When it came to console-based multi-player gaming during this generation, the Xbox 360 was the clear winner over the PlayStation 3. Most of Xbox’s success in that arena came from the fact that Xbox Live offered a much better experience than PlayStation Network from its unified experience across games, advanced match-making capabilities, and many other technological advances that it had over Sony’s counterpart. There is an often forgotten reason for Microsoft’s multi-player domination of this generation that may have even been forgotten by Microsoft going into the next-gen. If Microsoft screws this one up it could compound what many already feel like will be a mass migration to the PlayStation 4 over the Xbox One. That very important factor: a bundled headset.
It sounds like such a small and almost meaningless item, but using a headset is practically required for a quality multi-player experience. Good luck playing a team game successfully if you can’t hear what your teammates are planning. What fun is it to play a sports game if you can’t gloat a little over the touchdown you just scored? In short, playing multi-player games without voice communication with the other players can almost make some games completely pointless.
Microsoft knew this back in the early days of the Xbox 360. That’s why they included a headset with every console they shipped. Granted, that headset wasn’t very great, but it’s unique design (plugging it directly into the controller, not the console) was incredibly functional. While it might have been frustrating that they broke easily, at least you got one for free, and if you needed to replace it you could do so for under $20 typically. So even if it wasn’t the greatest headset ever, at least you knew that most people you were going to play online with actually had one. Sony didn’t bundle a headset with the PlayStation 3. Sony’s console supported Bluetooth headsets, so they assumed everyone would just use the headsets they already had for their phones. Turns out Sony was wrong, and multi-player gaming suffered drastically on the PlayStation as a result.
Now we can pre-order the Xbox One prior to it’s November launch, but no where does it state that it includes a headset. To make matters worse, the new headset that they showed at E3 looks like a rather nice upgrade to the device it replaces. So while Xbox Live continues to improve, and Sony joins the club in terms of charging for the ability to play multi-player games, one has to wonder if Microsoft will still hold such a dominant position in the online multi-player space of the next generation.
What do you think? Will it matter at all if the Xbox One doesn’t include a headset? Will it only matter if Sony does include one? If neither Microsoft nor Sony include headsets are we headed toward a less immersive multi-player experience on both consoles? Let us know in the comments!