TIME Video Games

Steam In-Home Streaming Now Available, Lets You Play PC Games on Virtually Any Computer

Anyone with a Steam account can stream games from one PC to another running a completely different operating system, so long as it's on the same network.

Valve put its Steam In-Home Streaming program — a way to play Steam games between two computers on your home network — out for public beta just a few weeks ago, after running a private beta test for months.

Testing presumably went smoothly, because Valve’s announcing today that the feature is now available to anyone with a Steam account:

Players who have multiple computers at home can immediately take advantage of the new feature. When you login to Steam on two computers on the same network, they automatically connect, allowing you to remotely install, launch, and play games as though you were sitting at the remote PC.

The upsides of In-Home Streaming are really twofold: You can either stream content to something like your living room’s mongo-sized TV without dragging your PC around (or building a Steam Machine), or simply use a lower-end laptop running any number of operating systems, from Windows to OS X to SteamOS to Linux.

It’s also not a new concept: My colleague Jared Newman’s been streaming Steam games from his PC via Nvidia’s Shield for a while now. But Valve’s approach is more manifold, letting you mix and match existing or older devices without trading down to something the size of a handheld — a problem for PC games that don’t scale well on five-inch screens.

Valve’s put up an info page on the fledgling service here, with a handy info-graphic and step-by-step. Not that you really need the step-by-step. According to Valve, there’s just three: Log into Steam via Windows, log into another computer on the same network, then hit your library, select a game and fire away.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

No Surprise Batman Looks Like a Total Boss in New Batman: Arkham Knight Trailer

The first official “gameplay” trailer is up for Batman: Arkham Knight. It’s more like a sizzle reel cobbled together from cutscenes and a smattering of gameplay cutaways, the latter designed to send you down the rabbit hole guessing what any of it means in view of prior Arkham series mechanics.

Arkham Knight will foreground the Batmobile, of course, so that’s mostly what you’ll see in all the money shots here. We already knew Batman had cool multi-segmented armor (check) and that he can jump off high things—even higher here (check). But if the trailer’s not just teasing us — those fast-slow sequences could just as well be non-gameplay “look how cool I am” zingers—and this really is gameplay, you’ll be able to remote-summon the Batmobile, leap up as it’s approaching and land in the driver’s seat. Alright, that’s pretty cool.

You’ll then be able to drive it (check), crash it into stuff (check), do cookies (check), fire missiles from it (check) and—getting back to the actually cool stuff—eject from the driver’s seat on the go, not Adam West-style, to start gliding around Gotham City’s moonlit, only-ever-nighttime streets and byways. My favorite part’s at 1:30, where the Batmobile’s jetting down the insides of a circular pipe-way, swinging up the wall until it’s cruising upside-down (take that, Mario Kart 8!).

But yeah, as bona fide gameplay trailers go, this one leaves a lot to the imagination, and with five months to go until this thing’s out for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows on October 14, that’s probably the point.

TIME Video Games

Can’t Wait for June: Xbox One to Get External Storage, Real Names for Friends

Microsoft's finally tearing down the Xbox One's 500 GB storage wall late this spring or early summer.

Better late than never: Microsoft’s revealed this morning that its next major Xbox One update, due in June, will add support for external storage as well as real names for friends and automatic sign-in for selected accounts.

Since it launched last November, the Xbox One’s approach to storage has gradually been shifting from willfully mysterious to transparent. The console ships with a moderately big hard drive — 500GB — but that space fills up fast, since a majority of the system’s new games are available as disc-less digital downloads.

In the original system software version, users had no obvious way to tell how near they were to maxing out the Xbox One’s hard drive until they’d reached a certain threshold. Microsoft remedied that several months down the road and added the option to remove games and save data.

And in June, it sounds like the company will finally make good on a longstanding promise (or at least I seem to recall it being a promise) to support external storage devices — up to two at one time, 256 GB or larger and USB 3.0 — allowing players substantially more control over, and flexibility with, their downloaded content. By contrast, Nintendo’s Wii U and Sony’s PlayStation 3 support external storage devices, but the PlayStation 4 does not (though you can officially replace the PS4’s internal 500GB hard drive with a larger one, whereas Microsoft doesn’t support Xbox One internal drive replacement). Only the Wii U lets you actually play games from external hard drives, however.

