Thursday, June 13, 2013

[SETTLED DUST] The Next Generation of Gaming, Compared

The pre-E3 conferences have disappeared, and from the dust, the internet appears to have settled on one, almost overwhelming winner:

The Omega GameCast!

Since Microsoft's conference in May, and the ensuing PR battle since, many have been looking to Sony to win gamers over where Microsoft lost. Sony had been heavily rumored to follow suit with the DRM on used games, much in a manner like Microsoft. Seeing as the PS4 is also more powerful than the Xbox One, we were also expecting a price tag on par, if not higher, than the Xbox One. Sony came out of their E3 conference glowing with radiance, with a $399 price tag, no used game DRM for first-party games, the ability to play rented games, and let your friends borrow those games. During the conference, Jack Tretton received an absolutely overwhelming ovation for this news.




It took Jackie Boy 2 full minutes to inform people about the DRM policies Sony is taking (rather, not taking), because there was nearly a combined full minute and a half of applause for this news; he got two, half-minute ovations, once for the news that they "won't impose any new restrictions on the use of PS4 games," and another for the news that gamers can do whatever they want with their copy of the game they purchase. The applause - it sounds much more authentic than the Xbox One applause - gives the impression that gamers were waiting on bated breath for the PS4 to be the anti-Xbox One, and it sure is seeming that way.

Unfortunately, there is some misdirection here. While Jack is in the right where first-party games will not impose restrictions, third parties have the ability to impose restrictions on their games. What kind of restrictions, Sony has not said. EA has stated they haven't even begun to start chatting with Sony or Microsoft about the used game DRM in place on both systems, so it may be some time before we get answers on this.

DRM

Selling Used Games: Microsoft is seen as the devil, here. While the Xbox One can play used games, you need to give up a few luxuries to do so. If you want to sell your games, it must be done through an authorized retailer, which then Microsoft takes a cut of the used games' sales at the store (that size has yet to be talked about). Once the sale has taken place, your digital copy/license on your LIVE account is revoked. Do you want to let a friend borrow your game? Tough shit. You'll hand them the game, the license transfers, and you can never play that copy of the game ever again; this copy of the game can only trade hands once. Will that second party be able to sell the game at a retailer? We don't know yet.

You thought I wouldn't use Dr. McCoy on this, didn't you?
Sony, however, has absolutely no restrictions to selling, trading, borrowing, loaning, or renting games. That's Sony. The third-party publishers/developers may place restrictions on this. None of them have said if they will, because they didn't know about this news prior to Monday night. EA has come out to say that the Online Pass' retirement - "It's dead, it's dead, it's deep-sixed, it's at the bottom of the Mariana Trench" - isn't because of the Xbox One news, but because it was bad juju with gamers. Even though Sony isn't restricting used games, EA will not reintroduce the Online Pass. Furthermore, Online Pass' ugly cousin won't rear its head, either: "At the end of the day, we're not going to replace [Online Pass]. It's not coming back. It's dead."

Renting Games: This is something that Microsoft still doesn't have an answer to. Since it wasn't answered at E3, I believe they don't know how it works, either. Will I be able to continue renting physical games from GameFly? Is there going to be a digital rental subscription (this, I'm completely fine with)? "How can I rent games?" is one of the biggest questions left to be answered.

Sharing Your Library: What we do know is more details on this whole "sharing your games with your family" bit. We do know that Microsoft is allowing up to 10 family members to have access to your games. Unfortunately, Microsoft could not have been more cryptic when announced, because what you thought it meant is far from true, and gets an edge up on Sony, unless they have this in the cards and have not mentioned it. We're not talking about local accounts, here. Any game you currently have in your possession as a digital game (almost every game) can be shared to a "family member." Microsoft gives this answer on their Xbox One FAQ page:

Xbox One will enable new forms of access for families. Up to ten members of your family can log in and play from your shared games library on any Xbox One. Just like today, a family member can play your copy of Forza Motorsport at a friend’s house. Only now, they will see not just Forza, but all of your shared games.  You can always play your games, and any one of your family members can be playing from your shared library at a given time.

Microsoft has also clarified how these people can gain access to your games, and no, they do not have to be "blood relatives," and they can live 3,000 miles away, and still be able to share your digital library. You indicate up to 10 people on your friends list of who can access your shared games. They then have unlimited access to your shared library. The only catch is that only one person can be playing the game at once. This makes sense; if you let a friend borrow the physical copy, you can't be playing it, now can you?

As great as this news is, Microsoft has left a few unanswered questions:  Do we have a limit on how many games we can add to the shared list, or is this all of our games? How can we manage the shared games list? Are there any catches to the list of 10 people that can access the games? We know about the 30-day restriction on giving other gamers your physical copies (must be on your XBL friends list for that duration before they can play), but does this also apply to the sharing of digital games? Despite the questions, this factoid makes the Xbox One seem like a more viable system than it did just a few days ago.

