How Microsoft Failed to “Kill” Sony and Got “Slaughtered” in Return

Microsoft’s Director of Global Marketing Craig Davidson went on record no more than two weeks ago hinting to the fact that Microsoft would “Kill Sony at E3”. When I read that, at first I just laughed, then I started thinking: on one side it sounded like Redmond’s software and hardware giant was confident about having a very strong hand of cards to play in Los Angeles, but on the other hand I could not shake the sensation that it sounded just like the final act of bravado from someone standing in front of the firing squad, or the typical “I’ll tear you to pieces!” from the usual super-villain before the superhero customarily proceeds to give him a beat down.

In the end, while each person’s mileage may vary, I’m pretty sure most will agree that Microsoft’s “killing blow” landed way short, and Sony turned around and delivered a KO one-two right to Microsoft’s jaw.

Fact is that Microsoft did almost all the right things. Their conference was very solid. It showed plenty games (many of which exclusive), it made almost no mention of Kinect, and it even kept Mr. Corporate Face Don Mattrick almost completely off stage, replacing him with a honestly much more likable and appropriate Phil Spencer from Microsoft Game Studios.


It was by all means one of the best Microsoft E3 press conferences of all time, but as I predicted in my editorial that came after the Xbox One’s unveiling, it fell just a bit short of what was necessary simply because the problems that were laid down in the weeks before weren’t addressed. While they showcased a lot of games, they simply couldn’t cancel the  TV-centric vision offered during the new console’s first presentation, and actually made no solid effort on that front, just trying to sweep the problem under a thick rug made of games.

A few days ago Microsoft released a very lengthy and convoluted list of rules and caveats describing the Xbox One’s DRM policies, but while it did in substance say that, under certain conditions, it’ll be possible to trade-in the games purchased for the console, and that it won’t need to be connected at all times (but “only” once every 24 hours), the complexity and back handed “big brother-ish” nature of it all caused gamers to frown where Microsoft possibly intended them to smile.

I’m personally a very vocal proponent of the rights of developers and publishers to get revenue from the entertainment they provide, but Microsoft’s overdone policies looked by all means like the regulation sheet of a penitentiary. Even for someone like me, used to analyzing facts while trying to retain a certain degree of levelheadedness, it was very hard not to imagine those rules read by the voice of Professor Hugo Strange over the loudspeaker system of Arkham City.


Again, nothing during Microsoft’s press conference addressed the concerns raised by those rules and caveats, contributing to mitigating the actual impact of its message.

Then, towards the end of the presser came the clincher: the price. $499 isn’t by any means an impossible price point for techies and early adopters, but it’s still steep in this economy, and it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Kinect and the boasted “TV experience” are part of that MSRP. It’s much easier to pull out your wallet and drop on a counter a good slice of a monthly salary when you know that the whole sum is going towards buying something you want. When you are aware that a hi-tech webcam and TV features that your TV does perfectly well by itself are being shoved down your throat as part of the package, it’s hard not to feel awkward about it.

Again, all those elements dampened the impact of the generous gameplay showing during Microsoft’s conference considerably. Turning around a first impression is hard, especially when you make little effort to actually achieve it and just stubbornly stride forward on your merry way.

Sony was well aware of that. They analyzed the moves of their competitor, they listened to the complaints of the fanbase, identified the weak points in Microsoft’s message and then methodically delivered a combo of crippling blows ruthlessly hitting every single exposed area. Watching Sony’s conference almost made me feel bad for Microsoft because it almost felt like they were being bullied, and they aren’t a company used to being in that position.


It felt almost deliberate when Sony started the conference with Jack Tretton crunching numbers, and continued with Andrew House talking about TV services for a few minutes. I could read people on Twitter groaning, I could hear my colleagues clenching their jaw through the microphone: “They’re doing Microsoft’s same mistake!” was the word on the street. I could almost see Jack & Phil smirk impishly as they got the boring talk out of the way first, preparing people for the usual disappointment while they were secretly getting ready to deliver the killer combo. When you’re prepared to be bored and come out with a smile, the theatrical effect is twice as strong.

