The Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox have become synonymous with console gaming since their launches nearly a decade ago. They’ve been neck and neck in sales and both have attracted groups of zealous supporters, whose loyalty to their machines of choice was by and large unshakeable.
But the coincident release of the newest versions of these platforms -- the PlayStation 4 last Friday and the Xbox One this Friday -- provides an unusually stark opportunity to compare how the consumer strategies of the two companies have suddenly and markedly diverged: Microsoft is trying to drive gaming equipment into the entertainment mainstream; Sony, in part as a response to Microsoft’s approach, is keeping it hardcore.
Based on the initial social media chatter when Microsoft first introduced Xbox One in May, the software maker was taking a huge risk by touting the machine as an all-in-one game and entertainment center, a concept that proved almost as antithetical to gamers as “New Coke” was to soft drink lovers in the 1980s. And a month later when news broke that Xbox One had to be always connected to the Internet to operate and that players couldn't freely share and trade games, the complaints about the product worsened. It didn’t help that Microsoft’s first response was to tell people to use the prior version of Xbox -- the 360 -- if they wanted a machine without these new features. For many, Xbox One wasn’t living up to its tagline --“Jump Ahead.” Sony took note.
In the wake of the social media onslaught against Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Xbox One, particularly on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), Sony quickly offered up PlayStation 4 as the antidote. At the 2013 E3 Expo (an annual computer and video game trade fair in Los Angeles) Sony (NYSE:SNE) emphasized the gaming aspects of its console. And then taking the rivalry a step further, Sony undercut Microsoft on price, pegging the PS4 at $399 retail -- a full $100 cheaper than the Xbox One.
Then Microsoft backpedaled by eliminating the controversial always-on and usage restrictions and by launching an ad campaign that toned down the multiple roles of the Xbox in the home, though it continued to mention “entertainment” along with “games.”
Sony hasn’t wavered from its game-centric approach, celebrating gaming culture in its ads and tipping its hat to “Street Fighter” and other iconic releases of the past and present. The tagline in the U.S.: “Greatness Awaits.” In Europe: “#4thePlayers.”
The video above provides a snapshot into how the Xbox One/PS4 game console competition has twisted and turned over the past six months and a window into the distinct strategic directions that Microsoft and Sony would like to take -- but only it seems if the Twitterverse permits.