Sony, however, has made a short, 22-second instructional video on how sharing your (physical) library with friends, as seen below:


Cheeky? Yes. Funny? Absolutely. Childish? A bit. Sony has the upper hand with the physical games, as they can be used any way you want. Microsoft, however, has a better solution, where "10 family members" can access your shared, digital library. That solution may be better - albeit, with unanswered questions - but your physical library is still restricted.

ONLINE REQUIREMENT

24-Hour "Suicide" Check: We already know that the Xbox One requires an internet connection once every 24 hours to maintain the ability to play games. If it goes 24 hours and 1 minute, it kills gaming, but you can still watch physical media (DVD and Blu-ray), and utilize the TV pass-through. Jack Tretton, detailed above, cheekily stated there is no authentication required, and will "[not] stop working if it hasn't authenticated within 24 hours." The crowd. went. nuts.

Don Mattrick, however, has been shown to be saying exactly what not to say in situations like this. First, there was backwards compatibility, saying "you're really backwards" if you want that feature. Now, he's referring people to buy an Xbox 360 if they can't fulfill the internet requirement. That's not very heartening to hear a company tell you "stick with the last-gen tech." Yet, don't fret, there is a way to get around the potential issue of not having internet connectivity 'round the clock: mobile broadband! Yes, that technology is being used as a way to get your Xbox One's daily fix of internet. It can use those mobile hotspot devices - such as a MiFi - or even utilize a cell phone's tethering ability.

Your next question was immediately answered by Don Matrick, though: "The 24-hour ping takes kilobytes of data." To give you an idea of that, if this entire article was put into a Word document and saved without images or compression, it's a meager 147 KB of data; your average song is 1-2 MBs, which, for those not in the know, is roughly 10 times the size of the aforementioned document. Once can only presume the "ping" will take less information. Will people really want to buy a mobile broadband device, just so their Xbox One can get it's hit of sweet, sweet internet? For mobile broadband devices, will it support 3G, 4G, LTE? Most cell phone carriers require a monthly fee to use the tethering option, although, there are other means of enabling that ability. Mobile broadband, while an answer to a problem (no consistent internet) which is an issue stemming from another issue (24-hour check-ins) that exists because of the Xbox One, is not the answer many were expecting. In my days of retail, I encountered a lot of people that didn't have a reliable internet connection, and these families may not bother with the hassles of the system to get it to stay online.

While many a gamer absolutely cannot stand this "feature," many continue to stand by it, simply because of one caveat: cloud-based computational power to assist in-game.

Cloud Computations: The Xbox One utilizes the 300,000 servers not just for multiplayer or content access, but also to handle further complex processes, such as character AI, weather systems, lighting elements, all that good stuff. While some games will pawn these processes off to the servers, not every game will. These computations are, quite possibly, the core reason for the "suicide check" listed above. If the game can't connect to the servers to push the computations off, the game is borked. Can the game still survive without these computations pushed off onto the servers? It's possible, but no one is talking.

Sony doesn't have any sort of "cloud computations" for their games. While the power of the server-side computations have yet to be seen, it may end up making games more powerful, more beautiful to look at, the enemies may have super-advanced AI, but in order to truly see the difference, I want to see how a game plays with and without cloud processing.

PRICING & AVAILABILITY

The Xbox One launches at $500 with the Kinect One (can we call it that?). The PS4 launches at $400 without the PS Eye camera; the Eye sells for $60 stand-alone. Niether camp has given a launch date, but one can only assume it'll be in November, possibly on a Friday or Tuesday, as history has shown.

There's no sugar-coating it, and the pricing difference is actually kind of shocking. The PS4 is known to be a more powerful machine (but not by much), and it's selling for less, but also for a reason: they're not packaging in the PS Eye camera. Why? Having the camera there, it does allow developers to implement the hardware into their games. Microsoft's reasoning behind the Kinect being included with every Xbox One is so that developers can utilize it for their games. These implementations are very similar to what we saw them do with games on the 360: shouting at your TV to do things you can accomplish by pressing a button or two.

E3 is showing games that utilize the Kinect, and they're all pretty much the same: yelling at your TV, flailing your arms, or making hand gestures at the camera. While the new Kinect has been detailed to be far more advanced and understanding of the commands it's receiving, developers are still doing the same thing. Sony sees this as an issue, and by not including it, developers won't have to feel pressured to implement innate motion controls; simply put, Sony is not force-feeding the Eye camera to all. It's also a bad idea by not putting it in with the system. Sony's plan had the $400 price tag as a goal. They simply couldn't meet that goal, and left the Eye out of the package, and are selling it for $60. Sony could simply push a PS4 system at $450 with the Eye, or take a loss, package the Eye in there, and keep it at $400. Sony couldn't have done a worse job at educating their show-room floor people on the Eye camera, which also spells bad news for support for the accessory.

