The console wars are upon us again, and you may already have chosen sides between Sony's (SNE) PlayStation 4 or Microsoft's (MSFT) Xbox One. Gamers are notoriously brand loyal, and that loyalty is strengthened by the existence of console-exclusive game franchises.
But this time around there's another important factor to consider: Which system will be friendlier to your wallet. And the early returns suggest that the Sony is the clear winner.
That's because the Xbox One will attempt to do something that no other console has managed: limit gamers' ability to sell and lend their used games. The game industry has long seen used-game trading as a threat to its business, and there was ample speculation leading up to this round of the console battle that one or both of the new consoles would attempt to limit the practice in some way.
Microsoft, as it turns out, intends to try. While it's issued a series of confusing explanations on what will and won't be allowed, we now have a bit of clarity. Game publishers will be able to limit whether their games can be resold in used game stores. Games can only be given to one friend, and it has to be someone who's been on your Xbox Live friend list for at least a month. Users are also required to connect their console to the internet every 24 hours to make sure they're not breaking the rules.
Last night at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Sony responded by announcing that it would go the opposite route, with no restrictions on buying, selling or lending used games. While publishers could still be permitted to limit reselling of PlayStation games -- for instance, by requiring players to enter one-time-use codes to play the game -- on the whole it looks like Sony won't be actively working to prevent gamers from reselling or lending their games.
Recognizing the uproar from gamers over Microsoft's plans, Sony is touting its more open stance as a reason to buy the PlayStation 4, as seen in this cheeky ad:
Sony's offering will also be consumer-friendly in another way: It will have a starting price of $399, versus $499 for the Xbox One. That's a big reversal from the previous generation, when the PlayStation 3 came out of the gate with a higher price tag than the Xbox 360 (in large part because the PlayStation came with a Blu-ray player, a new and expensive technology at the time).
Yet another price advantage for Sony lies in the fact that you won't need to sign up for its premium PlayStation Plus service to be able to stream subscription services like Netflix and Hulu Plus. By contrast, Microsoft will continue to require users to subscribe to Xbox Live Gold if they want to stream content, at a retail cost of $60 a year (on top of whatever you're paying for Netflix or other services).
The diverging policies and prices have gamers slamming Microsoft and praising Sony today, and it will be interesting to see if the controversy will help turn the tide in Sony's favor. Gamers have always enjoyed buying, selling and lending their video games once they've finished playing them, and Microsoft's decision to mess with that tradition -- along with its console's higher price tag -- could make PlayStation 4 the more popular choice this generation.
Matt Brownell is the consumer and retail reporter for DailyFinance. You can reach him at Matt.Brownell@teamaol.com, and follow him on Twitter at @Brownellorama.