Microsoft notes that you’ll be able to copy or move games, apps and downloadable content to your external device(s), then calls the feature a “great way to take your content to a friend’s house and get straight into a game directly from an external drive.” That seems to be the company acknowledging the benefits, at least in 2014, of lugging your content around locally, perhaps in view of ISP broadband peak usage and/or throttling issues.

My Xbox One friends list is in the low double digits, so this doesn’t matter as much to gamers like me, but if you’re working your way up the system’s towering new up-to-1,000-friends ladder, you’ll probably appreciate the June update’s option to view real names in lieu of gamer tags. Microsoft notes that real names should also make finding people you know, but whose gamer tags you might not, a lot easier. And don’t worry, it’s completely optional: You can share your real name with friends of friends, all friends, select friends or none at all, and Microsoft says it’ll still be your gamer tag that appears in games, not your real name.

If you’re a SmartGlass user, the update adds OneGuide and Universal Remote Control support, as well as SmartGlass-based organization of pinned content into “categories” or “favorites.” The gaming side of SmartGlass looks to be getting a few tweaks as well, including hero stats and activity feeds displayed “front and center” as well as some new ways to run achievement comparisons either through a friend’s profile or in the Xbox One’s activity feed.

The last big Xbox One update landed on May 16 and, among other things, added a long-asked-for setting to allow you to see when new system updates are available and opt for them manually.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Xbox One and PS4 Draw Huge Amounts of Power Even When You’re Not Using Them

Both the Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One use up to three times as much electricity annually as the previous generation of gaming consoles, a new report from the non-profit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) warns.

According to the report, the Xbox One uses an average of 300kWh annually (an estimated $65 in NYC; $33 in Texas) and the PlayStation 4 uses 181kWh ($39 in NYC; $20 in Texas). The relatively green Nintendo Wii U console, meanwhile, sips just 37kWh per year ($8 in NYC; $4 in Texas). Electricity estimates are based off of February 1, 2014 data pulled from Wolfram Alpha.

One of the biggest culprits here is the devices’ standby modes – times the consoles are drawing power even when you’re not using them. The Xbox One devotes 44% of its total annual energy consumption to waiting for always-on voice commands. The PlayStation 4 uses 32% of its total in standby, providing power to its USB ports even when no peripheral is connected. The report also criticizes the PS4 and Xbox One for using between 30 and 45 times as much electricity to stream a movie than an Apple TV, Google Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV device would.

You don’t have to put up with energy vampires in your home to enjoy video gaming, however. The NRDC recommends going into each console’s system settings to make sure the automatic power-down feature is enabled after an hour of inactivity. You should also connect your video game systems and home entertainment center to a reliable surge protector with its own dedicated off switch. Flipping that master switch will stop your electronics from drawing power in standby mode – a good idea for when you leave home or simply go to bed.

You can read the full NRDC video game console report on the organization’s website (PDF). For other ideas to help keep your electric bills low, check out these gadgets that help you save energy.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

PlayStation 4 Owners Can Finally Try the PlayStation Now Beta Today

If you haven't received your private beta invite for the games streaming service, Sony's encouraging users to "register [their] interest" now.

Sony’s PlayStation Now — its upcoming games streaming service based on OnLive rival Gaikai’s streaming tech — has been in private beta for PlayStation 3 owners since January.

I’ll bet a lot of you didn’t know that. I’ll bet a lot of you thought it was a PlayStation 4 thing, because Sony’s made most of its noise about the service in the context of the PlayStation 4’s unveiling, and it’s made it a bullet point in all its PS4 presentations since. Strangely, the service hasn’t been publicly testable for the latter platform.

