We're now just weeks away from the November showdown between Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and Sony (NYSE:SNE). When Sony hits the market with its PlayStation 4 on Nov. 15 -- followed exactly a week later by Microsoft's Xbox One -- gamers, and in some cases their parents, will have to decide which big-ticket console will get holiday shopping priority.
Neither system is cheap. The Xbox One starts at $499. The PS4 is $100 cheaper but lacks the $60 camera that will enhance features the way the Xbox One's included Kinect does. Either way, we're talking about big upfront investments before we even begin to consider the software.
Despite the steep prices, folks seem to be playing along.
If you were hoping to pre-order a system, you're pretty much out of luck. That ship has sailed. Some retailers are offering bundles in which you have to buy titles or accessories, pushing the stickers even higher.
Your best bet at this point may very well be to wake up early on Nov. 15 for Sony and Nov. 22 for Microsoft and be one of the first ones in line at participating retailers that will have at least limited availability for walk-in customers.
Neither company has gone public with pre-order information, and that's understandable. Pre-order sellouts don't really tell us much.
Nintendo (OTC:NTDOY) got cocky when its Wii U was hard to pre-order last November, but it was a major disappointment. Nintendo slashed the Wii U's price this summer on weak sales.
However, facing a substantially cheaper Wii U is really the least of Microsoft's and Sony's problems. Diehard gamers will argue that Xbox One and PS4 cater to more serious gamers than Nintendo. That's largely -- though not entirely -- true. However, what is true that Microsoft and Sony will be facing a new breed of competition that didn't exist when the Xbox 360 and PS3 came out.
Tablets weren't around, and smartphones were mostly used by corporate types back when the predecessors to the Xbox One and PS4 rolled out. It is the growing popularity of mobile computing devices like these that have held video-game industry sales back in recent years. Yes, the rich console gaming experience is no match for a $0.99 app download. However, cheap apps seem to be doing just fine in wooing casual gamers.
Microsoft and Sony aren't stupid. They know the market has changed, and that's why they spent a great amount of time when they were initially introducing their next-generation systems to show off how they are the center of the connected living-room experience.
The Xbox One and PS4 won't be all about gaming. They will enhance the consumption of live TV and streaming video. Sure, the Xbox 360, PS3, and even the original Wii knew you had to play nice with YouTube and streaming services, but now the consoles are raising the bar on even standalone set-top media boxes.
So, yes, gamers will be fighting for console supremacy in a few weeks. Will the Xbox One continue the dominant streak in this country for the Xbox franchise? Will Sony take advantage of Microsoft miscues -- in both pricing and initial connectivity requirements -- to take the lead?
The battle's coming, but that doesn't mean anyone's a lock to win this war outright.