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Loose Ends: What We Still Don't Know About Next-Gen Consoles

With E3 in the books, the vision of Sony and Microsoft's next-generation consoles is starting to take shape. We've seen the consoles, played with the controllers, and previewed the game libraries, but we still have a few burning questions for both camps. 

What are the official release dates?
Both Sony and Microsoft have committed to a holiday release, but gamers still don't know which days they need to request off work to dive into their new consoles. If we were to bet, our money would be on the announcements taking place before or during Gamescom in late August.  

What are the day-one launch lineups?
Both Microsoft and Sony have announced a broad collection of next-generation games, many of which look amazing. Which of these games will be available to purchase when the system hits store shelves? We expect many of the cross-platform games like Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, NBA 2K14, and Watch Dogs to show up on day one or in the weeks following the launch. For the first-party games, the only intel we have to go off right now is pre-order bundles being sold by Amazon and GameStop. We know Sony is selling both Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack bundles, so those two are likely a given on day one barring unforeseen pitfalls. For Xbox One, GameStop is selling Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsport 5, Kinect Sports Rivals, and Ryse: Son of Rome bundles. The full lineups should take shape in the coming months.

Which cable/satellite companies are compatible with Xbox One?
Microsoft's promise of an all-in-one entertainment device comes with a catch – we don't know which cable companies are compatible with the Xbox One. Previous demonstrations featured Comcast, so we expect the console to be compatible with that service. However, Microsoft's dreams of living room dominance could be rendered moot for a large swathe of the population if the Xbox One fails to support DirecTV, Dish Network, U-Verse, and/or Time Warner. With more than 30 cable providers operating across the United States alone, Microsoft is facing a lot of compatibility issues. Once we know the companies that the Xbox One supports, then the question becomes which cable/satellite boxes are compatible?

What are the finer details of Sony's streaming library?
We know Sony plans to roll out Gaikai's streaming service for PlayStation 4 starting in 2014 with a select number of PlayStation 3 titles. This service will evenutally come to the Vita as well. What we don't know is how deep this library will eventually get (will it eventually include PSOne and PS2 titles?), if it will cost you money to stream these older titles, or if the back catalog will be available free of charge as a part of the PlayStation Plus subscription.  

What does the full picture look like regarding DRM?
While Sony says used games work on the PlayStation 4 and Microsoft eventually reversed course to arrive at the same position with the Xbox One, one wild card is still in play regarding DRM – publishers.

At E3, Sony Computer Entertainment head Jack Tretton said, "PS4 will not have any gating restrictions for used disc-based games," but he also said, "we will not dictate the online used game strategy (the ability to play used games online) of its publishing partners." Microsoft has also pushed the gate keeping down the line, saying publishers can enact their own DRM measures as they see fit on the Xbox One.

Watching what happens next should be interesting. Already voted the worst company in America two years running, EA would likely suffer another seriously blow to its reputation if it chose to place consumer restrictions on its titles, especially in light of its decision to kill online passes. Ubisoft has publicly stated that it wants a single set of rules across both platforms, which it now has in control of thanks to Sony and Microsoft taking a step back. Having previously stated it sees the value of the used games market, the French publisher would also take a hit in the public relations department should it decide to enforce its own brand of DRM, something the company has struggled with in the past.  

If publishers decide to put content on Xbox One behind a DRM gate, don't be surprised if they try a back-door method of getting a similar system in place on the PS4 via an online pass (which you can guarantee would be re-branded to distance itself from the previous policies). 

What features are hidden behind the Xbox Live Gold/PlayStation Plus pay wall?
At E3 Sony announced that access to PlayStation 4 online multiplayer is going behind the PlayStation Plus pay wall, which got us thinking – are there any other features for either PS Plus or Xbox Live moving to the other side of the pay wall?

Both parties have been forthcoming regarding the increased benefits to having the premium subscriptions. Microsoft is rolling out a PlayStation Plus-style free games promotion that grants Live subscribers two free games a month through the release of the Xbox One, Fable III is already free, and in July Halo 3 and Assassin's Creed 2 are getting the same treatment. PlayStation Plus subscribers can look forward to early access for game betas, automatic updates, and free games (including a special edition of DriveClub).

Sony reiterated that video services like Hulu and Netflix won't require a PlayStation Plus account, which is one of its major points of distinction against Xbox Live. Microsoft could win some goodwill by moving these services into the Silver membership territory, especially considering the company's push to attract more non-gamers to the console.

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