When House spoke the line “Of course, at its core the PS4 is about delivering breakthrough gaming experiences”, I braced myself. I knew the cannons were all loaded and that the PlayStation galleon had the Xbox ship firmly in its sights, ready to fire a devastating broadside.

The “TV talk” that took the front and center stage at Microsoft’s Xbox One unveiling for almost the whole time was done by Sony in less than seven minutes, and after that it was all about games.

The part about the games was in itself very different from Microsoft’s showing. Xbox One’s line-up was quite impactful and full of good-looking games, but it seriously lacked diversity. Indie games were scarce and the biggest one (Minecraft) can hardly be defined indie anymore. Japanese games were just as missing, with Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain looking more western than many American games out there, and Crimson Dragon was nothing new and unimpressive (and didn’t have sound).


On the other hand, Sony’s line-up was as diverse and colorful as ever. Indie? Plenty of those. Japanese games? What’s more impactful than Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts? MMORPG?  No problem, here’s The Elder Scrolls Online and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. Add to that the creativity and artistic diversity of Sony Japan Studio games like Rain and Puppeteer and you have a royal flush.

It doesn’t matter that many of those games weren’t exclusive. What really mattered in determining the audience’s reaction was the message communicated by those games. Xbox’s message spoke of the same monochromatic and heavily shooter-oriented catalog we found on the Xbox 360. PlayStation’s  message was a colorful and diverse rainbow of genres and cultures that really makes you look forward to the future.

But of course there was more: When Jack Tretton said “We’re equally focused on delivering what gamers want most”, his expression meant business, and I knew it wasn’t going to be the usual marketing dribble: the message that ruled out manufacturer-imposed DRM and online restrictions he delivered was as simple, clear and straightforward as Microsoft’s opposite message was obscure, overdone and convoluted.

That suddenly and irrevocably (at least for now) turned Sony into the “hero of the people” and Microsoft into the villain.

While this colorful description may sound cheesy, there’s some truth behind it. I don’t believe for a second that the decision to back away from DRM didn’t cost Sony quite dearly in terms of publisher support.

During the past few years Electronic Arts has always been very favorable towards the Japanese manufacturer, and I’m quite sure I wasn’t the only one surprised to see them supporting Xbox One quite strongly, with perks like a Battlefield 4 timed exclusive on DLC and the big hitter Titanfall by Respawn Entertainment.

It’s very realistic to believe that Sony’s decision pushed away some publishers that now see the Xbox One as a safer environment for their revenue. Sony decided to move despite that, probably believing that customer satisfaction is more important than pandering to the interests of the publishers. They most probably thought that such a stance would give them an advantage in sales, causing publishers to bow to a higher installed base.

If that’s the case, it’s definitely a risky but ballsy move and one that I can respect. Judging from the general reaction, I’m not the only one.

After the smoke from the DRM cannonball cleared and the thunderous applause faded, all that was left to do was to deliver the finishing blow to the would-be “killer” (Microsoft) that was firmly on his back. Very conveniently Sony had the perfect kind of ammunition for that task: the price.

The fantastic-looking Destiny demo proved to be the perfect build-up for Andrew House uttering the magic “399” number. A number that was 100 bucks lower than the price demanded by the competition. Not only does it give  the PS4 a powerful commercial advantage over the Xbox One, but it also serves to reinforce the hero/villain dichotomy created in the minds of those that were watching the conference: generous Sony against  greedy Microsoft. Game, set, match.

This aggressive pricing, that I fully expected having listened to the signals sent by Sony in the weeks before the conference, is the fruit of a policy that Microsoft stubbornly rejected. When you’ll buy the Xbox One, you’ll have to buy Kinect, no matter if you care for it or not. You’ll have to bring home the whole TV-oriented feature set no matter if you have a smart TV that can already do that and more.

Sony shaved off the PlayStation Camera from the box of the PS4, removing its price from the equation and allowing customers to decide if they want it or not, if they want to just play games with their old dear controller for a cheaper price or to embrace motion and voice control paying a bit more. Giving customers the option to pay only for what they want is an extremely solid policy that, again, earned my respect and that of thousands of others.

