Microsoft and Sony Reverse the Messaging at E3 2014

Microsoft and Sony Reverse the Messaging at E3 2014

It's about the games

At last year's E3 conference, Microsoft was embarrassed by its terrible marketing of the Xbox One and by Sony capitalizing on those mistakes. But this year was quite different, with Microsoft adopting Sony's "game first" messaging from last year and Sony, curiously, adopting Microsoft's "games plus entertainment" messaging from E3 2013. What comes around goes around.

Microsoft being Microsoft, it did of course find new ways to disappoint fans who were hoping for more than just a laundry list of new games that will ship over the course of the second half of 2014. But let's be fair, folks: Microsoft has spent the year since its E3 2013 humiliation tripping over itself in order to respond to the wellspring of complaints that rose up in the wake of its Xbox One unveiling.

Those responses culminated Monday with the release of an Xbox One model that fans demanded fully a year ago: A $400 version of the console that is stripped of the superfluous Kinect accessory, matching Sony's PS4 pricing and capabilities. But the firm also announced that the backpedaling had become a formal strategy: The Xbox team is now actively soliciting feedback from its enthusiast users via the Xbox Feedback web site and will use that feedback to guide the continued evolution of the console. It will no longer dictate the future of the Xbox.

If you were among the vocal complainers who shouted down Microsoft's explanations for its Xbox One strategy a year ago, this Xbox Feedback web site should be greeted as the good news it is. Likewise, the site should please those who feel that the firm went a few steps too far in accommodating whiners. Now, both sides can have their voice be heard.

While Microsoft was busy trumpeting a series of exclusive games—or, in some cases, games with exclusive content or windows of exclusivity—Sony used its own E3 media briefing to deliver a message that should sound familiar. To Xbox fans, that is. Instead of pushing a games-centric strategy as it did to great (some may say largely undeserved) success last year, Sony is now highlighting the PS4's versatility as an entertainment console.

Like Microsoft, Sony did of course show off a number of games, including new versions of some PlayStation classics. But it is launching a series of TV shows and movies that will be exclusive to PlayStation, similar to efforts at Netflix, Amazon, and, yes, Xbox. Sony will even ship a $99 PlayStation TV set-top box that will compete with the Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, and various other living room-based digital media solutions. But the PSTV will also offer an optional game controller and can play PlayStation 3 games over a service called PlayStation Now. It can also play PS4 games via RemotePlay from a console elsewhere in your home.

The irony? Microsoft originally planned to ship a similar set-top box based on a "compartmentalized" Xbox One, and codenamed Yuma, last year. Maybe we'll get that box at E3 2015.

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