Until now. Sony says the private beta program is expanding to include the PlayStation 4 on May 20, which would be today. The catch: you have to register — or have registered — for the private beta here, after which Sony’s mystery-picker system does whatever it does before firing off voucher codes by email. That’s what you’re looking for to jump in. Sony’s asking would-be participants to “please be patient,” that it’s “inviting more Private Beta testers on a regular basis” and notes that it’s going to expand the PS3 private beta “to a broader audience” soon.

Last I heard, PS Now was due out of beta sometime later this year, but Sony writes on its PlayStation Blog that the service will launch “this summer.” I’d expect we’ll see it featured prominently at E3, then, since we’ve seen virtually nothing of it at media events to date. Sony says the first supported devices, as expected, will be the PS4, PS3, select Bravia TVs made in 2014 and the PS Vita, “with more devices down the road” (presumably referring to tablets and phones).

The reason PS Now’s availability on the PS4 may be especially significant is that Sony’s pitching it as a way to play PS3 games on the PS4 non-natively. The PS3 either suffered or benefitted — take your pick — from its lack of PS2 backward compatibility. The PS2, as you’ll recall, continued to hold sway with gamers for years after the PS3 arrived. The PS3, with more than 80 million units shipped worldwide, is probably going to see new games you can’t play on the PS4 showing up for a while yet: games like Dark Souls 2, Drakengard 3 (out today), Tales of Xillia 2 and post-release downloadable content for biggies like Batman: Arkham Origins and BioShock Infinite.

If you’re on the fence about registering, a few points to consider: Sony says you’ll need a “steady” broadband connection (very funny, Sony) with speeds of more than 5Mbps “highly recommended.” You’ll need a DualShock 3 PlayStation controller, of course (I’ve seen nothing about DualShock 4 support officially from Sony, though it hosts a support page advising how to configure the DualShock 4 to work with PS3 systems). And you’ll need a Sony Entertainment Network account, if you don’t already have one.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Reviews

Wolfenstein: The New Order Review: Deconstructing Blazkowicz

Wolfenstein newcomer MachineGames' deftly executed voyage through a horror-filled 1960s world -- and off -- conquered by Nazi Germany gives its jarhead protagonist more than just the Nazis to think about.

“It’s all up to you now, Blazkowicz.” You’ll get that a lot in MachineGames’ lurching gonzo-solemn “What if the Nazis won?” shooter, Wolfenstein: The New Order.

As if you needed reminding. It’s been up to William “B.J.” Blazkowicz since 1992, and four or five games running. Blazkowicz, who you play as once more in The New Order, is that slab of Polish-American hero who looked like Rambo ret-conned into The Dirty Dozen, fighting Nazis bare- (and barrel-) chested, wearing a red bandanna and mad-as-hell mien on all those old Wolfenstein 3D box covers. He was id Software’s marble-jawed hero, the patriotic revenge fantasy cliché, a narrative blank check players cashed in bullets, and an unstoppable convention of the genre.

But not in The New Order, where he’s traded a swashbuckler’s insouciance for beatnik brooding, as prone to spontaneous acts of near-poetry (in a voice that’s half-groan, half-whisper) as he is to plummet impossible distances, only to rise as if from a fall off a couch.

It’s weird at first, those misplaced introspective moments punctuating the game’s early over the top action sequences, including one where you leap absurdly from one plane’s wingtip to another. They play between the thunderclaps of arcing Tesla cannons on monstrous tripod automatons stalking shell-blitzed trenches you’ll clamber through before roping (and one-arm shooting) your way up faux-medieval fortress walls. They frame the screams of dozens of Nazi sturmtruppen shot, beheaded and occasionally blown to viscera-riddled smithereens as you infiltrate your Mengele-inspired adversary’s death citadel. And they’ll bookend a ghastly choice you’ll have to make early on that alters the narrative indelibly.

