Xbox One goes on sale here on November 22nd

By Will Goodbody, Science & Technology Correspondent


Brace yourself. A battle is about to take place in the technology and gaming industry, the likes of which hasn’t been seen for almost a decade. Because, over the next fortnight, Microsoft and Sony are launching their new generation of gaming consoles. The launches of the Xbox One and the Playstation 4 will kick off a massive, multi-billion euro battle for market share, and the right to be crowned the best ever gaming console. Because many believe that these could be the last of the big console launches – but more on that in a minute.

In truth, while the battle is about to kick off in earnest, the scrapping began many months ago. It’s 8 years since Microsoft launched its last console, the Xbox360. While it is 7 years since Sony released the Playstation 3. So it has been clear for some time that an update to both was overdue. And ever since official plans for both were made public, an intense marketing and public relations battle has been underway. Details of the features of both the new consoles have been dripfed to the media. Promotional videos of the consoles, the games, etc have gone viral on the web. Visitors to the big computer game trade events around the world got to experience prototypes hands on. The only thing that matched the marketing spend, was the hype.

Microsoft made a number of fairly major strategic blunders early on in the process. The revelation that Xbox One owners would not be able to sell on or share games, and would require a near always-on connection to the internet, was greeted with anger by potential buyers and existing Xbox fans and seized upon by Playstation. It quickly prompted a volte-face and was followed by the departure from the company by Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business which is responsible for the Xbox. Since then, the computer giant has been more careful about its announcements, successfully reversing some of the marketing damage that was done early on in the process.

PS4 goes on sale here on November 29th

Sony, on the other hand, has had a better lead-in to launch. Unlike Microsoft, it avoided any major landmines at the E3 trade event in Las Vegas in June. It focused more on selling the core gaming merits of its new console, and less on the extra entertainment and social aspects that Microsoft has been talking up.

Either way, demand for both consoles is said to be unprecedented. The Xbox One goes on sale here next Friday (22nd). The PS4 went on sale in North America today and hits the shelves here on Friday fortnight (29th). Although it looks like any spare units of both consoles won’t sit on shelves for long. Gamestop Ireland has warned those who haven’t pre-booked one of either console months ago, will likely have to go without for Christmas. More hype? Possibly. But if you were Santa Claus, you probably wouldn’t want to bet against it.

So what will those who do manage to snag a unit of either machine get for the not insignificant amount of money they’ll pay?

When it comes to the hardware, the tech experts say there is little in it. Both claim to have up to 10 times more power than their predecessors, life-like graphics, and amazing controllers.  The Xbox One is more expensive, retailing here at €499. However, that includes the Kinect camera, and Microsoft also points out that pre-orders include a copy of either FIFA 14 or Forza Motorsport 5. The PS4, on the other hand, is cheaper at €399, but does not come with its motion camera, which must be bought separately as an accessory. Legacy games will not work on either console – as they utilise new technology. Both have newly enhanced controllers, which claim to greatly enhance the playing experience. They also both have a similar number of games at launch, with more promised soon. And both have a range of other entertainment services, like TV streaming services, to offer.

The question of which is a better console and which represents better value for money is one that will be parsed and analysed ad nauseam for months and years to come. Much depends on what features each user places more value in. Either way, millions of both will be sold in the coming weeks. Indeed IHS estimates Sony will sell 49 million units during the next  five years, and Microsoft will shift 38 million.

But in many ways it may all prove academic. Many experts expect this will be the last big release of consoles, with gaming moving increasingly towards the cloud, mobile and social media platforms. The global console and PC game market is worth an estimated $18.3 billion, which is a lot, but is actually down from an all time high of $28.9 billion in 2008. Last year, the market value fell 18%. The launch of both new consoles this year will inevitably give it a bounce.

But it could prove to be a dead cat one.