Xbox One Puts on Peek Performance

Microsoft succeeded in unveiling its new console by avoiding rival Sony’s mistake: hiding the product

Microsoft clearly took notes when Sony unveiled its Sony PlayStation 4 in February.

As it prepped to reveal its own next-generation videogame console, Xbox One, last week, a simple directive topped Microsoft’s to-do list: show the product.

Having hardware on hand might seem like a fairly obvious note for any marketer. But Sony and Microsoft have taken wildly different approaches toward revving up their marketing machines for the new consoles, which will compete for space in livingrooms around the world over the next decade.

In its two-hour presentation, Sony opted to focus on the software that gamers will play on PS4 when it launches this fall. The actual console was never shown–a strategy Sony seemed to reverse this week by issuing a 39-second teaser that offered an extreme closeup of the device ahead of next month’s E3 videogame confab in Los Angeles.

But Microsoft displayed the XBox One hardware so quickly into the opening minutes of its own hourlong presentation that it nearly startled the 150 or so press gathered last Tuesday inside a black tent on the Xbox campus in Redmond, Wash. The instant applause that followed seemed less directed at the design of the product itself but for the company’s decision not to operate in secrecy until E3.

By hosting the event in its backyard, Microsoft was looking to carefully manage its message around Xbox One, which replaces its eight-year-old Xbox 360 (first introduced on MTV in 2005). The company stumbled with presentations in the past. But in this case, it’s held a tight grip on what gets revealed about the console — photos of the device hadn’t leaked; not even its name got out to the blogosphere.

But Microsoft also pulled back the curtain for those who made the trip to Seattle, letting media and analysts get not only hands-on time with the Xbox One’s redesigned controllers but also see the capabilities of its new Kinect motion sensor, now updated with vastly improved software that enables it to work in smaller rooms–a major issue in the past.

Multiple Xbox One devices were on hand to scrutinize; engineers were introduced to discuss the work that went into designing the new console. The final result: a confident Microsoft eager to show off what it’s been working on over the past four years.

Not so with Sony. It held back so much information, the company will have to re-introduce its PS4 again during E3. Where Xbox brass will be able to focus on games, PlayStation’s executives will have to talk up both hardware and software to the media expected to fill the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena still grumbling over February’s event in New York City. Wining them over will take extra effort now.

That’s not to say Xbox is without its issues.

The Xbox One, while packed with power and impressive capabilities, is one bulky device that looks more at home in the 1980s as a VCR than in 2013 as a set top box meant to be the core player of entertainment in your livingroom. It’s not the prettiest device nor is it the ugliest. But slick is a term that can’t be used to describe its industrial design. Nor is it something you’re going to want to show off.

Sony could score points should its PS4 boast a more modern look. But even its console is going to have to be on the larger side, given that it also boasts updated, well, everything.

Nintendo’s Wii U, which launched last year, so far is the clear design winner, although the device has struggled to excite gamers and seems to be a placeholder as the company preps a replacement to catch up with its bolder rivals.

Microsoft has clearly bought itself some goodwill around the Xbox One so far. Whether it can carry the momentum through the fall is another matter.

Heading into the holidays, both Microsoft and Sony will unleash a major marketing blitz around their machines that will rival the biggest hardware launches in years. Both need their consoles to succeed, with some analysts and industry execs predicting the devices could grow the games biz by 30%, a welcome number as hardware and software sales have slowed over the past year.

Videogame publishers are waiting in the wings to capitalize on that hype, readying tentpole titles to take advantage of the console’s capabilities.

Activision Blizzard, the industry’s largest videogame publisher, is not only excited about the next-generation of consoles’ ability to offer up more photorealistic graphics, but pushing the boundaries of gaming, as well.

The new devices will “take the idea of second-screen interactivity and put it on steroids,” says Eric Hirshberg, president and CEO of Activision Publishing. “Multiplayer didn’t exist until this current generation of consoles. People spend a lot of time playing games and the act of playing a game isn’t terribly social in the way we think about social media today. That will change.”

Then there’s the push to be the central entertainment hub in the home — already Microsoft’s key selling point for the Xbox One.

“If anything, (the increased popularity of the consoles) solidify games as the anchor of that hub,” Hirshberg said. “It’s solidified games as one of the essential experiences of the livingroom.”

