With both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 officially unveiled, the console war is alive and well. But where the harshest battlefields will be located is still up in the air; will it be the catalogue of exclusive triple-A titles, the attitudes toward indie game development, or the hardware under the hood?
According to Microsoft’s product planning director Albert Penello, consumers obsessing over discrepancies between the technical specs of the PS4 and Xbox One are wasting their time.
Speaking with OXM, Penello explained that hardware is nowhere near as integral to experiences or differences in output as they used to be. In fact, Penello charges Sony’s PS4 reveal event – aimed at proving to developers they had heard past concerns – for starting the conversation off on the wrong foot. For this generation, Microsoft believes, the war won’t be fought with processors or RAM:
“The problem is that Sony decided to go out and publish a bunch of numbers, which are in some ways meaningless. Because this isn’t like 1990, when it was 16-bit versus 32-bit.
“As a matter of fact, they actually go out and they talk about how proud they are about their off-the-shelf parts. Our guys’ll say, we touched every single component in the box and everything there is tweaked for optimum performance.”
Some will immediately accuse Microsoft of simply trying to shift the debate away from an area in which they lack, with the PS4 using 8 GB of GDDR5 RAM with 1GB reserved for the operating system, and the Xbox One featuring 8 GB of DDR3 RAM, with 3 GB locked for the OS.
That might sound like a clear-cut case of RAM supremacy, but ask any PC owner how many games utilize every ounce of 8 GB and the answer might surprise you. In fact, some Xbox One developers already claim they’re having a hard enough time maxing out 5 GB of available RAM to feel restricted. For these reasons and more, Penello suggests that people may not know enough about the debate they’re truly engaged in when talking system architecture:
“For me, I’d rather not even have the conversation, because it’s not going to matter. The box is going to be awesome. The games are going to be awesome. I heard this exact same argument last generation and it’s a pointless argument, because people are debating things which they don’t know about. They’re not [head silicon engineer] Nick Baker or [corporate vice president of IEB hardware] Todd Holmdahl, and I’m not [lead PS4 architect] Mark Cerny, so why are we having this discussion?”
If those comments sound like Penello isn’t giving fair credit to the tech-savvy gamers out there, he went on to soften his tone, explaining that the potential of cloud computing and developing for specific hardware is something even first-party studios are in the process of understanding.
But for gamers looking forward to the next generation of consoles, only one thing matters – and it isn’t how an extra 2 GB of RAM affects a studio’s design philosophy:
“Here’s what you care about. You bought a system to play great games and have great experiences. I feel like our games and experiences are going to be every bit as good, if not better, technically – on top of all the magic we’re going to add with the instant switching, and the power of the cloud.
“So the whole numbers game – yeah, I’ve been following it online and it’s like, we tried having that argument last time. Do I want to talk about HDMI 1.3 or 1.4, it’s like ‘argh!’ It doesn’t matter. Did you see Call of Duty, it looks f**king awesome! It’s going to be great, you know. So we’re just saying, it’s not worth the debate.”
Although we may not have chosen the same words, we can’t help but agree with Penello. There are plenty of comparisons to be made between Microsoft and Sony’s next consoles, but with the two inching closer and closer to an identical architecture, the technical specs aren’t as significant as they once were. They’re still incredibly important, but if the conversation is meant to educate consumers, there are bigger differences.
Price, for starters. Coming in at $499 – a price some claim could hurt Xbox One sales out of the gate – Microsoft knows that they’ll need to convince buyers that their console is worth the premium. There’s no question that Microsoft is confident they’ll succeed in doing just that, and Penello’s emphasis on games is clearly felt company-wide, going by the amount of money being spent on exclusives. Over $1 billion, apparently.
Sony is confident in their own launch line-up, and is already gaining and edge in the eyes of indie developers. But with early access to Call of Duty content and an exclusive deal for Titanfall, Microsoft is counting on high-profile games to prove their system is worth every penny.
Do you share Penello’s lack of interest in engaging in the same old debates? Will exclusive games and polished experiences be the deciding factor for you when it comes to deciding between Xbox One and PS4? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.