With launch titles, Sony caters to hard-core gamers while Xbox courts a broader audience

November 8, 2013

The Xbox One's launch-day lineup shows it's going after a mainstream audience. (Ron Wurzer/Bloomberg)

Both Sony and Microsoft are planning to release their new consoles in the next couple of weeks. As they jockey for position, a big factor will be which video games each platform has available for users to play on launch day. But these companies' launch-day lineups matter for another reason, too: They reflect how each company is thinking about its target audience.

Sony has doubled down on its core audience, putting gamer-centric features such as streaming and sharing at the center of its marketing campaigns. It was happy to scoop up the title of "true gamer's console" after Microsoft first announced its controversial (and now-defunct) digital-rights management policies, and has run with that mantle. The firm has even run advertising that uses the tagline "For the Players" that aims to remind us all how the PlayStation and Sony have grown up with us.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has made a major push to market the Xbox One as a broad console with broad appeal, particularly by playing up non-gaming features such as Skype and video apps as much as its games. In fact, in a huge company blog post Friday, Microsoft went out of its way to list 10 non-gaming features for the Xbox One. These include the ability to watch live TV or change the volume by way of the Kinect.

Those philosophies show up loud and clear in the launch-day lineups for the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4.

Game for game, it's hard not to give the advantage to Microsoft at first blush. Right now, Xbox One is offering more exclusives at launch, such as the racing title Forza Motorsport 5. Microsoft has cast a wide net, with titles that range from the kiddie-focused Zoo Tycoon to visually stunning Crimson Dragon. That list also includes more new titles such as the battle action title Ryse: Son of Rome, which integrates the Kinect into its controls.

That's not to say Sony is slouching by any means. It, too, has exciting titles including Mark Cerny's Knack, which features a lovable robot protagonist, plus third-party titles such as the futuristic indie darling Warframe, which makes its leap to consoles with the PS4.

But Sony's list packs a different sort of punch altogether, with exclusive titles that seem to appeal more to a niche audiences of gamers.

After all, Sony's launch day titles show a stronger commitment to independent game developers. Indies get their own section of the title list and far quirkier in-house marquee titles such as Flower, which puts gamers in the, er, shoes, of a flower petal in the wind.

High-powered franchises are releasing their games on both platforms --  big sports titles such as FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, NBA 2K14, plus blockbusters like Assassins Creed IV and Battlefield 4 --  so it's not like Sony's completely abandoned the mainstream. But the launch list fits snugly with the reputation that Sony's cultivating for itself as the gamer's console.

So the choice, again, comes down to this: Do you want an entertainment device? Or do you want a game console? That's a question that matters much more than looking at which game you'll be able to play on the day you hook up your system.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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Neil Irwin · November 8, 2013