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Sony’s PS4 has lost the high ground in next-gen console battle

Post-E3, Sony execs must have been tempted to dance a little jig of delight (in private, of course, as no one wants to see exec jig in public, just ask Steve Ballmer). Microsoft had gifted them good will, momentum and a bountiful cache of grenades to chuck at Microsoft whenever they felt like letting off steam. The famous ‘game sharing’ video was the peak of such efforts, but Sony has rarely missed an opportunity to poke Microsoft in the ribs.

It will think twice now.

Recent weeks have seen a number of small blows to the PS4 and its ‘anointed winner’ status in some circles – a preposterous concept, of course, but a common one all the same. First was the news that Driveclub, Sony’s exclusive ‘socially connected’ racing title, is delayed to 2014; next was the news that Titanfall is now a confirmed, permanent Xbox One exclusive rather than a time limited one; and finally the bombshell from an official FAQ that the PS4 won’t support DLNA (the wireless networking standard), MP3 playback (yes, you read that correctly) or external hard drives (and this one, too).

Loss of launch titles
The first announcement put a serious dent in the PS4’s launch line-up. As our look at the best and worst console launch line-ups in history showed, a good racing game is an essential ingredient in any good console launch line-up. The SNES, our winner in that feature, had F-Zero; the original PlayStation and the PS2 had Ridge Racer; the first Xbox had Project Gotham Racing; the Xbox 360 had no less than three big hitting racing games in PGR 3, Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Ridge Racer 6. Oh, and the PS3 had Ridge Racer 7 because… well, Ridge Racer!

The PS4? Well it had Driveclub but no longer does, while the Xbox One comes flying out of the gate with Forza Motorsport 5. Both get Need for Speed: Rivals, but that’s a consolation prize in comparison. There’s a good reason Driveclub was meant to be a launch title, so not having it is a serious dent in Sony’s plans. Titanfall, meanwhile, isn’t a launch title for the Xbox One, but is in the ‘launch window’ and it’s one of the few ‘new IPs’ (industry parlance “hey, look, we made something that isn’t a sequel!”) that has gamers purring in anticipation… that’s probably not a good choice of word, but I’m running with it. Purring gamers, hmm.

Indeed, looked at objectively, the Xbox One’s launch line-up is a winner on many fronts. Dead Rising 3 isn’t mentioned often in dispatches, but the series is critically acclaimed and the next-gen edition is exclusive to Xbox One at launch. The PS4 has the edge in indie titles, one it no doubt hopes to retain, but the Microsoft One has the edge where ‘system sellers’ are concerned. A lot rests on the shoulders of Killzone: Shadow Fall now.

Sony says no to network streaming
The stripping of DLNA, MP3 and external hard drive support, meanwhile, is bizarre. Somewhere in the Sony machine someone has no doubt deduced that few people use the features, and that Sony would rather people use its services to access music, TV and films.

That’s probably true, but in dropping the features Sony has shown it isn’t quite as in touch with its most loyal, ardent fans as it claims to be. PS3 devotees have been up in arms about these (frankly rather trivial to implement) losses given the PS3 does these things so well. It’s stranger still considering DLNA is something touted on numerous Sony devices as a way of sharing content with…. other Sony devices.

People have rightly recognised this as an attempt by Sony to lock them into Sony services and control what they can and can’t do, which sounds similar to a certain controversy about always-on DRM that kicked this cycle of recriminations off in the first place.

All these incidents, and Microsoft’s occasionally desperate but increasingly effective Xbox One PR campaign, has dented Sony’s strut somewhat. In the greater scheme of things none of these are decisive blows because the fate of these consoles won’t be decided in the first few months, and there’s quite enough gamers to keep the profits flowing for both for years to come. But the idea that the PS4 is the self-evident ‘best choice’ has long been extinguished.

For my part, I think I’ll wait to see what the Steam Machines are like before I decide.

Next, read our in-depth Xbox One vs PS4 comparison

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