Microsoft is known for not being favorable in Japan. Like, really unfavorable. The Xbox was a hulking mess, the 360 did marginally better, and the Xbox One seems to hate Asia. How much does it hate it? So much, in fact, that's it's been "delayed" by a full year. We know the Asian market likes two things: Sony and Nintendo. They could care less for the Xbox One, and almost despise Microsoft. So why is Microsoft taking a year off in a country that is going to gobble up their competition? To offer "localized content" with a "staged approach." They gave a small list of countries to expect it in - most likely a sampling - but didn't even mention Japan. By then, the PS4 will have dominated the market, and the Xbox One won't be able to get a sale in edgewise.

THE GAMES

Both fronts have proclaimed large numbers of exclusive games, and brand new franchises. The Xbox One will see 15 exclusive games in the first year, 8 being new properties; the PS4 has 20 exclusives, 12 of them are new franchises. As of now, the launch titles for both systems have not been fully announced, but the libraries are shaping up on both systems. The way the exclusivity works on both systems is a little confusing, and needs to be wrought out. While there are 25 titles you will find on the PS4, 10 of those are only on the PS4; the other 15 are exclusive to the PS4 in this generation, meaning, they'll show up on the PC, or even the PS3, but will not appear on an Xbox platform. Over on the Xbox One, there are 20 exclusive titles, 16 of those are exclusively on the system; the other 4 can be found on the 360, or even the PC. Most titles don't have a release date penned in yet, so this handy-dandy chart, crafted by DeviantArt user yamamoto114, should do some good:



We can see the PS4 is a little glum right now, as a lot of these games aren't necessarily exclusive to the PS4 only, but can be found on it's elder brother, or the PC. Despite having less PS4-only exclusives, they do have more games announced that won't be found on the Xbox One.

On the other side, the Xbox One has far more games that can only be found on the system, and some are shaping up to be mighty fine games. Dead Rising 3, Quantum Break, Crimson Dragon, QTE: The Game Ryse: Son of Rome. The X1 has more games confirmed to launch, but Sony is giving away a free game to those with a PS+ membership: DriveClub. While launch is months away, this list will refine on itself, launch titles will be confirmed, and free games can/might be announced.

The Xbox One has a delectably promising selection of games I will want to play: Halo, Dead Rising 3, Ryse, Sunset Overdrive, Crimson Dragon, and Quantum Break. From the games announced on the PS4, there are a handful of games I will want to play: the Super Stardust HD sequel, Infamous: Second Son, Oddworld: New n' Tasty (never played the original), Secret Ponchos, and The Order: 1866. There's an equal amount of games that look very good and both systems have a veritable library of games to choose from.

THE BREAKDOWN

As of right now, the PS4 and Xbox One have an equal amount of strengths going for each other. Your Xbox LIVE friends can play your shared, digital library of games, negating the need of a physical disc. The PS4 allows you to do what you wish with your physical game without restrictions (unless a third-party publisher says otherwise). Both platforms have a large-sized library of games to choose from, with an impressive third-party lineup. The Xbox One has the ability - and potential - to overtake your living room with the impressive TV pass-through functionality. The PS4 will continue to play your games throughout an internet drought.

Both systems have a fanbase piling up, eagerly awaiting their respective releases, and already throwing their money at their computer screens to place a pre-order. Hell, there are even a large amount of converts who are defecting to the other sides. As of this moment, I have a pre-order for the PS4 and a copy of Watch Dogs, and I've been a big fan of the Xbox 360 since it's release (even though I have a PS3, as well). I do not have plans to purchase an Xbox One, purely because of the 24-hour suicide check, restrictions on physical copies of games, and the biggest catch of them all, the inability to play rented games (at launch).

These restrictions do not show me the value of a $500 purchase, and it's all about the value. Some don't care about the 24-hour check, but I do; if I'm without internet for more than 24-hours, not only can I not play my Xbox One games, but I may go into a state of shock of not having internet. I'm also concerned about those who do not have access to an internet connection: deployed soldiers, families that don't want to connect the system to the internet, or childrens' hospitals that don't have ethernet jacks in the rooms. Microsoft states they're working for a solution to this problem, again, another problem that exists because of their "solution."

Until I hear more news about how rented games will work (digital subscription, perhaps?), I will be a happy PS4 gamer. I would like to own the Xbox One. My Comcast DVR GUI looks like baby shit, and the X1's layout is mighty tasty. I want to experience the games on the system. I absolutely love the Xbox controller, and despise the symmetrical thumbstick layout of the DualShock.

For now, I leave you with a hardware comparison of the two systems, created by DeviantArt user yamamoto114 (the abruptly cut-off portion you see at the bottom is where the above "Games" list is from; simply cut it down for posting purposes):