But then that head-fake Tarantino intro gives way to Philip Dick (though a high castle darkly) as you’re plucked from already alternate-versing 1946 and deposited in a wildly divergent 1960s Europe. The Nazis won. America surrendered. Resistance movements barely exist. Cities like London have been razed and re-sculpted from the footings up, filled with colossal post-art deco structures that wouldn’t be out of place in Half-Life 2‘s dystopian City 17. Big Ben survives, but dwarfed by Nazi architecture, the horror amplified by the juxtaposition. Blazkowicz’s grave soliloquizing comes into sober focus as the game flirts unexpectedly with the sort of unironic narrative depth you’d expect more from something like Band of Brothers than a game inspired by a glorified 1990s render-technology showcase built around an excuse to point a weapon at other people and cause them to die horribly.

Into this strange new world you’ll pour warehouses of bullets and retries, still G.I. Joe (if by way of Lieutenant Aldo Raine) at heart. Make no mistake, The New Order‘s gunplay still sums in kill counts, headshots and stylish clandestine dispatches — the original Castle Wolfenstein‘s stealth vibe returns, reimagined — quantified in stat screens by maneuver and weapon type. It’s still a series of finite story-linked levels filled with revenge fantasy kill-or-be-killed sprees that’ll end, once the credits roll, with an enemy body count in the thousands. You’ll still spend inordinate amounts of time hoovering up health packs and ammunition and armor-bolstering scraps of metal scattered about battlefields like glasses of champagne at a posh soirée.

That’s not the sign of a developer designing willy-nilly, too sloppy or untrained to commit: at times The New Order feels as calculated and observant as BioShock, if in the end, less ambitious. When it swerves from camp to cool cogitation, it does so knowingly, the latter moments unfurling during interludes spent wandering a resistance base chatting up other resistance members, your patriotic gusto threatened by a mirror MachineGames keeps holding up. It’s that unexpected attention to The New Order‘s world-building that makes this single-player-only game more than just a shooting gallery with a few new tricks — the sort of camaraderie and reflection in adversity, steeped in creeping dread and philosophical exposition, that made something like The Matrix more than just an expo for bullet time.

Not that the game’s perfect. Snatching up consumables can be confusing, your crosshairs indicating the presence of health packs or armor shards without highlighting them, stealing precious extra seconds as you’re forced to sort through blinking item dumps. The game’s polyvalent new laser weapon gains a godlike one-shot targeting mode towards the end that makes some of the final battles, even on the hardest difficulty setting, a bit too easy. And “perks,” the game’s roleplaying-lite nod to Wolfenstein RPG, which give you new abilities along certain play-style tracks (like stealth or demolition) if you perform prerequisite actions, tend toward the superfluous: I finished the game on the highest difficulty setting without bothering to pursue a single one.

And for all it subverts, The New Order still feels slaved to genre conventions: the Nazi in the hallway outside your room will point his gun at the hapless asylum patient infinitely, his bullet forever unfired until you press through the doorway, tripping the algorithmic trigger and forcing his hand. Item deployment within a level often spoils climactic encounters, the sudden appearance of health packs, armor and piles of grenades portending a deluge of bullets. And mini-boss enemies so hard-fought early on will eventually appear in twos or reinforced by underlings, like an iterative museum of horrors — yesterday’s main course served as tomorrow’s hors d’oeuvres.

There’s a flip side to The New Order‘s dalliance with moral depth (and concentration camps, and suicide bombings) as well. At one point early on, I had to approach from behind a seated Nazi commander speaking to his superior by phone. If you pause to listen to the conversation before knifing him, you learn, among other things, that he has children, that his wife is pregnant and that he’s hoping for a promotion. And then you’re required to kill him, because progress is impossible if you don’t (the alternative being alerting and letting him kill you, or quitting the game and calling that that). It’s a false choice, a morally suspect scene in which you’re asked to identify with your all-too-human victim before ending his existence. But you’re given no other choice. It’s kill or quit. And gamers won’t quit. They never do.

4 out of 5

PlayStation 4

 

 

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Rumors

What to Make of a Potential YouTube-Twitch Deal

On Sunday night, Variety reported that YouTube was about to acquire video game streaming site Twitch for more than $1 billion.

The deal may not be as imminent as that initial report suggested. While sources told The Verge that an acquisition is close, the Wall Street Journal reports that the negotiations are still in an early stage. As of Monday afternoon, Twitch and YouTube haven’t announced anything.