The funny part is that Microsoft’s mis-delivery paired with Sony’s near-perfect delivery allowed the Japanese corporation to pull the “PlayStation Plus required for multiplayer” stunt with basically zero consequences. In normal conditions it would have caused a riot of groaning and hate. In this situation almost no one noticed, and many of those that did notice took it in stride with a smile. The chasm Microsoft built between itself and a vast segment of the core playerbase was so wide that Sony was allowed to withdraw a perk that many considered a given with almost no backlash. They most certainly have to thank their rivals for that.

It has to be said that Sony also chose the right person for the refining job. While Jack Tretton isn’t universally loved and Andrew House is a rather typical businessman, the one walking around the E3 show floor giving interviews and shaking hands, and delivering absolutely hilarious and viral jabs right in Microsoft’s face is Shuhei Yoshida, and he’s simply the perfect spokesperson for the new PlayStation message.

First of all he’s the president of Sony Worldwide Studios. He leads people that make games. He’s also very active on social networks and very friendly. He has one of the most infectious smiles in the gaming industry and simply puts you at ease when you talk to him. He doesn’t have problems with being asked questions and most of the time answers quite frankly, without refraining from adding his own personal opinion to the official position in order to beef it up. I don’t know how much of a gamer he is, but he surely looks like a true blue geek, and when you hear him talking and interact with him over Twitter you get the impression that he’s one of ours.

On the other side you have people like Don Mattrick, that in all honesty makes you groan every time he walks on a stage, and comes off as really unlikable with borderline insulting, overly smug and openly condescending outings like “We have a product for people who can’t get some form of connectivity… it’s called Xbox 360“. It all goes to reinforce the radical distinction I talked about above, and contributed to seal the deal on Sony’s clear “victory” and Microsoft’s “defeat”, at least for what E3 is concerned.

So, did Microsoft condemn the Xbox One to obscurity? Is the next generation’s console war already decided? Of course not, but Microsoft needs to make up for the ground it lost due to its own mismanagement and faulty communication.

In the end, the most effective course of action I see for them is the same I identified in my previous editorial about the reveal of the Xbox One: recognizing one’s mistakes and making amends is a very important part of doing business with a customerbase as passionate and involved as gamers. I know it would be very hard for Microsoft to swallow their collective pride and simply scrap their convoluted policies, but now that Sony completely one-upped them, they can ill afford to do less.


Also, they would gain an extremely solid commercial benefit by backpedaling on the issue of forcing Kinect down our throats. By all means, they can provide a bundle with Kinect and all its bells and whistles, but they should most definitely also offer a box without that glorified webcam and exclusively focused on gaming for those that care just about that.

This would obviously require some adjustment and re-positioning, including the development of a way to control all the necessary functions (and the games) with the controller alone, but it would most probably allow  Microsoft to match its rival’s price point, starting the generation on a more evenly matched ground.

Those steps would determine a new-found advantage for Microsoft itself, turning hostility into reconciliation, gamers themselves would be able to pay only for what they actually want, and basically everyone would win. It’s very possible that some publishers would pout, but it’s not like Sony panders to them more.

Will they do it? I’m not holding my breath about it. But it would still help them massively. Until Microsoft decides how to respond, and if to respond, though, one thing is clear: Sony hasn’t been “killed”, and the one-two punch the Japanese company returned was  a crippling blow. Now we’ll have to wait and see if it just caused a bloody nose or a fatal wound.

Join the Discussion

  • We’ve had our disagreements in the past but I’m almost entirely on your side on this one. Microsoft blew it big time and just to pass a message to them I pre-ordered a PS4. I’m a PC gamer. That says a lot. Of course I won’t leave the console beside the TV; I do intend to buy most of the exclusive games on the PS4.

    I wish Microsoft would really learn from their mistakes, and they sometimes do, but it only last for one generation. It is sad.

    Anyway, your sentiments are shared by me and many other people I’m sure.

  • sounds like the writer is a sony fanboy

    • Giuseppe Nelva

      …Says the one with an Xbox One exclusive game as his avatar. 😀

      Yep, of course offering criticism towards Microsoft and suggesting solutions to repair the situation they caused on their own means being a Sony fanboy 😀

      • i put RYSE pic cause its awesome not because im a fanboy

        if you took a close look at the article he is just hating the Xbox brand not suggesting solutions

        • Giuseppe Nelva

          May want to read the end of the article. It helps 😀

          Oh, and about Ryse being “awesome”, it sure *looks* awesome, from what I’m hearing and from what I saw, though, it may not *play* as awesome, as it seems to be a rather clunky quick time event-fest.

