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Xbox One strikes back

Opinion: Microsoft's redemption in the eyes of consumers means it can finally let the games do the talking, writes Andy Robinson

Before we can get our hands on them, the impending arrival of new games consoles has inevitably descended into a war of words between platform holders, as Sony and Microsoft desperately exchange multi-million dollar punches in an effort to gain the slightest PR advantage.

Before this week's Gamescom there was one clear champion in the marketing slugfest, but while Sony is yet to be totally usurped from its position of power, it's telling that it's no longer the outright belt-holder either.

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Perhaps the greatest shift of power was evident during a single moment of the German show. It wasn't the two Phils' revelation that every Xbox One pre-order in Europe will be rewarded with a free copy of FIFA, or even the cautiously welcomed indie self-publishing policy.

No, Xbox One's biggest sign of redemption yet came when Sony Computer Entertainment boss Andrew House made an uncharacteristically gauche attack on Microsoft's flip-flopping policies... only to be met with an awkward silence and limp applause from his audience.

Two months ago Sony's E3 Xbox snipes - including that comedy pre-owned games video - made the firm the champion of gamers. But now, following a gargantuan rescue effort from Microsoft (which included the unsurprising departure of scapegoat boss Don Mattrick) Sony's digs feel as out of date as an old Xbox One fact sheet.

For me, games boss Phil Spencer was right this week when he defended Microsoft's decision to react to the early outrage over One policies.

"Xbox One is far more attractive today than when we first saw it in the Xbox Tent."

The prime ammunition in Sony's marketing musket has been to target Microsoft's numerous 180 manoeuvres - from used games policies, to online requirements and the mandatory Kinect sensor - as costly defeats.

But in the crossfire it seems to have missed the fact that, to the man on the street, these corporate three-point-turns - however embarrassing for Microsoft - have simply resulted in an Xbox One that's far more attractive today than when we first saw it in that damp Xbox Tent.

In just a few short months the next-gen Xbox has been repackaged from a machine which needed to be online, to having no such requirement. The old digital-focussed used games policy has been abolished, while the bundled Kinect sensor no longer needs to be connected in order for the console to operate.

The price and relatively closed platform were the final pieces of the puzzle, and the Redmond firm tackled both issues this week with varying levels of success, mostly dependent on whether or not you like FIFA. And if you do like FIFA then that £80 / $100 price difference between Xbox One and PS4 suddenly doesn't look quite so bad.

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What does this mean? With the pink (or is that green?) elephants safely back in their cages, it feels fantastic that for the first time in six months the public gaze has seemingly shifted from company policy to what's actually exciting about the console transition: the games.

Most journalists I speak to agree that this is where Microsoft's machine looks particularly strong; It's hasn't quite got the 'best launch line-up in history' Phil Harrison believes it does, but Xbox One's smart mix of first-party titles, combined with high profile CoD, FIFA and Battlefield content exclusives could prove decisive when the public make their next-gen buying decisions this Christmas.

Sony's software roster isn't half bad either of course, plus it's offering what's possibly the most powerful, developer friendly console ever made.

There are still twists and turns to come in the road to November, with both platform holders lining up announcements for the coming weeks (and Xbox One doesn't even have a launch date yet), but for once we can feel safe in the likelihood that it's action, not words, which will be used to sell the next-gen of gaming.

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