PS4 vs. Xbox One: Microsoft’s Advantage if Hardware’s Irrelevant

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All the talk before E3 was the battle looming between Sony and Microsoft going toe to toe with dueling press conferences. Sony seemed to have the last laugh, both literally and figuratively, with its press conference scheduled for the end of the day and the revelation that the PS4 would retail for $399, a full $100 less than the Xbox One. Yet this final article in our three-part series explores whether Microsoft — in spite of history being stacked against it, and in spite of failing to learn from the past — is still positioned to win the PS4 vs. Xbox One debate. As much as people want to talk about hardware, Microsoft ironically among them, the issue of hardware is completely moot in the next generation of consoles. And whenever software and services come into play, Microsoft has a fantastic track record.

Both the PS4 and Xbox One are powerful machines, to the point that they essentially cancel one another out. For many years now, the leap from one console generation to the next has hinged on which manufacturer has the better hardware. Back when we still talked about bits, the discussions hinged on the leap from 8-bit to 16-bit graphics processors. Then the conversation evolved to cartridge-based vs. disc-based games, eventually going back to bits in 64-bit era (Nintendo 64). Sony’s PlayStation brand owned two generations, with Sony remarkably still innovating, but Microsoft’s entry into the market cranked the hardware-debate volume to 11. CPUs, GPUs, hard drives and RAM — traditionally PC terms — entered the console lexicon and set fanboys ablaze.

Outside of the total hardware geeks, those conversations have been virtually silenced in the PS4 vs. Xbox One debate. Perhaps because the PS4 and Xbox One are releasing at the same time, perhaps because they both have AMD processors, or perhaps because there aren’t many more unique leaps hardware can realistically take, games on the PS4 and Xbox One look almost identical. The user interfaces are different, and each system’s functionality is distinct, but the question of “Is the Xbox One or the PS4 more powerful?” is pointless. The form factors and controllers will each have their champions and detractors, but the “Xbox One or PS4?” debate really comes down to software and services.

PS4 vs. Xbox One - Part 3: Software

This next generation of consoles, if not all future generations, is no longer a competition of horsepower. Now it all comes down to game engines, developers and skill. Look at the Battlefield 4 single-player demo; we saw it running on PS4, but it looks similar on Xbox One. Look at the Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag E3 footage and the Need for Speed Rivals E3 demo; we played them both on PS4, but the Xbox One version looked no different. The game engines are optimized for the next generation, regardless of platform. The current financial model doesn’t allow for specialization; publishers need to diversify and make as much money as possible. Unless a manufacturer is willing to pony up for an exclusive, game engines will pander to the lowest common hardware denominator. And the lowest common denominator in the PS4 vs. Xbox One battle is high enough to be indistinguishable from the console above it.

Essentially, this next chapter in the Sony vs. Microsoft saga has taken hardware out of the equation. What we’re left with is a battle of infrastructure and services. Microsoft’s Windows and Office software, and even its Xbox platform, has established Microsoft’s software superiority. At times it may be buggy and annoying, but over the long haul it’s done well. When you look at Microsoft’s reversal of its DRM and used-game policies for Xbox One, it’s clear just how reliant the PS4 vs. Xbox One discussion has become on software. The quick change in course was only possible because software changes are easier to implement than hardware ones. Make no mistake: Microsoft’s DRM and online vision will inevitably come true, just not at the Xbox One’s launch. It’s foolish to think otherwise; the company will surely force Xbox One owners to take baby steps in that direction via system software updates during the next five years.

Yet whether they realize it or not, consumers have fully embraced the software-focused next-gen strategy. Look at the increase in Xbox One pre-orders following Microsoft’s DRM reversal. Microsoft predicted this mindset shift — perhaps even caused it — when they launched Xbox Live on the first Xbox. Xbox Live was like a tactical nuke in the PlayStation vs. Xbox war. Now it’s more robust than PlayStation Network, and with that service sitting alongside exclusive software and service tie-ins with the NFL and others, the Xbox One is better positioned to draw mainstream consumers to the Xbox One. Xbox Live launched ahead of its time, perhaps even prematurely, but Microsoft has since polished it into a money-making beast. Sony decided to charge for online multiplayer on the PS4 for a reason: it’s a Trojan horse into future revenue streams.

