giving away Halo: Spartan Assault and Max: The Curse of Brotherhood. Going forward Xbox One games downloaded through the program won’t be playable if a user decides they don’t want to continue with their Xbox Live subscription.
A year of Xbox Live still costs $59.99 with PlayStation Pus costing users $49.99 a year. Having a subscription is required to play with friends on both consoles.
All told, what users now have are two consoles that are only truly different in terms of actual exclusive games. In reversing course Microsoft has decided that in order to win the war for the living room overall it’ll have to go back to basics and get in touch with its gaming roots. It appears that means duplicating the models and ideas that work well on the PS4 and going from there.
As such, the gaming consoles we have to today are in a dead-heat benefits wise. At least, that’s true for users who don’t spring for the $499 Xbox One. Let’s hope both Microsoft and Sony have some very impressive exclusive games to show off at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo.