At present, the next-gen arms race is more easily likened to a witch hunt: Sony is currently riding a wave of positive reception while Microsoft is weathering a storm of backlash. However, to the dismay of fanboys everywhere, it is far too soon to draw conclusions about who will win the coming technological arms race. The holiday release date for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One is still months away, and the systems’ respective manufacturers are undoubtedly holding a few trump cards. As such, industry favoritism, one-sided as it may be, will not decide anything until consoles hit shelves—though, obviously, it is a strong indicator. Developer testimony, however, is a bit more concrete and represents internal opinions of next-gen systems from the people who will actually be working with them. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what Insomniac Games CEO Ted Price had to say about the Xbox One.
As revealed at Microsoft’s E3 press conference, Insomniac’s next-gen foray, the open-world and downright outlandish shooter Sunset Overdrive, will be exclusive to the Xbox One. This came as a shock to many gamers, and with good reason. After all, Insomniac has been predominantly reliant on Sony in both the current and previous generation. Although the studio “has been, is, and will continue to be 100 percent independent,” as Price explained in a post through Insomniac’s official blog, Insomniac’s biggest franchises, namely Ratchet & Clank and the Resistance series, were exclusive to PlayStation systems. This history, paired with the prevailing negativity surrounding the Xbox One, makes Sunset Overdrive’s exclusivity that much stranger.
Addressing fan surprise, Price went on to clarify that “When we first began discussing this idea with Microsoft, we were initially hesitant to shift back into an exclusive arrangement. But as the Microsoft team began introducing us to the abilities and philosophies driving the development of Xbox One, we knew that Sunset Overdrive was a perfect fit.” Getting into further detail, he explained that “The Xbox One and Xbox Live will support our ambitions to create an ongoing two-way dialogue with our community. It will also allow us to have quicker production cycles, enabling timely content updates for new weapons, characters, storylines, and even pop culture-relevant content like memes based on social commentary.”
Clearly, Insomniac sees something in the Xbox One that makes it the more advantageous platform for SO. In spite of the company’s long and healthy history with Sony, the studio was sold on the benefits of putting their game on Xbox One and, more specifically, Xbox Live. This calls the Xbox One doom saying into question and raises a valuable point about the next generation of gaming as a whole.
Sony’s biggest advantage, as of now, is PR; contrastingly, this is Microsoft’s biggest misgiving. Given the events of E3 2013—you know, where Jack Tretton stood on stage and verbally castrated Microsoft—this isn’t too surprising. However, problems arise when PR—the opinion of the vocal minority—is our only method of gauging a console’s reception. This sort of consumer polarity necessitates developer and publisher testimony, which, as Price’s statement shows, often places the heretofore unassailably horrible (in this case, the Xbox One) in a much more pragmatic light.
So let’s take stock. Evidently, Microsoft’s plan for the Xbox One will grant developers (presumably not just Insomniac) access to “quicker production cycles,” “timely content updates,” and “an ongoing two-way dialogue” with the gaming community. These represent three of the most important aspects of next-gen development, which can easily decide the fate of any title. Quicker production cycles mean more effective distribution; timely content updates mean a more stable product; and interaction with a fan-base (i.e. the aforementioned two-way dialogue) allows for detailed responses to player input and complaints. Given the social and networking promises of next-gen systems, these will all likely prove to be crucial assets.
Of course, it’s not as though Microsoft has a monopoly on expedited distribution or consumer interaction. Sony has only recently detailed the structure of the PS4’s PlayStation Plus system, and quite a few gray areas remain, so we can’t label Microsoft the clear-cut winner either. It’s also important to note that Price specifically stated, “While we are excited about partnering with Microsoft on Sunset Overdrive, that doesn’t mean we can’t or wouldn’t make games with our longtime friends at Sony.”
However, the fact now stands that a reputable and independent developer has chosen to side with Xbox One for their first next-gen release and made their intentions publicly clear. Will Insomniac’s decision encourage other developers to do the same? Is the opportunity therein big enough to offset the Xbox One’s horrendous DRM and publication restrictions? Again, we probably won’t know until November rolls around and the releases start dropping. Regardless, Price’s testimony proves that Sony’s well-deserved popularity reign offers nothing in the sense of finality and that the Xbox One is far from dead. It’s just not very pretty.