On Monday evening, Microsoft did everything right.

Well, everything short of rescinding their convoluted policies regarding game ownership and online activation. But before E3, they told us their conference would be all about the games, and they certainly delivered that; ninety minutes of wall-to-wall game announcements, trailers, teasers and demonstrations. They even resurrected the cult classic Killer Instinct franchise for their new console.

But then came the price announcement: £429!? As soon as those figures appeared onscreen (and did you hear the shocked silence that followed?), it was obvious Sony’s PlayStation 4 was going to be the cheaper console. A few hours later, at the end of an up-and-down conference, Sony buried Microsoft with not just a lower price (£349), but news that they wouldn’t be restricting used/traded games or requiring online authentication.

I’ve since seen comments online that Sony “destroyed” Microsoft at E3. I’m not sure I agree. For the average gamer, it’s hard to argue that Sony’s PS4 isn’t the better choice; rules around game ownership are far clearer on Sony’s platform, and it’s quite significantly cheaper. But if I was to compare the two conferences on their merits alone, I’d have to say that, for me, Microsoft had the better showing.

The Seattle company were lambasted for their May 21st Xbox One unveiling, and rightly so. It was a console reveal, so it follows that the majority of the people watching it were gamers, yet they spent most of their hour-long show talking about television and showing what the underlying OS was capable of. At the time, it was mind-boggling. In hindsight, it was probably a good idea; showing off all the extraneous non-gaming features at a separate event meant that they could focus entirely on games at E3. By contrast, Sony took time out of their conference to tell us about Music and Video Unlimited, Redbox and other stuff that no one watching was particularly interested in. It was a good half an hour before we got down to the games.

And to be honest, I’m struggling to remember many of those games now. The Order: 1866 looked interesting; a Steampunk adventure through Victorian London that features tooled-up people in frock coats shooting at things that might have been werewolves, the game is being developed by Ready at Dawn, they of God of War PSP fame. But the biggest hitters at Sony’s show, for me at least, were the surprise announcements of Final Fantasy XV, Kingdom Hearts 3 and The Elder Scrolls Online, together with the first gameplay footage of Bungie’s upcoming persistent world shooter Destiny. Have you spotted the pattern here? They’re all multiplatform.

Microsoft’s biggest crowd-pleasers were exclusive titles: Killer Instinct (originally reported to be free-to-play, since debunked); Crytek’s gorgeous (if a little button-mashy) Ryse: Son of Rome; Quantum Break, the next title from Remedy; Yukio Futatsugi’s Crimson Dragon (which is a serious, huge draw for a big fan of Panzer Dragoon); D4, the next title from Swery65, maker of the cult Deadly Premonition; Dead Rising 3, which is now an open world title with frankly ridiculous numbers of the undead on-screen; Project Spark, a very impressive-looking game creation tool; and Sunset Overdrive, a stylish blend of Pixar and Borderlands from previously PlayStation-exclusive Insomniac games. Seriously, who thought Insomniac would become independent, only to make an exclusive for Microsoft?

Topping all this off, we got a cameo from Master Chief in his dressing gown (though we always knew Halo would continue on the Xbox One, I don’t think many expected to see anything at this E3), and then a prolonged gameplay segment of Respawn Entertainment’s first game, TitanFall. This last one is a huge coup for Microsoft; since Jason West and Vince Zampella’s acrimonious split from Activision in 2010, the entire industry has been waiting with bated breath to see what the two former Infinity Ward leads would do now that they were away from Call of Duty. The result is a multiplayer shooter combining fast, agile, double-jumping humans and powerful yet nimble mechs, called Titans. I’m generally not that big a fan of online shooters (bar Halo), but what I saw of Titanfall really grabbed my attention; it looks like a mix between Halo and Unreal Tournament, only in place of vehicles we have huge mechs. The segment also showed cutscenes between characters, so it seems there must be a story mode of sorts in there, too. So a highly-anticipated game from the creators of the Call of Duty juggernaut is only going to be on Microsoft consoles? That’s got to sting a bit for Sony.

So I’m left feeling conflicted: for me, Sony have the better deal for gamers, but Microsoft have the better games. So while I’m here, perhaps I’ll take a closer look at what Microsoft’s policies actually are.

The concensus across the internet right now seems to boil down to the following:
PS4 = used games, trading.
Xbox One = no used games, no trading.

Except, Microsoft have kind of put a spanner in the works of this conclusion by stating that Xbox One games can be traded or resold. Granted, they’ve made a horrible fist of explaining it all which would undoubtedly lead to a lot of confusion, but I can’t help but feel some people are also just wilfully misreading the situation.

