Microsoft, Sony not playing around with new games
Microsoft and Sony squared off during a high-voltage, concertlike media event Monday that opened the annual E3 games conference in Los Angeles.
Seattle Timestechnology columnist
LOS ANGELES — It’s hard to tell which is more breathtaking — the vivid games coming to Microsoft’s new Xbox One console or the system’s $500 price tag.
The price especially stood out in contrast to its chief rival, the PlayStation 4, which Sony said Monday is going to sell for $399 this holiday season.
Microsoft revealed both during a high-voltage, concertlike media event Monday that opened the annual E3 games conference in Los Angeles.
The show marks a turning point for the traditional game industry as it rolls out a new generation of potent, but pricey, new game hardware. They run nearly photorealistic games that are elevating digital entertainment to new heights, but the high cost will limit access to privileged and passionate players, at least until prices come down in the future.
Microsoft will begin selling the Xbox One in November. The console comes with a 500-gigabyte hard drive, Blu-ray disc player and a new version of the Kinect motion and voice sensor.
Once it’s hooked up to a home-entertainment system, the Xbox One can be used to control a TV set with voice and gesture controls.
Sony, which had its media event Monday evening, will also begin selling its PlayStation 4 console this fall, offering a system with comparable horsepower and entertainment capabilities in a thinner, angular case. Sony said more than 140 games are in development for the console, but the biggest applause came when it announced the price and said that, unlike with Microsoft, it will support used games with no restrictions on the new console.
“It won’t stop working if you haven’t authenticated within 24 hours,” Jack Tretton, chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment America, said during the event at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
The prices of the new consoles could prompt thrifty families to give a second look to Nintendo’s Wii U, which starts at $300. The Wii U was the first of the “next generation” consoles to go on sale but it’s had a muted reception since its launch last November.
Nintendo is scheduled to announce new games for the Wii U at E3 Tuesday and could broaden its appeal further by lowering the price.
Xbox Vice President Phil Spencer defended the price, noting that the console is a multifunction entertainment system.
“I think we built a very powerful box that can support all forms of entertainment and I feel very good about the power we’ll deliver to customers with that box,” he said.
Still, Microsoft will probably have to lower the Xbox One’s price to build a broad base of users that, in turn, will keep game developers interested in the platform.
“I don’t think that price can hold for a year,” said Michael Pachter, a Wedbush Securities analyst.
Before the PS4 price was disclosed, Spencer said Microsoft isn’t planning to engage in a price war if Sony undercuts the Xbox One.
“Competition’s going to do what competition’s going to do,” he said.
Microsoft also is testing the loyalty of Xbox fans by enabling new restrictions on the sale and transfer of used games on the Xbox One. Players must connect the console to the Internet once a day to continue playing, allowing Microsoft to see whether used games are running on the system.
Spencer said reaction to these changes has been “good” since Microsoft disclosed them last week.
“People enjoy understanding the exact specifics about what our plan is,” he said. “We put that out there; there’s a lot of flexibility for people.”
Those who can afford the new systems and don’t mind the new copy-protection scheme will be able to play remarkable new games, transporting them backward into historical action epics, forward into futuristic sci-fi realms, or sideways into the boots of special-forces soldiers or zombie killers. Many are “open world” games in which players can explore virtual realms and interact with other players connected through online services.
Microsoft said the Xbox One will have 13 exclusive titles available at launch and more are in production, including a new version of “Halo” to come in 2014.
The company gave a sample of its lineup in its 90-minute E3 media event Monday at USC’s Galen Center basketball arena.
“As we’ve been promising, it’s all about the games,” Xbox President Don Mattrick said in his opening statements.
Microsoft also offered up a few goodies for its current Xbox 360, including new games and the promise of two free games per month for users who subscribe to its premium Xbox Live Gold service. The Xbox 360 also is getting an overhaul. On Monday, Microsoft began selling a smaller version of the console with a smoothed-out case and gray and black color scheme that echoes the design of the Xbox One. List prices remain $200 to $300, depending on the bundle.
Still, the highlight Monday was the parade of exclusives for the Xbox One that will encourage people to upgrade to the new console.
Crytek’s “Ryse: Son of Rome” is a gladiator combat game with armor that gleams in the sun and rendering realistic enough to show the sweat on a soldier’s nose. Players command a squad of soldiers, ordering them to lift shields in unison, for instance, when arrows rain down on their advance.
Microsoft’s “Forza 5” racing game is more realistic than ever, but the big advance is a new system of modeling virtual competitors, drawing on real people’s driving skills to create “driveatars” — instead of “avatars.”
The biggest gasps came when the stage opened up and a McLaren MP1 rose into the green light. In fact, the company had a pair of “standard” McLaren supercars circle the arena and race past the throng of thousands of journalists, analysts and retailers at the event.
A new game-creation game called “Project Spark” lets people use a tablet running Microsoft’s Smartglass app to create games with voice and touch controls.
For those who like to shoot zombies, there’s the cinematic, open-world zombie game “Dead Rising 3.” Young children whose parents won’t let them play “Dead Rising” may end up with the lighthearted, cartoon action game, “Max the Curse of Brotherhood.”
Microsoft has trickled out details of the Xbox One. It unveiled the hardware in a smaller event in Redmond last month, and last week it disclosed the used game restrictions..
Could it have more to announce, perhaps more TV capabilities? Spencer left open the possibility.
“We’ve got many beats before we launch,” he said, “so you’ll definitely be hearing us continue to tell the story.”
Brier Dudley’s blog excerpts appear Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or email@example.com
About Brier Dudley
Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.
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