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Editor's Note:   This editorial is over a year old, and it should not be seen as an unbiased information source. For current information about the X-Box, click here, and for more current info about the PlayStation 2, visit our Articles archive.

Xbox Vs. PS2 Redux posted November 15, 2002.
Click here to read the latest opinion.

New Xbox info available November 15, 2001


wow.jpg (13110 bytes)I can smell a coming storm. Rain to wash away the blood from the coming battle. Actually, I can’t remember if it started raining Friday night or not. All I do know is that I was able to get home in time to see our local news coverage of the X-Box release (remember I live in Microsoft Seattle). One statistic they started their program out with is that more Americans stay at home playing video games than go out to the movies. Makes sense. We’re catching up to our Japanese counterparts and falling in love with our assorted consoles and library of games. Not to mention some of the storylines in video games are better than what’s on the silver screen. Did you see Pitch Black? I shiver.

03-10screen5-01.jpg (5291 bytes)Unfortunately, Microsoft is going to be forced to go with Plan B and build the X-Box. Originally, Plan A had intended PC manufacturers (e.g. Dell, Compaq, et cetera) to build and distribute units, leaving Microsoft to do the marketing and game development, but after taking a look at the original specs the OEMs determined that there wasn’t much of a difference between the X-Box and their low-end PCs, thus Microsoft is going it on their own. Also, in the original plan, MS was hoping to release the X-Box this year, but when the OEMs fell through they decided to go with their more advanced spec moving the possible street date to 2001. In Microsoft’s press release, available through their website, they compare the X-Box to their closest competitor, Sony’s PS2, and in general, according to the figures, beat out the PS2 on the hardware level. It’ll be sporting an Intel 600Mhz microprocessor, beating out rival AMD, a custom graphics processor by nVidia, 64MB RAM, 4X DVD drive, 8GB of storage space, an 8MB memory card and the ability for broadband Internet access.

Even though Microsoft espouses their system as expecting to "offer the most advanced graphics, the most flexibility in Internet gaming, and the most realistic play of any game console on the market," said Rick Thompson, vice president of Microsoft's Games division, they still speak in general terms about the "future-generation" device that they hope to be in every living room down the road. The only thing we’ve seen thus far has been a short FMV, which visually compares to last year’s demos from Sony.

It doesn’t take too much speculation to figure out why Microsoft has gone ahead and made this move. One intention it seems is that they want to seize not only the console market, but rather the set-top interface market. With the X-Box Microsoft dreams of having the same amount of power and control as they do in the PC market. They also wish to push forward their DirectX technology onto more game developers.

The problems (and there are many) are: 1) Microsoft is going up against Sony, who is the current king of the console hill; 2) no game developers, aside from MS themselves, have signed on with the X-Box platform; 3) MS faces a unique problem that probably most other manufacturers wouldn’t face: they’re hated by a majority of the consumers. Even if their hardware is superior and they have a few good titles from their own developers, they still face the PR nightmare; 4) there’s no telling what type of affect the looming decision by the Department of Justice will have on MS.

Now, onto the competition. We all know that Sony last week released their PS2 to the Japanese market with the sale of a little under one million units in the first two days, but they’ve faced a few problems mainly with the humdrum around the recall/denial/recall of a batch of memory cards that were bad. The supposed problem stemmed from some memory cards having their DVD drivers overwritten with saved games of Ridge Racer V. This rumor was bunk. Although this affected Sony it did so only marginally as sales are still steady and Sony is on track to finishing up the month with the figure of 1.5 million units they forecasted prior to the PS2 launch, though they might understandably dip under this number. Other set backs have included a shortage on the same memory cards holding up the shipment of some online orders. Basically, there is more demand than supply for Sony’s new console system—a double-edge sword for the electronics giant, who is scrambling to increase production of the unit for this fall’s release into the North American market and attempting to keep current demand satiated with enough supply. They hope to have this problem solved by next week.

It has been well established months back that Sony is betting the bank on the success of their PS2, gearing it to not only fill the gamer’s lust for bigger and better, but to become the family’s interface to the coming future’s multimedia entertainment center. One unique advantage that Sony has overcoming rival Microsoft is the backwards compatibility of the PS2 with original Playstation titles. With this in mind, gamers may more readily spend their money on the PS2 and the subsequent PS3 (announced last week to counter Microsoft’s X-Box press release and Gate’s speech) knowing that they won’t have to reinvest in building a game library. This is something MS will not be able to compete against and one that might spell victory for the PS2 and its successors. Another item to note is that the game developers for the PS2 have not signed onto the X-Box or any other platform with a majority saying that they currently plan on sticking with Sony and their new system.

While the X-Box is rumored to utilize DirectX technology and be compatible with any PC game that utilizes the format, giving the X-Box a built-in legacy of games, Microsoft hasn’t related any information on game developers let alone games. Microsoft is also said to be contemplating a no-licensing-fee policy, which would go a long way toward encouraging developers to participate in the platform. We already have a list of PS2 titles out or coming out shortly in Japan: A6: A Ressha de Goyoukou 6, American Arcade, A-Train 6, Billiard Master 2, DrumMania, Eternal Ring, Ex Billiards, Fantavision, Golf Paradise, Jikkyou World Soccer 2000, Kessen, Ridge Racer V, Sky Surfer, Street Fighter EX3, Stepping Selection and Tekken Tag Tournament—to list a few. Since Sony has scheduled their North American release for later this year, there is sure to be more titles ready for a U.S. release by then, giving Sony another clear advantage over the upcoming X-Box and Dolphin. One hope is that there will be some perennial titles available for the PS2 when it releases here in the U.S.

With the release of the Dreamcast network last year alongside the console release, we’ve seen an increase in focus upon online gaming. Here Microsoft might have an advantage since they already have the MSN Gaming Zone and experience with Asheron’s Call. One rule Sony and the rest have learned from Sega is that a 56K modem just doesn’t work. Since ADSL and cable modem services are becoming more popular for network connectivity, Sony has chosen to make the PS2 upgradeable, giving it a slot for peripherals, one of which will more than likely be a broadband modem, be it cable or DSL. There are plans by SCEI to implement a network once they see that there is a demand and that the technology is in place for such a network, opting to forego the 56K modem route and wait it out. This network will provide digital content to consumers, said Sony in a press release.

Now with all of this said and done, it seems we’re entering into an year that promises to be exciting for the game companies, but we shouldn’t forget the persons who make this happen: the gamers. Let’s face it, if we’re not happy we’ll go elsewhere. It doesn’t matter what type of hardware is inside of the box as long as we get the kick-ass games we want. Right now, it seems Sony is, and will continue, providing this to us. The Dreamcast has already carved out a 20% niche in the market, a share that will undoubtedly change, for better or worse, but puts it in good standing to ride out the transition. Once again, it seems likely that Sega has brought themselves back from the dead by making an early move for the next generation market. Nintendo’s Dolphin, due out in 2001 but still notably intangible in gaming news or demonstrations, is an unpredictable variable. Microsoft, by sheer weight alone can muscle the X-Box into the market, and if the rumors of PC compatibility are true, they may even make a dent in the PC market. Predictions are mostly useless; Q4 of 2000 is looming large and impressive enough that PC developers and fans are sending up flares forecasting the doom of the PC game.

The safe bet sticks with this premise: As long as we can play games, we will play games. Whether we play them on PC, Mac, PalmPilot, DVD Player, console, watch, board, table, with cards or dominos – it doesn’t matter. And it seems certain that more and more of us will discover the allure and value of interactive gaming. With hardware specs continuing their upward development, the future is a clean slate for innovative and intriguing game concepts.

--Matt Baldwin

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