The spotlight – and the pressure – is all on Microsoft this autumn as it prepares to go head-to-head with Sony on the next generation of games consoles.
Microsoft’s £430 Xbox One launches on 22 November before Sony’s £349 PlayStation 4 makes its debut on 29 November.
With sales of console games falling 26.4% year-on-year in 2012, and Asda recently ending its stock of Nintendo’s new Wii U console following sluggish sales, the very future of the sector is in question.
“Yes, we have reversed many of our policies, and Sony will claim that shows we are out of touch. But if anything this shows we listen to gamers”
But despite talk of a post-recession decline in console gaming, Harvey Eagle, MD of Xbox UK, is bullish ahead of the Xbox One launch.
“It is great that more people are experiencing gaming, whether that’s on a smartphone, tablet or a console,” Eagle told The Grocer. “But you will find that 42% of the total spend on gaming last year was for consoles; we are not worried at all about a slow start for the Xbox One.”
Labelling all talk of a console decline as ‘ridiculous’, Eagle insisted the recent slump in sales was “completely normal as we are coming to the end of the eight to nine-year life cycle of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3.”
With the Playstation 4 retailing at £80 cheaper than the Xbox One, some Sony executives have made various digs at Microsoft in recent months – including several verbal attacks by Sony’s US president Jack Tretton during June’s E3 expo.
Despite the price difference, Eagle insists Microsoft’s offering represents “much better value” than its closest rival, pointing to the recent announcement that each Xbox One console will be bundled with a free copy of FIFA 14, the latest in EA’s popular football series.
“People seem to focus on saying the PS4 is cheaper but you have to make the right side-by-side comparison on what you are getting in each box and PS4 owners will not be getting our motion-sensor Kinect technology or exclusive DLC [downloadable content] for popular games such as Call of Duty and Assassins Creed. We have the best console and offer the best value.”
Kinect, a motion sensor input device that first debuted on the Xbox 360, allows gamers to play without a controller and use their voice to access content. The improved Xbox One iteration supports Skype calls and records constant live 3D images of gamers. It can even detect gamers’ heartbeats through muscle movements.
However, with Microsoft’s alleged involvement in the US government’s PRISM surveillance programme and claims it allowed the NSA access to video and audio Skype calls, the Orwellian nature of Kinect is hard to avoid.
“I’m aware of people’s fears over privacy, and I think it is important in society to treat people’s data respectfully,” Eagle said. “That is why we’ve made the decision to allow people to disable Kinect functionality at any time.” (Previously, Kinect was an always-online device.)
More than £1bn was spent on downloaded films, music and games in the UK in 2012, the highest ever annual total, with sales up 11.4% from 2011 [ERA]. This shift in buying habits was evident in Microsoft’s initial decision to release a digital-focused Xbox One whereby all users would require an internet connection and trade-ins of titles would be restricted because of the console’s support of digital purchases. However, after a backlash from gamers, Microsoft reversed many of its initial policies and, as a result, Eagles said Xbox now has gamers back on side.
“Yes, we have reversed many of our policies such as the Xbox One requiring an internet connection, and Sony will claim that shows we are out of touch. But if anything this shows we listen to gamers and make changes to provide them with what they want,” Eagle said. “With exclusive games such as Forza and Dead Rising 3, the Xbox One has the strongest launch line-up of games in console history.
“I would be lying if I said that I didn’t expect digital sales of games to grow in the coming years and we will address that, but I think people still enjoy the option of going to the high street and shopping around for the best possible deal on video games; we must reflect both types of consumers.”