Sony PS4 vs. Xbox One: begun again, the consoles wars have

Used games, online play, borrowed titles and the dreaded Australia tax — it's on like Donkey Kong (or a non-Nintendo-exclusive equivalent).

opinion For attendees at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) — and the folks playing at home — it may have seemed like Sony's PS4 news conference was one long slam at some of the controversy that's plagued the Xbox One.

Not seen: the internet connection, because it doesn't need one. (Credit: Sony)

Certainly, Twitter seemed to think it was a grand slam, with plenty of users commenting on the burn that Sony had just delivered to Microsoft.

For a small bit of background, there had been rumours a-flying about Microsoft trying to limit used-game sales on the Xbox One, as well as much brouhaha around the console needing to be "always on" — requiring persistent connection to the internet, in other words.

Now, neither of these rumours turned out to be entirely accurate — but they weren't exactly wrong, either. As it turns out, Microsoft won't be restricting used games sales. What it will do is let publishers make their own rules about the resale of their games.

So, conceivably, a publisher could require a user to pay a fee to activate a used game. Or it might not; it's in their hands, and thus out of Microsoft's.

Similarly, the Xbox One won't need to be permanently connected to the internet. What it will do is need to check in once every 24 hours. If you go longer than 24 hours without establishing a net connection, offline play for your games will be disabled.

Finally, even more weirdly, Microsoft has place restrictions on the lending of games to friends and family: you can only share games with people who've been on your friends list for 30 days or more, and you can only do it once for each game.

So, there was a certain level of whooping and cheering when Sony, unsurprisingly, used its E3 conference to put the metaphorical boot into Microsoft.

"Disc-based games?" said Sony. "Oh, you can do what you want with those! Sell 'em, share 'em, put 'em on a shelf — they're all yours!"

Sony even went as far as to produce an official video detailing how you can share PS4 games.

What about online check-in? Not on Sony's watch! The announcement that you can play offline as much as you want without ever having to check with mum first to see if it's OK generated thunderous applause from the assembled journalists (who should probably know better than to applaud at a press conference).

And it was this particular dig that set the social networks ablaze, with triumphant crowing about Sony performing all manner of assaults against Microsoft's personage, backed by that most ardent expression of internet emotion, the animated GIF.

This very slide nearly broke Twitter. (Screenshot by David Carnoy/CNET)

In fact, the noise was so loud that most people missed this little fact: online multiplayer gaming on the PS4 will now require a paid PlayStation Plus subscription.

That's an AU$70 charge for something that was free on the PS3. Now, no one's arguing that PlayStation Plus isn't great value — it is — but Sony does seem to be sneaking that requirement in under the radar a little.

In fact, one could argue that the greatest triumph that Sony has made with the PS4 isn't new hardware or rendering engines or controller design. It's simply the fact that Sony won't stop you from doing the stuff you already do. It's a triumph of status quo, rather than proverbial and literal game changing.

Offline play, it appears, is the new hotness when it comes to consoles. This is something that anyone with a Steam account must be scratching their head over right now — after all, they've put up with online checks and a lack of lending for a long time now, without feeling the urge to act like it's a human rights abuse.

What about cost? Microsoft had just hours earlier revealed a price of US$499 for the Xbox One, which will come to AU$599 when it arrives in Australia.

Sony definitely surprised with its price on the PS4 — US$399, its cheapest launch price for a PlayStation to date. Yet somehow, in Australia, we'll be paying AU$549, a fairly big mark-up by anyone's standards.

The psychology of purchasing is an odd one. A $100 saving? That's a no brainer! Take that saving, son! But 50 bucks? You fork over that for half a day's parking in some parts of Sydney. It's a casual brunch for two in Melbourne. Who cares about 50 bucks?

The AU$549 price tag seems to be part of Sony's odd strategy of matching Australian pricing to UK pricing — and the PS4 is £349 or around AU$577. But it certainly puts the two consoles on a more or less even footing when it comes to retail pricing.

So here we are, at the dawn of another console war. This time, it's not just technical specifications at dawn, with gaming exclusives and pricing as seconds. No, this time, it's about the gaming community's sense of entitlement, for right or wrong.

All of which ignores the fact that most households won't bother getting a new console until Harvey Norman throws in one free next time they buy a new fridge. There is, after all, a good reason that neither Sony nor Microsoft will be retiring the Xbox 360 or PS3 for a few years yet — there's still a lot of gold in them there hills...

 

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