Video-game sys­tems en­ter­ing al­tered re­al­ity

New Mi­crosoft, Sony con­soles born into new en­ter­tain­ment universe

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Bar­bara Ortutay

NEW YORK — The last time Sony and Mi­crosoft came out with new video game con­soles, there was no iPad, the iPhone was months away and Far­mVille and An­gry Birds had yet to be con­jured up. The PlayS­ta­tion 4, which launched Fri­day, and the Xbox One, which goes on sale next week, face a muchchanged gam­ing and en­ter­tain­ment land­scape than their pre­de­ces­sors. As Sony and Mi­crosoft spar this hol­i­day sea­son over who has the brawnier ma­chine and more en­tic­ing online fea­tures, hard­core gamers are all but cer­tain to fall for the shiny, pow­er­ful new con­soles. But what’s less clear is how the gad­gets will com­pete for the at­ten­tion of peo­ple who now look to their tablets, smart­phones and other de­vices for en­ter­tain­ment.

“It’s turn­ing out that th­ese con­soles, in fight­ing each other for the love of the hard­core gamer, run the risk of fail­ing to cap­ture peo­ple in their homes,” says James McQuivey, an an­a­lyst with For­rester Re­search. Both Mi­crosoft and Sony po­si­tion their gam­ing sys­tems as en­ter­tain­ment de­vices meant to take over the liv­ing room. The Xbox 360 started stream­ing movies from Net­flix in 2008 and the PlayS­ta­tion 3, which al­ready served as a Blu-ray player, soon fol­lowed, along with a bevy of other en­ter­tain­ment op­tions. Ex­perts won­dered whether gam­ing sys­tems would soon re­place cable set-top boxes. Not so fast, was the re­ply from a host of other gad­get mak­ers. Along came Google’s Chrome­cast, the Roku player, Ap­ple TV and, of course, a slew of tablets. There are many ways to stream movies, TV and mu­sic into the home now. In that sense, the Xbox One and the PlayS­ta­tion 4 are no longer in a tra­di­tional, head-to-head bat­tle.

“It’s re­ally th­ese con­soles against ev­ery­thing else,” says Scott Stein, se­nior ed­i­tor for the tech blog CNET. That said, both gam­ing sys­tems are ex­pected to be in brisk de­mand around the hol­i­days. Sony ex­pects to sell five-mil­lion units of the PlayS­ta­tion 4 by the end of its fis­cal year in March. The PlayS­ta­tion 3, in com­par­i­son, sold 3.5-mil­lion units in that time pe­riod seven years ago. Mi­crosoft de­clined to of­fer a sales out­look for the Xbox One through the hol­i­days, but de­mand should be com­pa­ra­ble, says Wed­bush an­a­lyst Michael Pachter. He ex­pects three mil­lion Xbox Ones to be sold through De­cem­ber and 4.5 mil­lion through March. Why does the PlayS­ta­tion get a slight edge? Price could be one rea­son. The Xbox One, which in­cludes an up­dated Kinect mo­tion sen­sor, will cost $500, which is $100 more than the PlayS­ta­tion 4. In con­trast, the PlayS­ta­tion 3 went on sale at $500 or $600 de­pend­ing on the model in Novem­ber 2006 while the Xbox 360 cost $400. Most new game soft­ware will cost $60. Dan Perkins, a gamer who’s on the fence about which con­sole to buy, says the “price is cer­tainly a fac­tor” nudg­ing him to­ward a PS4 pur­chase — even though he was pre­vi­ously an Xbox man. “I bought the Xbox 360 pri­mar­ily be­cause I pre­ferred the ti­tles it of­fered to the PS3. A ma­jor con­trib­u­tor to this de­ci­sion was the Mass Ef­fect tril­ogy, which was ini­tially un­avail­able on the PS3 at the time of my pur­chase,” says Perkins, 40, a li­brar­ian from Syra­cuse, N.Y. “Nei­ther plat­form has the edge on games in my opin­ion. In the end, though, a big fac­tor will be which sys­tem my friends adopt.” The friend fac­tor is why Pe­dro Amador-Gates de­cided to stick with the Xbox. The 37-year-old says he did con­sider switch­ing, but the PlayS­ta­tion didn’t have a chance. He likes his in­ter­face, his user­name is al­ready set up and his gam­ing achieve­ments will carry over to the new ma­chine. “Ninety per cent is be­cause I am al­ready es­tab­lished in the Xbox com­mu­nity,” he says. Then again, nei­ther the Xbox One nor the PlayS­ta­tion 4 is back­ward com­pat­i­ble, mean­ing the ma­chines don’t play games that were made for their pre­de­ces­sors. That gives play­ers a clean slate to start with a whole new set of games. “Ev­ery­one is start­ing over to some ex­tent,” Stein says. The con­sole mak­ers’ chal­lenge will be to en­sure that ev­ery­one does start over, in­stead of stick­ing with their own game con­sole or per­haps buy­ing an iPad in­stead of a new game ma­chine. Tony Bar­tel, the pres­i­dent of the world’s largest video game re­tailer, GameStop, ex­pects the new con­soles will be in “high de­mand and short sup­ply” due to a huge pent-up de­mand for new gam­ing. Af­ter all, peo­ple have been play­ing the same con­soles since be­fore the iPhone came out. “There’s tremen­dous de­mand for in­no­va­tion,” Bar­tel says. Given the choice be­tween an iPad and a PlayS­ta­tion 4, Sony be­lieves its con­soles have an ad­van­tage dur­ing the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son. “One pur­chase of­fers some­thing that ev­ery­one in the fam­ily can en­joy to­gether,” says An­drew House, pres­i­dent and CEO of Sony Com­puter En­ter­tain­ment. “Whereas the other is a sin­gle-per­son ex­pe­ri­ence.”

NAM Y. HUH / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

PlayS­ta­tion 4 sys­tems were fly­ing out of stores across North Amer­ica af­ter go­ing on sale as early as mid­night Fri­day.

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