Brett Molina, USA TODAY
USA TODAY - Sony and Microsoft have set the stage for an epic duel in the video game market this fall.
The companies in November will launch their respective video game consoles - the Playstation 4 and Xbox One - but the initial marketing push is well under way.
Sony has announced a three-year partnership with fast food chain Taco Bell. Starting Thursday, the restaurant will offer its $5 Buck Box combo meal with unique codes consumers text for the chance to win one of 4,000 PlayStation 4 consoles before launch, along with a game and one-year subscription to online service PlayStation Plus.
The promotion follows a similar campaign hosted by Microsoft, working with Doritos and Mountain Dew to get the Xbox One into players' hands prior to its official arrival. The "Every 2 Minutes" contest requires consumers to purchase Doritos or Mountain Dew products, then collect points to use in an online auction for a chance to win an Xbox One.
Fresh video game consoles cannot arrive soon enough for many players - or the industry. In August, hardware sales plunged 40% compared to last year, says NPD Group, as consumers sit on the sidelines waiting for Xbox One and PS4 to hit shelves.
Electronic Entertainment Design and Research analyst Jesse Divnich expects this season to be "among the biggest on record" for hardware sales. "The fact that both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One pre-orders are currently sold out, two full months before launch, speaks to the high level of demand that currently exists for these consoles."
The Xbox One, which sells for $499, will include the Kinect motion and voice sensor, a Blu-ray drive and a DVR for recording game play. But its non-gaming features - including cable set-top box integration and partnership with the NFL to host an exclusive app - could prove enticing.
"The way the non-gaming features are integrated could be very good," says Inside Network's Billy Pidgeon.
Microsoft has weathered multiple publicity storms since announcing the Xbox One in May. The company pulled back policies that would have required mandatory online console checks and limited use of games after purchase following a backlash from players. However, the biggest issue could become the price, which is $100 more than the $399 PS4."They still have to prove the value proposition of the extra $100," says Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter.
Meanwhile, Sony seems to be aiming squarely at video game players with its messaging on the console. The PS4 will include a Share function to show friends game-play videos or other content, 500 GB hard drive and remote play using the PlayStation Vita handheld.
"Sony clearly has the momentum from pricing and the perception that they are the more consumer friendly platform," says Baird Research analyst Colin Sebastian.
Although the PS4 will have many of the same entertainment options as Xbox One, Sony has used its stage to focus on the games, from blockbusters such as inFamous: Second Son to smaller, independent adventures. "Our mantra very much is we're for gamers, and we really put them at the center of everything that we do in our ecosystem," says Guy Longworth, Sony's senior vice president of PlayStation brand marketing.
Video game industry veteran Nintendo hopes to steal some attention away from the hardware newcomers with the Wii U, available since last November. Last month, Nintendo slashed the price of the console to $300 and plans to launch a slew of new titles, including a fresh Super Mario game.
All three devices will also be competing for attention with smartphones and tablets. A survey from NPD finds kids age 2-17 are playing on their mobile devices almost as much as they are on consoles. However, Divnich expects the Xbox One and PS4 to perform well.
"Console gamers are still with us and they've certainly not permanently migrated to other forms of gaming," he says. "We just need to get them excited, and the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One launch this holiday season will do just that."