So the real issue isn’t that we can’t trade or resell our games, it’s that there are caveats to these actions; we can trade a game for free to a friend… as long as they’ve been on our friends list for thirty days. We can resell a game… as long as we do so at a ‘participating retailer’ and the publisher has allowed it. To what extent these restrictions will affect the average gamer remain to be seen, but with Sony not putting any restrictions in place, I can’t see any publishers really forcing the issue on Xbox One; they’ll want to maximise sales across both platforms, and if someone owns an XBO and not a PS4, they’re surely more likely to avoid a game than buy a second console to play it

Now, speaking purely for myself, I don’t trade games in, nor do I buy second hand games, but even though these restrictions are extremely unlikely to affect me in any meaningful way, it still leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. What I do occasionally do, however is lend games to friends, and it actually seems that Microsoft has a pretty generous system in place to facilitate this. From XBox Wire:

Give your family access to your entire games library anytime, anywhere: Xbox One will enable new forms of access for families. Up to ten members of your family can log in and play from your shared games library on any Xbox One. Just like today, a family member can play your copy of Forza Motorsport at a friend’s house. Only now, they will see not just Forza, but all of your shared games. You can always play your games, and any one of your family members can be playing from your shared library at a given time.

Well, that sounds good, but how do Microsoft define “family”? Could it be a friend? Surely they don’t require some kind of proof that you’re related? Not according to Xbox Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer Yusuf Mehdi, who spoke to Ars Technica:

Since its announcement, there has been some confusion over the details of sharing your Xbox One game library with up to ten “family members.” Mehdi couldn’t give comprehensive details, but he did clarify some things.

For one, a family member doesn’t have to be a “blood relative,” he said, eliminating the extremely unlikely possibility that the Xbox One would include a built-in blood testing kit. For another, they don’t have to live in the primary owner’s house—I could name a friend that lives 3,000 miles away as one of my “family members” Mehdi said.

You’ll be able to link other Xbox Live accounts as having shared access to your library when you first set up a system and will also be able to add them later on (though specific details of how you manage these relationships is still not being discussed). The only limitation, it seems, is that only one person can be playing the shared copy of a single game at any given time. All in all, this does sound like a pretty convenient feature that’s more workable than simply passing discs around amongst friends who are actually in your area.

So I can nominate up to ten people on my friends list to have remote access to my entire library? On their own account? Even if they’re in a different country?? That’s… that’s actually pretty darn generous! Obviously, only one person can play a game at a time, but this is no different to lending a disc – if I lend a 360 or PS3 game to a friend right now, I cannot also play that game, nor can I lend it to anyone else as long as that first friend has possession of the disc. Using this system, if a friend wants to try out a game, I can simply say, “It’s in my shared library, have at it,” and away they go to download a copy. It certainly makes sharing more convenient. Quite why Microsoft aren’t shouting this feature from the rooftops, I don’t know; perhaps it’s because they haven’t decided how these relationships will be managed yet (maybe you’ll only be able to change up ‘family member access’ every few months to avoid people massively exploiting the system?). Either way, I’d be surprised if Microsoft didn’t start championing this feature closer to launch.

This leaves me with only one real worry about the Xbox One, and again it’s one that’s unlikely to affect me; the need to go online once every 24 hours. Now, the reason I say it’s unlikely to affect me is that I can’t remember my connection ever dropping out for more than about six hours. On top of that, if my connection did happen to die for a few days, I could quite easily create a mobile hotspot on my phone, connect the console to that, sign into Xbox Live, and then disconnect again and continue gaming. What concerns me is that the possibility exists for my entire gaming library to become unavailable if I, for some reason, cannot connect. This is my main problem with the Xbox One, and it’s more out of principal than practice; just because it’s unlikely to happen doesn’t mean I should dismiss it.

The decision to buy an Xbox One was always going to be a trade-off between how much Microsoft’s policies bother you and how much you want the games. The policies the company have put in place for the new console probably won’t affect me at all in practice (and some, like the above-mentioned lending scheme, may even be positive propositions), but it does still leave me wary of the machine. On top of being cheaper (and possibly more powerful), Sony’s PlayStation 4 appears to have none of the faff associated with Xbox One – buy our console, Sony seem to be saying, and you won’t need to worry about how to trade in games, or where you can buy second hand; you won’t have to worry about your connection dropping out or wonder if you’ve been friends with someone long enough to give them a game – you can just carry on as you currently do this gen (with the notable exception of now having to pay for PS+ if you want to play online). That’s got to be an attractive proposition for the average gamer.

But these are games consoles, and as such, a decision comes down to the games. And I want what Microsoft are offering. So what am I to do?

I’ll probably end up with both.

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