          I don’t know about you, but if I want to play a Rhythm game I’ll play Hatsune Miku Project Diva or Rock Band…

          • i i sow the end of the article and yeah he is still a fanboy

            nope RYSE plays like dark souls with swords and shields no powers and super stuff and you play as a commander witch is new swords games

            dude did you forget about god of war and its constant mini pressing game i remember than when i played it its fun … and there are the heavily loved by PS fans heavy rain witch is a game for mini pressing games and still one of the best games on PS so yeah even with mini pressing games RYSE still awesome ^_^

          • Giuseppe Nelva

            You seem not to have seen the demo, nor read the previews 😀 There’s a LOT more QTE in Ryse than in any other AAA game I saw so far.

            PS: I really don’t care much for the God of War series either.

          • more than heavy rain i really don’t think so

            gosh god of war is awesome anyone love it since GOW 1 in PS2

          • Giuseppe Nelva

            yes, More than heavy rain, you you checked the demo they have shown you’d notice that there are multiple quick time events per fight, and I mean for every single enemy you fight.

          • yeah those are called finishers you can kill them without finish them (just keep hitting them) you know like bayonetta if you chose to finish them or torture them you have to use mini pressing game same is here 😉

          • Giuseppe Nelva

            They’re called quick time events. No matter if they’re mandatory or not.

          • i some games they make the game better like i god of war they made it what it is right now witch is great and in naruto series they are everywhere and you and we just have to accept them and i love them :p

          • Giuseppe Nelva

            Spoken like a true fanboy 😀

          • yeah im a fan of mini pressing games … i loved it since GOW 1 abd i will love in RYSE son of rome

    • ppSucks

      ..or you xbox fanboys can’t deal with facts. Look around you; many of your friends have jumped the fence. Let’s keep this conversation brief; you may not have checked into the Microsoft master station today. If you don’t do your daily check-in; you might get locked out!

      • nope a lot of my friends switching from PC and PS to Xbox … who doesn’t have network i have network 24/7 and i live in a third world … beside games is better with internet so you have to have internet to have all the XP games provide

    • Axe99

      Do you really want a more expensive, less technically capable, more restricted piece of kit? Right now, Xbox fans should be thanking Sony for putting pressure on Microsoft to ease up on their big brother angle, just like Sony fans should thank Microsoft for forcing them to up their game when it comes to online services. Blind faith won’t get Xbox anywhere.

      • 360 have less specs than PS3 and multi games run better and look better on 360 … expensive cause they putted the whole package in the box PS4 and move and PS eye don’t come together in the same box … mean while sony made its unsecured PS network not free MS kept it not free but made it even more secured so yeah let them watching me its than my account getting hacked …

        • Axe99

          Aye, but the PS3 went with a pretty exotic architecture – the PS4 has a very similar card in terms of architecture as the XB1, but has around 50% more processing power – that’ll translate into faster framerates and the like – and the PS4’s GDDR5 is easier to program for than the still slower eSRAM/DDR3 combo the XB1 rolled with. It won’t be a huge difference, but paying $100 _more_ for the system that’s underpowered (from a gaming perspective, it’s well endowed for multitasking) is a hard sell. If Halo, Forza and Kinect is your thing, then get into it – I’m sure that over the life of the console you’ll still get value from it – you’ll just get more value from a PS4 if you’re not too fussed about XB1’s exclusives.

          As for the two networks going forward, both are going to be charged for, and both look to be fairly well resourced. Time will tell which has the stronger, and I’d expect MS to do well here, but at the end of the day the client machine still has the strongest impact on the quality of the gaming experience (and will continue to until the internet is much, much faster).

