Today, Sony launched the PS4 video game console in North America, a week ahead of rival Microsoft’s Xbox One. The competition between the platforms will be a battle worth billions of dollars and comes down to a 2,600-year-old parable—what do you want your game console to be, a multipurpose “fox” or a specialist “hedgehog?”
The all-in-one approach that Microsoft has taken with the ($499) Xbox One is perfectly legitimate. Xbox One will allow you to watch NFL games, video chat using Skype, and even workout with personalized feedback using Xbox Fitness. But Sony’s ($399) PS4 is emphatically a hedgehog and its specialty is games—not watching television, sharing snippets of gameplay with friends, or recording images of your living room—though it can do all of those things. The PS4 is a game machine.
In terms of technical specifications, the PS4 features an 8-core, low power x86-64 AMD Jaguar central processor and an AMD Radeon graphics chip. It comes with a 500 gb hard drive and 8 GB of RAM memory. This is almost the same as the Xbox One. As of September, Microsoft upped the speed of its central processor from the 1.6 GHz benchmark shared with the PS4 to 1.75 GHz. Even still, the consensus is that the PS4 is slightly more powerful, though the central difference isn’t about the hardware, it’s in Sony’s approach to gamers and developers.
This summer, Microsoft announced that the Xbox One would require internet access and that games, being individually licensed, could not be resold. Only after a prolonged outcry from gamers the world over did the company backpedal and issue a retraction on its blog. It’s just one incident in the introduction of the Xbox, but it gave the distinct impression that Microsoft was tone-deaf when it came to gamers.
At Sony, the gamer experience has taken center stage from the beginning. In February, Sony Computer Entertainment president Andrew House told reporters, “The living room is no longer the center of the Playstation ecosystem; the player is.” That focus clearly manifests itself in Sony’s game development process, which was open to independent game makers, created a hardware design optimized for ease of programming, and reached out to the development community as early as 2008 to ensure that the PS4 was an attractive platform to game makers.
Logically, if you attract the most game developers, you’ll attract the most gamers, which seems to be Sony’s ultimate goal. Whether attracting the most gamers translates to dominating the marketplace is another question entirely.
Thus, Microsoft’s gambit is a bit different. There is a market for an all in-one-entertainment center, and the Microsoft strategy will be attracting users who see themselves not primarily as gamers, but rather, as all-around tech-savvy media consumers.
Altogether, after Nintendo dropped the ball with the launch of its Wii U last year, there is a gaping hole in the $63 billion video game market that the Sony and Microsoft consoles are looking to fill. And it looks like Sony will reap dividends from its game-focused approach.