How Microsoft can avoid the pitfalls of Sony's PS4 announcement

Microsoft now has last licks at debuting the company's Xbox 360 successor. Here's how it can avoid a lukewarm reception.

Editor's note: It's official. Microsoft has announced the future of Xbox (and the next console) will be revealed at an event in Redmond, Washington on May 21.

CNET's live coverage of Microsoft's event Tuesday, May 21

Press events are a tricky beast. No one ever said they were easy to pull off. But with Sony casting the first stone in the next-generation console gaming war, Microsoft can learn a lot from what worked and what didn't.

When the lights went up, Sony execs were shaking hands and congratulating each other. But the packed house at the Hammerstein Ballroom wasn't exactly participating in the same adulation. Instead, it was left with a heap of unanswered questions, most notably the lack of physical hardware and a price tag.

By now it's safe to assume Microsoft will strike back with an event of its own, possibly before the company's E3 2013 press conference. If that's the case, one-upping Sony's coming out party shouldn't be much of an issue.

Here's what Microsoft can do:

Give us a box and give us a price
This one's a no-brainer. Sure, the PS4 and next Xbox will most likely just be a box, not much different than the PS3 or Xbox 360. But I think some critics who've downplayed the absence of a physical console might be forgetting that the box itself can be news, too. What if it's shockingly small? What if there's some sort of functionality built into the casing the likes of which we've yet to see so far in the industry?

Let's also not forget about the branding side of things. For all intents and purposes, the Sony event was made to be the PS4's coming out party. This was to be the world's first exposure to the future of PlayStation. For a presentation to carry that kind of weight, some sort of symbol must be attached to that tentpole event.

Keep in mind, the Sony event was attended by press from all around the world who flew into town for 24 hours or less -- all that time and money spent on what was not a whole lot more than a series of trailers. Even if it were nothing more than a hollowed-out plastic mold, I do believe there'd be a much greater sense of satisfaction throughout the industry. If this wasn't meant to be that kind of party, then Sony should not have gone through with it.

Don't spend a lot of time on the specs
Specs and numbers are all fine and good, but they mean next to nothing to the average gamer. Sure, developers care about specs but they already know what's packed inside the thing because they've been working with it for months.

Telling the world that your new console is jam-packed with 8GB of RAM is like prefacing a concert with a detailed description of what kind of guitar pedals are going to be used in the performance. There's a time and a place for these kinds of things. Don't get me wrong, I understand that there's an audience that cares about specs, but do a better job of explaining how these specs will directly benefit the end user.

Microsoft needs to make an event directed at consumers because they are the people who need to be won over. Accomplish that and you're already ahead of the game.

Don't tell; show
A lot of high-concept and lofty aspirations were tossed around at the Sony event, specifically in the realm of real-time streaming and social connectivity. That's great, but Sony should have created some kind of real-world demonstration to help better get some points across. Even if all that entailed a prerecorded video, it would have given the audience a clearer understanding of what kind of social and cloud-based functionality the PS4 will possess.

Sony spent a while talking up how seamless and intuitive these ultra-ambitious features were going to be, yet we all left that event without any idea of how exactly it was going to work.

We were also never properly introduced to the PS4's interface. There were glimpses of it during the video-sharing segments, but a brief tour really would have been beneficial and provided a better understanding of what the next PlayStation is going to feel like.

Don't repeat anything
With Sony hitting the stage first and bringing along a number of third-party developers to show off their next-generation endeavors, it's eliminated a lot of what Microsoft can do with games that won't be exclusive to the next Xbox. The key here is to avoid repeating any of those presentations. Confirming that these developers have also signed on to support the next Xbox is one thing, but spending the least amount of time on games we've already seen Sony talk about should be a top priority.

Debut a killer app
There wasn't one game exclusive to PS4 that really won the crowd over. Of course, Microsoft won't be able to pull this one out of a hat, but it also shouldn't sit on a killer app, either. If there's a Halo 5 cooking or a new game from Epic in the works, Microsoft should absolutely lead with that.

Microsoft started off the last generation with the majority of blockbuster exclusives, but that trend has been shifting toward Sony for a while. Sony wasn't able to generate buzz around a "must-have" PS4 title, so now it's on Microsoft to see if they can rise to the occasion.

Of course, Microsoft has yet to announce any sort of next-generation Xbox event, but we're still anticipating something soon. As soon as we hear anything we'll be sure to pass that information along and will be on hand if and when it happens.

Regardless, the big winner this week is E3 2013 happening in June. We can all but guarantee both Microsoft and Sony will have new, playable hardware at the big show in Los Angeles, and we'll be there live-blogging and roaming the show floor to bring you the absolute latest.

 

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