Now that we've all had a few days for the announcement of the Playstation 4 to sink in, it's time to ask the obvious question: How should Microsoft react? More specifically, what can they learn from the Sony event and how should they apply this to the announcement of the next Xbox.
Before we get into the nitty gritty let's take a moment to clarify something. The PS4 unveiling was a success. It had it's problems, and the cynical reactions in comment threads around the internet were to be expected. Considering the ridiculous length of this console generation it's hardly surprising that people are wary to move on, but the general feeling is one of positivity and cautious optimism. If Microsoft want to take attention away from the PS4 they're going to have to bring it, and bring it big!
This article features five points that Microsoft should stick to if they want their event to be a success. Each point will be followed by a 'likelihood rating'. On a scale of 1 to 10 this will tell you how likely I think it is that Microsoft will actually follow this advice. Also, keep in mind that these points outline only the way in which Microsoft should present the Xbox. They are not about specs or features, as all the evidence points to the PS4 and next Xbox being very similar machines.
1. Just show us the console
One of the biggest complaints about Sony's announcement was the absence of the actual console. This seems to have split the gaming community into two camps. One who don't care what the console looks like - after all, it's almost certainly going to be a medium sized black box - and another who question whether Sony should have even announced the console if they didn't have a physical box to unveil. Whichever camp you're in (I'm in the first one) you have to admit that people clearly care about the appearance of the console.
If Microsoft are smart they'll have Don Mattrick walk on stage, approach a plinth covered in a dark cloth, whip it off, give everyone their first glimpse of the new Xbox, pause briefly for photos, and then move on.
2. Keep it civil
This one kind of relates to the last point. If Microsoft show off their new console and follow it up by making cheap jokes about Sony not showing their's, it's just going to piss people off. It's unprofessional, it wastes time, and it panders to the fanboys. Don't bitch about Sony's mistakes, if you really think you can do a better job then just show us. If we love what you show us you've done your job. No need to engage in petty corporate bashing.
3. Keep Kinect talk to a minimum
If you don't think Microsoft are going to talk about Kinect at their conference you're kidding yourself. We can, however, hope that they keep the talk to a minimum. The people watching these kind of announcements are gamers, and most gamers don't really care about motion controls. Just tell us about how much you've improved the accuracy, tell us it's bundled with every console, and tell us it won't be required to make the console work. After you've done this, show it working in an actual game, no bullshit ball-bashing tech demo.
Sony managed to keep their Playstation Eye 2.0 talk to a minimum so you can do it too.
4. Show us a good mix of games
This is another area where Sony did well. They showed an assortment of first party exclusives, third party muliplats, sequels and new IP. Microsoft need to emulate this. Surely they have someone, somewhere working on something new, and considering their lack of first party studios it would be very exciting if we got to see a couple of totally new and unexpected games. In addition to this they need to show something from established franchises. Forza seems like a given, and would it be too much to ask for a glimpse of Halo 5? Yeah, it probably would, but we can dream.
With the first party stuff out of the way they need to show some different third party titles to the ones we've already seen. We're all very excited about Watch Dogs, but we've seen it twice now; give us something totally new. Maybe whatever Respawn Studios have been working on? Or the new Assassin's Creed, perhaps? And since Sony had Activision, Microsoft should have EA.
Finally, don't forget about the indies. Sony getting Jonathan Blow up on stage was a much bigger deal than a lot of people made it out to be. Sony is making a concerted effort to appeal to smaller and independent developers - something that Microsoft was previously very good at. However, indies have begun to criticise Microsoft's restrictive Xbox Live marketplace, and it would be a shame if these concerns were ignored. C'mon Microsoft, be nice to the little guys.
Oh, and don't invite any devs that are just going to show us a tech demo we already saw last year *cough* Square-Enix *cough*.
5. Don't go over the top
Everyone remembers that insane Kinect announcement featuring Cirque Du Soleil, right? How about that stupid MTV special for the 360's unveiling? Yeah, Microsoft don't have a good track record for announcing new Xbox hardware. For crying out loud, just keep it simple! No teams of dancers, no kids performing staged high fives, no dragging out bored celebrities who really don't want to be there. Sony did a good job of just telling us about the hardware, the features and the games. They made a good first impression and left us wanting more. Hardware, games, services, "thanks for watching, we'll see you at E3". That's all we want.
The final verdict
Currently the rumours point to an early April reveal for Microsoft's new console
. If they follow the advice given above, the announcement should be a success. As you can see from my ratings, however, I'm not entirely convinced they can do this.
I've been a 360 owner since launch, and over the past two years Microsoft have been moving in a less than impressive direction. Too much focus on Kinect, very few interesting exclusives and not enough focus on games or gamers. Conversely, Sony have been quietly pumping out great exclusive games and turning Playstation Plus into a genuinely attractive service.
The Sony we saw on Wednesday was a very different company to the one that took the stage in 2006 and proudly uttered the immortal words "five hundred and ninety nine US dollars". They were no longer arrogant and demanding, but humble and receptive. They're working with developers to create a friendly, useable machine that is squarely focused on games and gamers. It just so happens that it does a bunch of other stuff, but that's secondary. Just the way it should be.
Microsoft, on the other hand, are coming off the back of a hugely successful console and are used to getting their way. They're now where Sony was in 2006, and they've become the arrogant, demanding beast. Recently it's felt like they've been telling us what we need rather than asking us what we want. While this doesn't necessarily mean they'll bungle the announcement of their new console, it does mean that the momentum and the sentiment are behind Sony.
Whatever happens, though, I think it's a safe bet that the announcement of the next Xbox will be, at the very least, interesting and possibly very exciting. Come release day I want the choice between the two consoles to be as agonising as possible. Lets kick this generation off with a healthy dose of rousing competition!