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Your Move, Microsoft

If you were forced to pick one word that summed up Sony’s PS4 reveal, a safe answer would be “connected.” The company line is that the PS4 emphasizes the “play” part of PlayStation, but that only tells some of the story. Nearly everything Sony showed in New York fed back into that concept, ranging from experiences as obvious as playing online with friends to more subtle (and frankly, creepy) interactions such as the console anticipating the games you are likely to buy and downloading them in the background. They even mentioned the Vita, though it was mostly referenced as another way to play PS4 games.

Now that Sony has revealed at least part of its hand, it’s time for Microsoft to follow. While they could show off the Xbox 360’s successor at E3, that seems dangerously late – especially if, like Sony, the company hopes to release new hardware this holiday season. It seems more likely that Microsoft will provide at least a glimpse of its plans before E3 in June, so the new console can go head-to-head with the PS4 on the show floor.

In the meantime, here are some of our ideas as to what Microsoft needs to bring when it’s finally ready to announce the next Xbox.

Leverage Your Relationships
A divide exists between those who say gameplay trumps graphics and others who simply can’t get past ugly games. Whichever side you align with, one thing’s for sure: You’re not going to be getting the deepest gameplay dive at a hardware unveiling. Instead, companies use their stage time to dazzle you with explosive demos, with the occasional concession to more imaginative or risky gameplay options.

Sony showed its hardware with quick looks at Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 and Havok Physics running on the PS4, which should effectively keep Microsoft from showing off those third-party demos. It’s a sad (but true) reality that seeing a marauding ice titan wows the masses for the first time, but risks being yawned off the stage beyond that.

Microsoft lacks the deep well of exclusive franchises that Sony has, so unless it has an entire slate of new IP waiting to be revealed, the company must lean heavily on third parties. We’re likely to see new games from 343 Industries (Halo) and Turn 10 (Forza), but we imagine partners will take center stage. You can look at what wasn’t shown at Sony’s presser for a few hints. Where were the new Call of Duty and Battlefield games? Rocksteady has been quiet for a while. And what’s going on with Bethesda?

Microsoft needs to ensure that third parties are supplying content to the platform you can’t get anywhere else. Gamers like to play games. Make the next Xbox a place where exclusivity is a given. That doesn’t mean that Microsoft shouldn’t be investing even more heavily on its internally developed games. Forza, Halo, and Gears are all great games that have earned large followings, but they can’t cut it alone. Microsoft isn’t likely to get a year’s head start – it needs a system seller.

Keep Your Network Advantage
As we mentioned in the introduction, Sony has ambitious plans for connectivity, particularly on the online front. Sony’s coming out strong with features such as controlling friends’ systems remotely (to help them through difficult sections) and sharing in-game video clips, as well as collecting data on users and their preferences (That last one is probably more appealing to advertisers and other content providers). Microsoft needs to either match each of those bullet points or offer a viable alternative.

Match Or Beat Sony’s System Specs
The guts of the two systems are very similar (if the leaks are to be believed), but one place where Microsoft could find itself behind is in the RAM department. Right now they are rumored to have 8GB DDR3, and Sony has 8GB GDDR5. It’s a downright revelatory difference compared to contemporary console hardware 8GBs – the Xbox 360 gets by on a measly 512MBs – but it’s likely to suffer from bandwidth issues that the PS4’s speedier RAM won’t. It’s not as simple as merely ticking off items on a checklist, but Microsoft should do what they can to stay in line technologically with its main competitor.

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