Bring on the 21st century console wars

Wow, what an E3 it’s been this year. Revelation after revelation. It’s been so exciting I even tried to engage some of my non-gamer friends in conversation about DRM policy, with predictably unsuccessful results.

I think we can safely say that the show has been a complete PR disaster for Microsoft. After confusing the hell out of everyone with their bizarrely TV-focused console reveal, then generating the kind of internet hatred usually reserved for paedophile hunts by announcing Draconian rights restrictions and shipping an always-on spy camera with every console (read this, it beggars belief), they’d set themselves up for an almighty smack in the face from Sony. If you missed it, just check out the video below and listen to the roar of the crowd.

That was revelation enough, but then Sony kept piling it on, refusing to pull any punches even though their opponent was on the ropes. Next came the price – the PS4 will launch at £349, £80 cheaper than the Xbox One’s £429.


Oh, and the PS4 will be region free, unlike the Xbox One, which will restrict users to a geographic region for their user accounts. Considering that it’s only going to launch in 21 countries initially, this has resulted in the farcical situation whereby people in, for example, Portugal, won’t be able to buy an Xbox One until 2014, even though their neighbours in Spain will be getting their consoles this Christmas.


Then there’s the seeming contempt Microsoft has shown for indie developers, forcing them to find a publisher rather than publish games themselves, and charging them huge fees to make any updates to their games. By contrast, Sony has been courting the indies, and devs like Oddworld Inhabitants have been flocking to them and bad-mouthing Microsoft as a result.


Then there’s the cringeworthy sponsorship deal with Mountain Dew and Doritos. Which, let’s face it, is just a bit embarrassing.


BAM! And so on and so forth.

I have no great allegiance to either Sony or Microsoft, so it’s not like I’ve been joyously revelling in Microsoft’s discomfort, but my god, what an entertaining fight. The console wars have begun in earnest again, and it’s shaping up to be a cracker. I’ve no doubt Microsoft will haul themselves off the ropes and come out swinging sometime soon, but it’s going to take a lot for them to come back from this one.

Away from the PR ring though, the things that matter – the games – are sadly just a bit disappointing. A couple of games look vaguely interesting (Quantum Break, The Order), but I’ve been shocked by the lack of imagination out there. Sequel after sequel, shooting game after driving game has been shoved in out faces, with little to differentiate them, and certainly very little to suggest that the power of the next generation of consoles is being used in a new and interesting way. Even Nintendo, who usually provide a surprise or two, have put out a hugely conservative line up, and there’s little evidence of new and inventive uses of that trademark Wii U gamepad.

Perhaps the most interesting games have come from the indie developers – they might not have the graphical oomph, but they’ve certainly got the imagination. Maybe this is the way the games scene is going – the uninspired, meat-headed, spectacular blockbusters steal the limelight, but the interesting stuff goes on in the little games.

All of this does raise an important question though: why should you spend 400-odd quid on a new console that provides a broadly similar experience to the one you already have? I’ve seen very few compelling reasons to invest so far.

But then the console wars have only just begun.