          As for the PS Eye/Camera/whatever-it’s-called, I’m glad it’s optional – many gamers don’t want one, including probably myself. For the ones that do, I hope they pick it up and have a blast (Dance Central, Sports Champions and the like are all great fun, but they’re niche). I think Kinect looks awesome, but I also think it’s pretty limited in its application to the kind of gaming experiences I’m looking for at the moment. I wouldn’t want a driving wheel or flight stick packed in with my console, and I don’t want a camera either. Of course, if you’re personally into motion gaming, it means the price difference between the two is much less :).

          • well … let me explain to you than X1 and most PC’s have DDR3 not DDR5 so multi games will be designed for the DDR3 (dev’s are really lazy when it comes to multi games) only few game company’s will build a game customize for the DDR5 power (japanese mostly)

            yeah i love halo and had fun with kinect with my friends only forza i really liked is horizon but no that’s not why im considering a X1 i like RYSE its like the perfect swords game for me and quantum break sounds awesome with titanfall and dead rising 3 they made the roster way too good to ignore … when i sow FF15 on PS4 conference i had a change of heart cause it looks really awesome but after hearing its not exclusive anymore i felt that there are not many exclusives for PS4 to look for (i don’t like indie games on xbox or playstation so i don’t count them as exclusives or even games)

            i had fun with kinect for two years then i sold it (my room get tighter from all the things i buy) but in parties or with friends kinect is useful (if you know what i mean) so i would really like to have kinect 2

            and look ill wait a whole year before buying one of those two (X1 and PS4 WiiU is not a next gen console) so ill wait to see the whole exclusives roster and if the price is still the same then ill decide but so far X1 is the closest thing for me 🙁

          • CallmeOldFashioned

            What a closed minded snob you come across as your quote “(i don’t like indie games on xbox or playstation so i don’t count them as exclusives or even games)” Indie games were the forfront of where gaming is today,you ungrateful prick.
            And on another note great article 🙂

          • you only say that cause all PS4 provided was a lot of indie games right ???!!! and i think back in the day AAA games built the industry like mario and contra and castlevania those called AAA back in the day not indie …

            and another note you’re a sony fanboy and you’re officially lost your argument

          • Giuseppe Nelva

            You seem mad. I’ll have you know, though that people don’t “officially lose their argument” just because you say so.

            To be completely honest and with all due respect the only one sounding like a real fanboy (and an angry one) here is you.

          • im mad just look at you’re previous comment filled with curses and hateful stuff ant argument so yeah after comment like that you really lost your argument and everything you say is invalid cause you;re really a dumb fanboy

          • DirgeExtinction

            You do know that the PS4 comes with GDDR5 RAM, the same kind of RAM found in GPUs, right? It’s also faster and more efficient than regular DDR3 RAM.

          • i know and that will make it harder to make games for it … they will make games on Xone then port to PS4 the same thing as they doing with current gen games

          • DirgeExtinction

            That makes no sense. Including more powerful RAM will make it harder to develop for? On the contrary, it’ll be how the Xbox 360 had more RAM than the PS3, and multiplatform titles would sometimes look better on the 360. This time, developers will have more breathing room with the PS4, making it easier to make games for it, then port to the Xbox One. That is, unless they decide to make games on the weaker system, the port to the more powerful one, like the current gen.

          • mmmmmmmmmmm maybe who knows its up to dev’s you know … they will see what platform sells better and make games on it then port them to other platforms … i can’t wait to see head2head of next gen games that would interesting ^_^

    • Me

      Agreed, $ony won DECISIVELY in 2005 too (which I found hilarious) and look at how that worked out……..LOL!!!!!

      • wow i didn’t knew that , when i was reading i felt all the hating towards the xbox brand so it gets me … he is a sony fanboy lol

        • Nosferatu_mi_amor

          Lol, dude, your troll smell is so violent it tickles my nostrils through the screen.
          I played (and still do) on 360 on the current generation and nothing that was good on 360 seems to remain on xbox one … except dead rising (and on the contrary shitty things like the kinect are kept when they really should have been removed).
          Don’t get me wrong, I actually enjoyed rise of nightmare and kinda liked the ideas of steel battalion, but the main weaknesses of both these games comes from the genuinely broken peripheral that the kinect is.

          You like Ryse, you don’t like indie games, you prefer online gaming than offline experiences, you enjoy a system you won’t be able to play anymore when the xb1 servers will shut down … good for you … but man, honestly … who cares ?

