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The success of a game console nowadays doesn't just hinge on good games, flashy graphics and a low RRP. It needs to have videos, music, social networking – it needs to be able to recognise the player's voice and face. In fact, it needs to be something you couldn't really call a game console at all. It needs to be a smartphone, PC, set-top box and game console combined, an all-in-one box that sits neatly beneath the television and co-ordinates entertainment for the entire household.
Oh, and if it can serve mini-muffins and Cosmopolitans that would be good too.
Such is the thinking behind the Xbox One, a promising, bold new type of gaming machine that, compared to its nearest rival, the PlayStation 4, looks well-equipped to own the future of home entertainment. As we said in our review, on paper, it's the clear winner.
The PS4 is somehow in the lead
But the sales say different.
In the UK, the PlayStation 4 sold 100,000 more units in its opening weekend than the Xbox did in its entire first week. In the US meanwhile, retail analyst the NPD Group reports that for the whole of November, the PlayStation just about pipped it, selling 2.1 million units compared to the Xbox's straight 2 mil. The PS4, despite appealing to an comparatively niche market of straight-up videogame fans, is somehow in the lead.
So what's going on?
Well, it's not a big mystery. The first problem Xbox has is price. Sorry if that's a drab point to make, but when you have two machines that offer essentially similar experiences, and one is almost £100 more expensive, of course the cheaper one is going to sell better.
On top of that, the family market that Microsoft is trying to reach doesn't read the gaming press, or the tech press – it doesn't know or care about SkyDrive, Live Tiles, or any of the other small extras that the One has built in. To most people – normal people – a game console is a game console is a game console. They're shopping for something fun to play with at Christmas.
In time, the full potential of Microsoft's machine will percolate to the mainstream, and people may genuinely consider it a replacement for their set-top box or even tablet. But for now, near Christmas time, fun and affordability are what sells, and PS4 is the cheaper game console.
Microsoft shot itself in the foot and chest and head
We also can't forget that, earlier this year, when it came to unveiling the One, Microsoft shot itself in the foot and chest and head. The company has since rowed back on restricting the re-sale of discs, forcing online sign-ins and the always-on Kinect camera, but people don't forget. If you need an explanation for consumers' slightly slower response to the One, short-term memory is probably it.
The Microsoft campaign is still reeling from the big hits it got from the press in June.
Looking to the future
But preliminary sales aside, and looking to the future, which machine is going to win? Well, it's impossible to say right now.
Again, sorry if that's a disappointing thing to hear, but we're talking about machines that will be on the market for the best part of a decade.
And look at the Xbox 360. That launched as a straightforward game console. Seven years later, it was a multi-faceted entertainment machine, complete with a new interface and a new, motion-sensitive controller.
Today's consoles and today's videogames have something in common, in that they're both long, iterative processes. Even launch day is just another step. Like games have patches and DLCs, the PS4 and Xbox One will have software updates, new entertainment channels and new hardware added to them as time goes on.
As to what they'll look like by the end of this console generation, we can only speculate.
In 10 years the console war will, we hope, be a moot point
The only thing we're prepared to say might happen is that the console race won't be won as such, it'll just end. With Sony dedicating itself to videogames, and Microsoft treading more towards the family market, what may happen is that the Xbox and PlayStation become so vastly different propositions that any competition between them, save for arguments between vocal types on the internet, will stop existing.
The Xbox brand will become associated with more than just videogames. PlayStation, meanwhile, will corner and plunder the strict gaming market. The machines will operate in different waters. They'll be no sense comparing them. Chalk versus cheese, The Wire versus The Sopranos – in ten years, we hope, the console war will be a moot point.
For now, though, only two things matter: Which is cheaper and which has the better games. The PS4 has the price markdown and, although the boxed release games aren't so hot, a lot of promising, cheap titles heading to the PS Store in the next few months. In the long-term, Xbox is better positioned to reach into expanding, more lucrative markets but in the short-term – and during this launch period – PlayStation is the clear winner.
All of this is besides the point however. The only thing that truly matters is which machine would win in an actual, physical fight. We'll try and rig something up over Christmas and get back to you on that next year.