Have Sony beaten Microsoft to the punch by putting users first?

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The announcement that Sony won’t follow Microsoft’s lead in restricting resale of disk purchases on the Playstation 4 has come as a surprise to all but the most optimistic of commentators.

It seems to be the prevailing opinion that the decision to restrict disk licensing on Xbox One came from high above, with publishers lobbying for more control. Well, it turns out that even if they were lobbying, they certainly didn’t win with Sony, as eloquently detailed by Sony's Scott Rohde on Giant Bomb.

Users first, messy press releases second

It is becoming apparent that Sony (previously enemies of the state with rootkits & BluRay DRM) have focused on users all the way up to the strategic level, and Microsoft have seemingly put users at the bottom of the pile. Microsoft made a bet that they would win their users back with the games announcements. No doubt, they have made an impact with some of their announcements, but a bad console with good games is still a bad console.

That's something people appreciate, so why not? - Scott Rohde, Sony

Playstation 4

Sony’s approach to the Playstation 4 seemed reactionary when bleary eyes watched their launch back in April. Now I would change my assessment. I'd go far enough to say that their approach has been unequivocal in its desire to please users.

You may not want exactly what they’ve offered but I can't help but detect a genuine thread of user-centered design in the PS4. The screencasting, amorphous interfaces and social suddenly seem less cynical with hindsight. Glue everything together from the earlier announcement and E3 and you are left with a sprawling ecosystem people might actually want to interact with, or at least learn to love. Where things need to be unique in their own right, Sony have extended and embraced the user need.

Thinking big and forgetting the little guy

Xbox One on the other hand seems to be falling into the trap of silos of ideas hanging off a very tenuous philosophy (or rather, KPI!). In isolation these silos are no doubt created by some of the best brains in design. Collectively, they fail to work with each other as products, and individually they do not care for the user’s desires. Downloads are fantastic, but they don’t behave, inhibit - or more pertinently - require the same restrictions as disk-based games. Users use disks in very different ways to how they use downloads. Microsoft have fallen into the trap of imagining a homogenous set of users in a market that is anything but that.

One very potent comment by Outside Xbox questioned whether Microsoft realised that we wouldn’t be ready for always-online in 2013 when they planned this console. It is true to say that whilst digital downloads are huge on PC, they have not overwhelmed the mainstream console market. The memory of Microsoft previously being last-past-the-post with the Internet back in the day seems to have pushed them to the other extreme.

As a player in a console market that tends to reach lower socioeconomic groups, as well as the least flush group of them all, teenagers, Microsoft cannot possibly expect to be arrogantly ahead of the curve with behaviours and satisfy users. Microsoft’s expectation that people would adopt Games On Demand - what has been seen and priced until now as a premium service - is to ignore who keeps those console sales numbers up even if they don't buy every game release. Users.

Don’t disappoint users, surprise them

For all the criticisms of the Wii, it has very similar properties as the Sony machine, along with the surprisingly resilient Nintendo DS. They both want you to love them, use them and get the best from them. Nintendo want you to be surprised when a StreetPass appears on your device, or when your Wii U tablet screen subverts a game in a way you didn’t see possible. If Nintendo's failure this generation has been misunderstanding what consumers want to buy, Microsoft have failed to understand what users want to do.

Consoles were always supposed to be the device that surprises and delights in a way that the boring VHS player, DVD player couldn't, with the added bonus of being powerhouses. Sony have become the unlikely hero of the new generation by surprising the most emotive audience - users.

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