History has repeatedly shown that the market leader loses the next generation, and that focusing too much on hardware is a recipe for defeat. Based on those indicators, Microsoft should fear what the future holds. But the move to PS4 and Xbox One is like no generational leap before it. Hardware is irrelevant. Software and services are king. Microsoft invested in software and services early in the Xbox platform’s life, and that strategy could be the next-gen difference maker. Whether a software-driven victory comes to pass is years away from knowing, but by making hardware almost a side conversation, Microsoft is in a history-be-damned position to win the next generation.

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  1. Eric says

    Windows 8 can run on as little as 64 mb’s of ram, and the Xbox OS runs on sub 128 MB’s of ram on the 360, the disparity is nowhere near 40% more ram available on the PS3, beyond that, the 7870 in the PS3 is only capable of taking advantage of ~3 gb’s of GDDR5 before the point of no return, and the One’s less powerful 7790 GPU will be able to utilize approximately 4.5 gb’s of the DDR3 in it before it also sees diminishing returns due to bandwidth limitations of the GPU’s, not the ram itself.

    Its also obvious that none of you are PC gamers, or you would realize that both systems GPU’s are actually mid range cards, and that while technically the PS4’s is “50%” more powerful, in real world game comparisons on the PC, it rarely offers more than 8 or 9% more performance. The average gamer, even hardcore gamers won’t notice a difference without an FPS meter running, which won’t happen on either system.

    Also, since the One no longer requires an Internet connection, the idea of a “spying” camera is also moot and pointless, as it doesn’t have to be online, therefore it can’t possibly be “spying” on you. Also, the one looks like it will actually be the better ventilated machine this time around, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony has more overheating issues due to the higher wattage GPU running in a more confined space….I think I’ll play a wait and see this gen and might get both machines in a year or two, or neither ever.

    That all being said, go back to flame bating, both systems will be more than powerful enough to impress your average Joe, and still fail to impress any real PC gamer.

  2. Jason says

    It’s so funny looking at walls of tekst by paupers that claim to have intelligent when all they write is jibberish.

    PauperStation is going down!

  3. xbox360degreescelcius says

    Today, there are still the same kids that refuse to grow up and become a man, like the one above who says paupesation. We had lots of hope that 7 years later, they would be mature enough to realize they lost their virginity to microsoft, all these years. But no. They still keep praising the company that sold them a broken piece of shit, that kept melting and melting like real shit, all these years.

    They still hate Sony because that company actually sold to their customers ultra reliable hardware,that still work today,after thousands and thousands hours. They hate Sony because buyers have hundreds and hundreds of great games, and incredible exclusives, instead of only having Halo and Call of Douche-y . They know microsoft only sold about 30-40 million consoles, the other 40 millions were countless replacements , where many customers got a second-third-forth etc x360, as they kept melting and rroding, once a year, under warranty. The actual people that purchased an x360 are well visible, they have a forced gold subscription and are online, which is about 20 million people, 95% gamers and the others, casual Netflix non gamer users.

    These indoctrinated out-of-control robots were screwed in a way most porn actresses didn’t even think it could be possible. They learnt to pay,pay,pay and never say a word. They learnt to buy expensive proprietary hard drives and WiFi adapters, and never say a word. They learnt how to only have 2 or 3 new games, each year, and never ask for more. They learnt they should pollute every single forum, saying halo and forza are the best exclusive games in the galaxy: guess what, bunch of brains full of diarrhea , when there are 15 million online gamers, that don’t get new exclusive games during several years, then, it’s absolutely normal whenever a new halo or gears is released,everybody get one,since they couldn’t buy anything else all those years because there was NOTHING else, to buy. On the Sony side, whenever a game is released on the ps3, there won’t be 15 million gamers rushing and buying the new game, simply because there are many many other games and genres, and people already bought many of them, and, of course, they can’t buy every game that is available. Capice??