Nonetheless, some in the gaming community are in panic mode at the thought of another beloved service being swallowed whole by a tech titan. We did, after all, just go through this with Facebook and Oculus VR. To help understand what the big deal is, let’s consider what we know about Twitch, YouTube and YouTube’s corporate masters at Google to figure out what an acquisition might mean:

What is Twitch?

Twitch lets anyone stream video games in real-time, with their own live commentary on top. It’s used for everything from huge gaming competitions (such as the yearly Evo fighting game tournament) to amateur broadcasts, some of which have become hugely popular. At first, broadcasters needed special video capture software to stream games from their PCs, but new apps for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 make it easy to broadcast from those consoles directly.

In addition to the basic video feed and commentary, each stream has its own chat room, where users can comment on streams as they happen. The Twitch Plays Pokemon phenomenon from earlier this year made extensive use of this feature, allowing commenters to dictate every move in the game. Using Twitch isn’t just about watching other people play video games; it’s about hanging out with people around a set of common interests.

Why would Google/YouTube want that?

The problem with YouTube is that people tend to swing by for short video clips, and they have little patience for ads. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Twitch users will watch videos for hours on end, which means plenty of opportunities to advertise, and at premium rates.

Perhaps more importantly, Twitch may be the closest thing YouTube has to a threat. Google buying Twitch would be kind of like Facebook buying Snapchat (which almost happened) or Instagram (which did happen). Even if they aren’t direct competitors, they are competing for the same audience attention and ad dollars.

Would Twitch get shoehorned into Google+, then?

Probably not. If recent rumors are accurate, Google has realized the error of trying to ram its own social network into every product, like it did with YouTube last year. By that logic, Google should be smart enough to leave the Twitch community alone.

But that doesn’t mean Google wouldn’t be interested in tracking Twitch users for advertising purposes. Some sort of optional Google-based sign-in or account link would be a safe bet if this acquisition went through. (Here’s a hypothetical: Sign in with your Google account during Evo and get the HD stream for free, instead of having to buy a $12 ticket.)

Would the Google-Microsoft rivalry spell doom for Twitch’s Xbox apps?

Again, probably not. Google only skips platforms when it thinks they’re too small to invest in, which is why there are no official YouTube apps for Windows 8 or Windows Phone. But there are YouTube apps for Xbox 360 and Xbox One, which means Google thinks Microsoft’s consoles are large enough not to ignore.

Just don’t expect an official Twitch app for Windows Phone anytime soon (although the unofficial LiveGaming app is pretty good.)

What’s the potential upside?

As in any acquisition by a big tech company, additional resources are the most obvious benefit. Twitch could tap into Google’s massive data centers to keep things running smoothly, and could make a bigger effort to improve its mobile apps. Chromecast support, with the ability to chat through your phone or tablet while watching a stream on TV, could be pretty awesome. An acquisition by Google could put mobile game streaming on the fast track, especially for Android.

And the downsides?

Twitch’s dominant position in live game streaming would be firmly established, and YouTube would have even less competition than it does now. If the combined companies make a bone-headed decision–requiring everyone to use a real name, for instance–you’d have nowhere else to go. And in a way, it’s just sad to see that the endgame for another small but fast-growing company is to get bought by a huge corporation.

The potential acquisition also raises some questions: How would game publishers respond? Could this be the start of a copyright mess, as publishers try to get their pound of flesh from Google? Would Twitch eventually try to move beyond games to other forms of entertainment, and would that end up watering down the gaming aspect?

If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that Twitch would follow the usual pattern of major tech acquisitions, and promise that it won’t be royally messed up by its new overlords. But it doesn’t always work that way. All Twitch users can do right now is wait, and hope for the best.

 

TIME Video Games

Halo 5 Guardians Will Be the Xbox One’s Maiden Halo

Microsoft

The second installment in developer 343 Industries' new Halo trilogy will be exclusive to Xbox One and ship in fall 2015.

It seems Halo 5‘s skipping its presumptive E3 unveiling and going for a gala May party instead.