          Xbox one specs and various restrictions sucks major asses and if you can’t or don’t want to admit it, well … it’s fine, just go get it when it comes out and give us a break as we all legitimately hope that this major blow will make MS change it’s current policies.

          • lol i didn’t even play rise of nightmare or battalion i just play kinect when i have friends with hot chicks they love dancing perfect way to get laid lol

            and yeah you know how PC gamers have to upgrade their systems from time to time will this is our upgrade why look backward when i can look forward to greater games with new XP’s

            yeah i like RYSE and i have internet 24/7 and Xbox servers never shut down for more than couple of hours and couple of hours without games can be dealt with

            who cares !!! hmmm i think you do that’s why you replied to my comment

            360 specs are less than PS3 and its doing awesome only bad thing is its use DVD and with X1 its fixed so i can’t see any problems

            sure i hope MS will change its policies ill buy a PS4 or X1 after a year from now so whatever the changes are everything will be revealed ^_^

  • This won’t “kill” Xbox in the sense that some people believe. Especially since Xbox is a piece of a much bigger conglomerate. But it’s certainly going to leave a mark on the brand moving forward.

    Now that Sony has completely flipped the script, not just on Microsoft, but the industry, everyone’s next move (especially 3rd party publishers) is going to be under the microscope. With Microsoft officially on the clock, their next play is going to make or break them and can mean all the difference between coming out of the gate with a strong launch, or a fight back to the top of the mole hill.

    If Microsoft succumbs to the pressures of gamers out there, who are upset with the console makers policies on the upcoming Xbox One, they may very well find themselves at odds with publishers (and even exclusive deals set in place with said publishers).

    They can brag about Titanfall, Dead Rising 3, and Ryse all they like, but if there’s no install base to sell those products to, who cares?

  • Donatetimo

    how ironic

  • Nintendo Fan 4 Lif3

    Sony has won fare and square; even though I’m sorta bummed out about PS+ being required for MP even though I like never play it so beyond that I’m getting PS4. Until Microsoft drops the price at least $100 and gives more info about the next Halo, I won’t get Xbox One until then; also would appreciate if they make a future model that doesn’t require internet cuz we all know at launch that will backfire on them with exponentially shattering results on their business.

  • misterfolkertsma

    “…,but they should most definitely also offer a box without that glorified
    webcam and exclusively focused on gaming for those that care just about

    That’s the thing though, they can’t anymore. They’ve replaced the common headset with Kinect as well, expecting people to just shout towards the camera-microphone instead. Unless I missed something and they ARE including a headset with every XBone?

    • Giuseppe Nelva

      Nothing is really set in stone until it’s in stores. Of course a bit of time is needed, but I’d say it’d be less damaging that launch like this.

      • misterfolkertsma

        Oh I fully agree, it would be smarter to have Kinect as an option. I’m just trying to convey: they’ve invested so heavily on Kinect being the interface of choice and to perform system-level functions that I can’t see them taking a step back on this.

        If it were up to me, I’d see them forget about Kinect as a whole to be honest! I’m just not that interested in any motion-based gaming on any platform, which already makes the XBone less attractive as an option for me without having even considered the rest of the console. Since they’re asking me to pay for one anyway, should I want the system. Which I don’t anyway, tbh.

        (I’m a creature of habit, I have bought Playstation consoles since the PS1 and never found it necissary to buy any other consoles.)

  • OnlyWar

    PS4 is better

  • Mark

    but but but XBOX ONE would not “ON” without Kinect! LOL

    • Giuseppe Nelva

      too bad it doesn’t have a disc tray.. otherwise I could just turn it on by opening that like I have to do with my 360 lately…

      • Mark

        its not too late, i think there’s still room for it. =p

  • Fight with Xbox now.

  • DarkSpartan

    One tiny niggle here: Titanfall was also announced for PC, and was the only title they had which held any interest for me.

    • Giuseppe Nelva

      Of course, I was talking about exclusives between consoles, which is pretty much what Microsoft and Sony care about.

      I’m so gonna play that on PC myself 😀

      Mouse+ Keyboard > All.