    How can the xbots be so immature? It’s just insane, how they think and what they do. And then, they say other people are retarded. Because they are clever? And the worst part is they are totally convinced they are a superior race, just because they can play halo, gears and call of douche-y online, with their little buddies.
    Seriously, grow up, kids. It’s about time to start thinking like normal people, instead of thinking real life is about season passes, new multiplayer maps and camping. Grow the fuck up. And many of you, at 25-30 yo, I promise your brains are fully developed, and should work normally. Try to turn off your Xbox. You will see, there are plenty of great alternatives. Try to disconnect from the microsoft matrix. You should then be able to see amazing things. Like a great game called The last of us, for example.

    OK kids, we know there is nothing we can do for freeing you. As soon as the eks-boks 1 will be out, you will do your homework and brush your teeth, so daddy buys you the new console. But at least, don’t forget to cover the kinekt 2 lenses, otherwise, it will record you, fapping, when watching the beauty and the beast cartoon, on your Xbox one. Don’t be another Jim, on american pie 1 movie.
    OK, kids?
    OK, now, go to n4g, before daddy kisses you good night, follow some ps3-ps4 links,and go post some shit, call people moron,idiots,pauperstation, etc.and then, go to bed, and ask daddy to come. Nice boy you are. So nice, mom will buy you a second Xbox one controller, you know, the one microsoft did 640 optimizations, and made it 15% more responsive, where actually the old controller could perfectly be used, since nothing changes, but they call it a revolution, so people can’t use the old x360 controllers, and have to buy a new one. You know, when Sony makes great upgrades, adds a speaker, a microphone jack, highly reduces latency, uses great materials, adds a light bar, a 1920*960 touchpad, etc etc, that perfectly justifies the new purchase, microsoft, they just say they add a magical rocket science wireless connectivity,that is almost 15%(OMGLOLZ) faster than the x360 controller, adds rumble and increases a-b-x-y colors, and call it a revolution, so people can’t use the old controllers anymore, that could have worked perfectly well, people don’t need 15% and button/trigger location changes, and could use old controllers, that would do exactly the same thing as the new ones. But no, your smart asses you are, you will just have to pay, pay, pay, like you got so used to. And then, Sony guys are the idiots, right ? XD

    Long comment,sorry guys, but these xbots kids really are really , well, kids. And they need to learn what life is.otherwise, they will still be ignorants , by the time the Xbox 7 is out, in 2040.

  4. teufel says

    I am not positive who should be more mad, Sony for the wasted money they put in to make a powerful machine or the consumer for the money they will waste on either system for options/hardware they likely wont use or at least wont be used to its full potential.

    You have the One with 3 operating systems with its red ring vibe just screaming “buy extended warranties kids” because we all know how well MS does with making one OS work well on a computer. I cant even fathom how well the dance of keeping all three happy is going to be like let alone designing software around that including the ability to patch. Lets not forget the forced up Kinect that will be all so handy to make our tv watching a breeze and all those fantastic “games” that will spawn from it.

    Then the poor PS4 gimped by the One and the third party engines that will drive both machines that will be designed to run on both machines which translates to wasted power for the PS4. The only people that might end up making anything that uses that extra power might have to be one of their first or second party teams, but we all know how likely that will be considering how long it took Sony to even start pushing the PS3.

    Finally the dark horse of the next gen, the U. Yeah, it is cheaper and does not have all the bells and whistles, but Nintendo has a first/second party lineup like no other with only a taste of what they have to come being shown at E3. If, as the author pointed out, it truly comes down to software/options, then the Wii U should not be counted out before this gen even starts being that Nintendo, unlike the others, actually does do backward compatibility.

    Why is that important? That means that all these games will be playable on their next system that if this one is like the Gamecube would mean that it will be launching in 2016 with likely more horsepower than what MSony have for their systems at a competitive price if not cheaper than what they will be selling their systems.