By bringing the traditional movie, TV and music industries together through VOD and streaming services, alongside games, “the experience will become more enjoyable and put games at the center of it all,” Hirshberg said. “The gaming community is perfect to drive this entertainment hub.”

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  1. GK15 says:

    I really don’t understand all of the backlash and rage over the Xbox One. I’m a lifelong gamer and since I watched the reveal, I can’t wait for it to come out.

    I think a lot of people are jumping to pre-mature conclusions, taking complaints and running with them until they become something so far fetched, they couldn’t be farther from the truth. Someone please (and not a 12 year old) explain. These are some of the complaints I’ve seen so far.

    1.) People were saying they weren’t focused on games enough – They have more exclusives in development than at any other time in Xbox history. And E3 is right around the corner. I don’t get the reason for the complaint.

    2.) People were upset over the used games policy – This hasn’t been fully explained or demonstrated. According to Michael Pachter, the reason for online check in is that you install the game to your HDD so that you don’t need the disc anymore to play (which is awesome). MS has even stated that the Xbox One will play used games and is designed to play used games. No matter what policy they implement, law of demand will dictate reasonable prices. So what is the reason for the complaint?

    3.) Kinect will spy on you – Are you serious? There are not enough resources to spy on every Kinect out there. There would be enough law suits to put MS out of business if they even attempted to. And it does turn off so there is no reason to fret. Why are we complaining?

    Those are the main complaints I’ve seen so far and until E3, or we get a full explanation, I can only assume that they are made by pre-pubescent boys, confused teenagers, or butt-hurt PS fanboys.

  2. 1. “Sony opted to focus on the software”

    Wrong. For the first 30 mins., they talked about hardware, from CPU, GPGPU, and RAM. Moreover, they talked about the new features of the controller. Microsoft didn’t say anything about its specs besides very elementary numbers. If you think “5 billion transistors” meant anything, it didn’t. In fact, Sony even showed applications of the hardware like a tech demo and an actual live gameplay.

    2. ” The instant applause that followed seemed less directed at the design of the product itself but for the company’s decision not to operate in secrecy until E3.”

    Wrong again. It’s a mandatory applause. Worse, all subsequent claps and applause and cheers are from Microsoft employees from backstage.

    3. “not even its name got out to the blogosphere.”
    Not in any way an advantage given that your direct competitor has had its consoles named “Playstation, Playstation 2, and Playstation 3.”

    4. “Not so with Sony. It held back so much information, the company will have to re-introduce its PS4 again during E3. Where Xbox brass will be able to focus on games, PlayStation’s executives will have to talk up both hardware and software to the media expected to fill the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena still grumbling over February’s event in New York City. Wining them over will take extra effort now.”

    Wrong again. We know more of the PS4’s specifications despite the fact that we didn’t get to see the box, and we know less of the Xbox One’s specs inspite the fact that the console was present. No word on actual GPU specs, no work on actual type of RAM, no word on how much system memory is reserved for the 3 OS’s inside the Xbox One. With PS4 we even know there’s an extra bus for the APU to bypass the L1/L2 cache for lower bandwidth data stream.

    No one also “grumbled” over February’s event over a box. A box you’ll look at once and keep away under your TV. Everyone was mature enough to know it’s just a piece of plastic. What’s more important isn’t the box but what’s inside it.

    5. “Microsoft has clearly bought itself some goodwill around the Xbox One so far.”

    Wrong yet again. Check out any forum void of clueless mainstream media and you’ll know the overwhelmingly negative sentiment towards the One. Better yet, check out its official blog and see the 3000+ comments basically ragging on it. Much better, check out their Xbox Reveal videos (yes, videos) and look at how they disabled the comments.

  3. Gates says:

    haha xbots
    how much money did you get from MicroHell??

  4. Matt says:

    If you read just about any message board about Xbox one you will find that most people seem to be angry about what Microsoft is doing with this new system or just apprehensive about all of the details MS left out during its big reveal. The Sony fanboys are the worst about it but you also see some supposed Xbox fans saying they aren’t cool with what has been released to the public so far from a knowledge standpoint. I will take a wait and see approach with the new generation of systems, we just don’t know enough yet.

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