The latest round of the console wars has fully commenced, with both the Sony (NYSE:SNE) PlayStation 4 and the Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) posting successful launches. While the Nintendo (NASDAQOTH:NTDOY) Wii U squandered its year-long head start, the PlayStation 4 in particular looks set to enjoy a bright future.
While launch sales and trends make for snazzy headlines, they don't necessarily provide an accurate picture of how console adoption will wind up this cycle. This generation will likely be shorter than the last, but too much can happen in the coming years and current data is too scarce to write the Xbox One off. Pricing of hardware is obviously important, but the other side of the video game value equation is about games. With Microsoft confirming Halo 5 for 2014, the Xbox One's short-term lineup just got a major stat boost. Will a strong stable of first-person shooters have the Xbox One outgunning PlayStation 4 in the coming year?
The series that made Xbox
The legacy of the Xbox platforms is closely tied to the FPS genre. The original Halo helped to propel the popularity of the original Xbox and established the series as one of the biggest names in gaming. The "Halo" franchise has a large and dedicated assortment of followers that are certain to show up for the latest installment. A recent batch of Xbox promotional materials that bore no mention of a "Halo" title arriving in 2014 had given some fans and speculators reason to believe that the title would slip into the next year. Microsoft has officially clarified that this omission comes down to the next game in the series not having a proper title and that it was still on track for a 2014 release.
Bring out the big guns
With reports of Sony's PlayStation 4 outselling the Xbox One in Europe and North America, the ability to deliver an installment in a marquee property is a large feather in Microsoft's 2014 cap. The PlayStation 4 moved over 4.2 million units in 2013, with the Xbox One pushing past 3 million units in the last year. Microsoft will need to deliver quality software to reverse this trend. Halo 5, or whatever it winds up being officially called, should be the best-selling piece of exclusive software in 2014. Sony's big games for the year, Infamous: Second Son and The Order: 1886, look rather small by comparison. Meanwhile, Nintendo will introduce new games in the "Donkey Kong," "Mario Kart," and "Super Smash Bros." franchises for the Wii U. It will be interesting to see how much sales in these franchises installments decline over their Wii predecessors and what effect they have on Wii U sales.
While Sony's box looks to enjoy pricing and hardware advantages, it would appear that the Xbox One is on track to deliver a bigger 2014 in terms of games. Multiplatform mainstays like Activision's "Call of Duty" series and new IP Destiny should do big numbers on both platforms, but console platform exclusives like first-party Halo 5 and Titanfall from Electronic Arts are going to give the Xbox One a much-needed edge. Microsoft is also partnering with Remedy Studios for the release of Quantum Break, a time-bending action game that will release alongside a tie-in television show.
And the little guns too
If the Xbox One will see more big games in 2014, the PS4 is almost certain to be the landing pad for a greater array of smaller titles. The Xbox One is set to receive its first indie games early this year, but Sony's platform launched with an array of indies and PSN games and looks to enjoy a healthy lineup of future downloadable titles. Unless a title were to come along with popularity comparable to a game like Minecraft, it's not likely that these games are going to be the driving factor behind which console winds up moving more units. They do look to substantially alter the software landscape, however, which may be problematic for retailers like GameStop.
A strong and targeted lineup
The strong list of exclusive shooters coming to the Xbox One in 2014 bodes well for the device. Pushing early adoption of a $500 gaming console relies heavily on the demographics that routinely purchase entries in these genres. Microsoft is delivering the right slate to appeal to their tastes. If Microsoft can soften the Xbox One's price sometime this year, odds are it will be very competitive with Sony's PlayStation 4 in North America and Europe.