    In any case, with software being the deciding factor and MSony really giving their followers no real motivation to upgrade other than shooters/driving games, it might prove to be interesting to see how this all plays out with Nintendo and their beloved IPs coming out this holiday season and some unique first party games hitting next year. (X)

    • Ryu says

      You know exclusives exist for a reason right? We’ll se plenty of PS4 exclusives utilizing the full capabilities of the PS4 and show the tech really doesn’t make a differance. And either way, no ones really seen any actual true Xbox One long term gameplay considering they used High End Gaming PCs with Windows 7, 7! Not 8 how hilarious, for the game demos. So no one was even seeing what the game play would actually be like for an Xbox One at E3 unless they take the 5 minute game plays of the few games they did play during E3, even then I doubt they used the actual product for that too.

  5. Vera says

    Poor N4Gtards still defending PauperStation4. So laughable. Please follow $0ny off the cliff like the retarded lemmings that you are.

    • Reshuffle says

      I think you are way out of line in saying that the PS4 is only for poor people. When you take the time to see why the PS4 is winning, you will see it is because Sony offers better value for money, and doesn’t force peripherals that not all people want or use and charge a $100 premium over it (Kinect 2.0). PS Plus is a great service and gives you an excellent return for you money. Xbox Live Gold is also good, and better in some areas; this still doesn’t offer the same amount of content as PS Plus. I personally own both an Xbox 360 and a PS3, but I am sticking with just the PS4 for this generation.

    • Matt says

      And I’m sure you were just lividly butt hurt before just like everyone else before M$ made they’re 180 on their policy (ironic I know). Yet you forget to realize that in spite of what’s in your mind as (M$ listening to the consumer) vindication you seem to forget that is SONY included DRM policies M$ would have NEVER changed theirs to begin with. It’s fine if you want the Kinect spying on you but at least have the common courtesy to give credit where credit’s due.

  6. Neal says

    I am not sure Xbox 360 “won” the last generation. Granted MS had a better business model, their console was cheaper to manufacturer and sell, and its mandatory XBL gave it a a steady lucrative stream that Sony obviously envied and copied for the PS4.

    However if you look at worldwide sales, the ps3 and 360 have sold very close to the same units, with the ps3 slightly edging out the 360’s cumulative total. It must be a US press thing b/c the 360 dominated in North America.

    I am also flabbergasted at why journalist are quoting Amazon pre order page when they really don’t know how Amazon rankings work, it is a cumulative number or is what is currently trending b/c it fluctuates like crazy, or some sophisticated propriety algorithm that Amazon uses to direct purchase which is very common in the retail world. The point being it is shoddy and lazy journalism to quote Amazon pre order rankings.

      • Neal says

        No they weren’t, they stated 360 won as a matter of accepted fact. It might seem to have been a matter of fact in North America and the UK, but its not anywhere else.

        Also if you talking about cross platforms, it was a rough parity, with some going either way, not enough to label a “win” for any platform. If you look at the two top franchises this generation being Fifa and COD, you will see that FIFA consistently sold better on the PS3, COD did better on 360, but it still sold very well on the PS3 regardless or basically a wash. If you actually looked at any other of the top 10 multiform titles, it is more the less the same story.

  7. zpoc says

    not sure what you’re trying to argue – the current gen has shown that a stronger GPU (found in the 360) can result in better performing multiplatform games.

    beyond that, the real place the ps4’s power will shine is with sony’s first party games. just as it is now, with sony santa monica, naughty dog and guerilla creating games that outpace the 360 in visual fidelity by taking full advantage of the ps3’s multi-core CPU, the next gen will see similar pushing of the tech to its limits by developers unburdened by the limitations of creating a game cross-platform.

    and the who reason for buying one system or the other is for the exclusives, in my opinion, and sony is going to come out ahead in that regard because their stable of first party studios, and it’s guaranteed that they’ll take full advantage of the tech at their disposal.

