With the launches of Xbox One and PS4 just around the corner, the main question being asked is "Which one are you going to buy?" The better question to ask is whether you should buy either of them.
"Console wars" bug me for a lot of reasons. For starters, the constant Us Vs. Them of a console war leads to a lot of unnecessary factionalism and hostily over a hobby that we typically turn to in order to escape that kind of bullshit in the first place.
What bugs me lately, though, is how the console war narrative misdirects the discussion. We see more debate about which console is better at x game rather than debate or whether these consoles really worth our money. Your decision this fall isn't Xbox One or PS4. It's Xbox One or PS4 or anything else.
I think it's important to size up the two consoles. You should compare the specs, the services, the software, the price, and so on. But it's always worth remembering that a console isn't excellent just because it edges out its main competitor on some metric. Good isn't the same thing as better. Your expectations for your next gaming console should be set by you, not by a comparison of two products in a sea of other options.
Like many people, I was thrilled when Sony announced at E3 that the PS4, unlike the Xbox One, wouldn't require an Internet connections or restrict game trading. It was a standing ovation moment. But think of it this way: what if Microsoft had also decided against those restrictions from the start? How would you have reacted to Sony's announcement? You would have shrugged because the PS3 also let you freely trade games and play offline. Sony earned a huge pile of brownie points for announcing that they were going to continue the same policy they've used for the past two decades. It's not an impressive decision in of itself, but it's better than the other guy. Let's give them a standing ovation for not fucking the pooch.
Oh, by the way, multiplayer's not free anymore. You need a PlayStation Plus account to play online for the PS4. Yet there's no torch-wielding mob here. Why? Because Xbox gamers need Xbox Live Gold. Because a console you don't own requires a monthly fee for multiplayer, you're less inclined to complain about your console now requiring a fee. It's just the standard now.
Meanwhile, neither company is getting shit for not offering backwards compatibility. Why? Because neither of them offer it. Or, more accurately, both companies made vague promises of streaming older games through the cloud. We have no clue as to how much it will cost or how many games will be offered in this manner, though. It won't be available at launch or anytime soon, though. The only reason this complete lack of information about an important feature is considered acceptable is because we're looking at this issue with the tunnel vision of PS4 vs. Xbox One. We can't declare one better than the other so the issue doesn't exist.
I'm not trying to trivialize the differences between these two consoles. There are very real distinctions here. I'm just trying to keep them in perspective. This isn't an A or B choice. It's A or B or both or neither.
Everyone's expectations for a new console are different, though. Maybe backwards compatibility or free multiplayer don't matter to you. Here's what I want from my next-gen system:
What am I getting for my $400 or $500 or whatever? Sadly, the options for day one are mostly games that I could also get on current-gen platforms or PC. The performance upgrade that the new consoles for these titles is is arguable in some cases.
Each console has a handful of exclusives coming out on launch day, too, but in order to get the console on that date in the first place you need to have pre-ordered well before the reviews for said games will be published. You're gambling on the quality of new IP's like Ryse and Knack. It's an expensive roll of the dice.
The math - the price of the console versus the amount of quality next-gen games for those consoles - will get better over time. The consoles will get cheaper as Sony and Microsoft try to persuade gamers off the fence. Developers will eventually release truly next-gen games (Destiny, Titanfall and Witcher 3 are a few I'm looking forward to) that will make the new technology sing. I ended up with both an Xbox 360 and a PS3 so I'll probably end up with one or both of their successors - it's just a matter of timing.
You've got a decision, too. You can buy these consoles on day one or just play your back-log of current-gen games until the prices and games get better. Or upgrade your PC. Or get a Wii U. Or buy a Steam Machine. Don't let the flurry of advertisements or console war articles let you think your options are limited to Xbox One or PS4.