    • Wiz0191 says

      It wasnt just ir CPU that made uncharted and killzone possible. It was more the fact that sony used the blu-ray format allowing them to have more data storage on a disc rather then microsoft choice of using the older dvd-9

  8. NIck says

    Man, I don’t know.. The PS4 has a 50% more powerful GPU, and 40% more usable RAM.

    Last generation things ultimately evened out. The PS3 had a harder to use system, but was overall more powerful. Those 2 things in general evened out. Though, early on the ease of use of the 360 made it’s games better, while later on, the PS3 was able to pull ahead.

    This generation you have both easy to use, but one with 50% more GPU and 40% more usable RAM. And it’s $100 cheaper that the XBoxOne.

    It’s not unusual for these engines to scale to different hardware, you have the PC version looking that much better than current gen consoles. That’s why you see games like Watch Dogs on PS3, 360, PC, XBOne, PS4, but looking different on each platform. They don’t just scale everything down to the PS3 version of the game.

    There were quotes from dev’s saying that you would notice a difference. But I suppose we will find out once the games come out.

  9. Adam X says

    “Look at the Battlefield 4 single-player demo; we saw it running on PS4, but it looks similar on Xbox One.”

    Wrong, wrong, 100% totally, utterly wrong.

    They NEVER showed the console versions of Battlefield 4. All footage of BF4 running on high-end PC (hence the “Backspace” button in the upper-right corner of all the gameplay videos).

    “Look at the Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag E3 footage and the Need for Speed Rivals E3 demo; we played them both on PS4, but the Xbox One version looked no different.”

    How do you know they look no different on Xbox One? They never showed the Xbone versions of these two games. You even said it yourselves that you never saw the Xbone versions.

  10. Counterproductive says

    How can hardware be irrelevant when the PS4 GPU is going to be 50% faster than the XBox One, and have significantly faster GDDR5 RAM instead of XBox’s GDDR3. That’s before factoring in the memory allocation that Windows 8 kernel is going to take away from the memory left for games.

  11. Adam X says

    PS4 being greater than 150% the processing power of the Xbox One isn’t irrelevant. This massive hardware advantage is even before factoring in the ancient, slow DDR3 RAM that the Xbox One uses, and the huge, unwieldy OS overhead of the Xbone.

    Want to know why almost every multiplatform game shown at E3 (e.g., Destiny, Watch Dogs, The Division, Thief, Assassin’s Creed 4, and more) was being demonstrated on PS4 rather than Xbox One hardware? I think you can make an educated guess.

    Having such a significant hardware advantage means that basically every multiplatform game will look superior on the PS4. And it likely won’t be a subtle difference either. It’ll be a big difference that many gamers will notice.

    • Blaze Blue says

      @AdamI X beg your pardon but those games that you did mention don’t help you with facts. While Sony was too busy showing off multi platform games Microsoft was showing off exclusives games. And PS4 is not 150 more powerful than Xbox one stop making up incorrect information. Just because ps4 has a little bit more power does not mean anything. Not every designer would reach to that point and if they do Ms don’t have anything to worry about knowing that they have over 300,000 servers.

      • Adam X says

        Well, we all know PS4 will have a lot of exclusives. I only focused on multiplatform games because they prove my point that the PS4 is much more power than the Xbox One (more than 150% the graphics capability when measured in teraflops). Google it yourself if you don’t believe me. The PS4 has a GPU equivalent to the AMD HD7870 or greater, while the Xbone only has an HD7790. That’s a big step up.

        Also, trust me, Sony has a great stable of first-party studios. They have nothing to worry about with regards to exclusive games. But the multiplatform games will prove how much more powerful the PS4 is in the end.

  12. shawn says

    finally someone with a level headed article unlike those guppies at n4g, people keep saying oh the ps4 is 50% more powerful, well every dev i talked to at e3 said the graphical difference will be less then this console generation so it comes down to preference period..

    • Adam X says

      Which devs have you talked to? I didn’t know you were an industry insider.

      The Xbone is the weaker, inferior machine. Deal with it.

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