We all knew Halo 5 existed (just as we presume Halos 6, 7 and beyond do), but Microsoft chose this Friday spring morning, of all mornings, to de-cloak its second installment in 343 Industries’ new trilogy starring the be-helmeted Master Chief, and a bunch of exceptionally hard-to-kill new aliens (if you played Halo 4‘s campaign on “legendary” difficulty, anyway).

“How do we begin and where to we go with ‘Halo’ on Xbox One?” asks Microsoft in the press release. Toward even grander gameplay scales, running at 60 frames per second, it answers, calling that task “non-trivial.” So yes, Halo 5 Guardians, as it’s officially titled in full, will be an Xbox One exclusive, despite the trilogy’s Xbox 360 beginnings. And 343 Industries says we can expect it not this year, alas, but sometime fall 2015.

Handing the mic to the studio:

“Halo 5: Guardians” is a bigger effort than “Halo 4.” That applies to the content and scope of the game, as well as the technology in what’s now a brand new and more powerful engine. Certainly there are some core elements carried over from prior games, but we’ve invested a huge effort in retooling our tech to take full advantage of the Xbox One’s hardware and ecosystem to create worlds and experiences worthy of next-gen.

It’s a game that will hopefully demonstrate the talent, learnings and abilities of the 343 Industries team. A game that will incorporate the things we learned from “Halo 4” about technology, aesthetics, performance and scale – and perhaps more importantly, understanding and embracing a community of gamers who love what lies at the heart of this game, and the limitless potential of the “Halo” universe.

And 2015 won’t simply be the year of “Halo 5: Guardians,” it will also be a year that offers us a unique opportunity. The opportunity to invite old friends and new audiences into that universe through the “Halo” television series, launched as a unique collaboration with Steven Spielberg and some of the finest creative minds in the business. A series that will stand alone, as well as complement and enrich the game experience. We’ll have more to share on the “Halo” television series as we near its projected fall 2015 release.

343 adds that it’s approaching Halo as a “journey,” not a “destination,” implying the may be Halo-related content in the offing that we’ll see before 2015. Something like Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (serves as a standalone game as well as prologue to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)? We’ll see. Microsoft says it’ll give us “much more information about [its] plans for this year” at its upcoming Xbox E3 2014 Media Briefing, which happens (and I’ll be attending) on June 9.

TIME Video Games

PlayStation 4 Just Outsold Xbox One for the Fourth Month in a Row

Sony's PlayStation 4 (upper-left) and Microsoft's Xbox One (lower-right). Sony, Microsoft

April 2014 Xbox One sales declined significantly in the U.S., week by week.

Sony’s PlayStation 4 has once more tipped the scales — by how much we’re not certain, since we don’t have official figures — to assume the number one sales spot in the U.S., says retail tracker NPD. This makes April the PS4’s fourth dominant month in a row.

The Xbox One placed second, with 115,000 units sold, according to Microsoft, which notes the One has outsold the original Xbox 360 by 76 percent for both of those systems’ first six months in market.

Indeed, NPD says that to date, sales of PS4 and Xbox One hardware are more than double the sum total of PS3 and Xbox 360 hardware sales in their respective first six months.

That, for all the misleading doomsaying about Microsoft’s less-well-selling new console, is at least a preliminary indication of a far more robust appetite for next-gen set-tops than anyone expected, and positive news for gaming from a purely economic standpoint. And while I don’t read as much into year-on-year increases (or decreases), it’s worth noting that April 2014’s spending on hardware, new physical software (doesn’t include digital) and accessories was up by 17 percent over April 2013’s. All in all, a good month for the games industry viewed monolithically.

Here’s NPD’s list of bestselling physical software, with the caveat that SKUs are combined for multi-platform games, and it doesn’t include digital sales.

1. Titanfall (360, Xbox One, PC)
2. Call of Duty: Ghosts (360, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Wii U, PC)
3. NBA 2K14 (360, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, PC)
4. Minecraft (360)
5. LEGO The Hobbit (360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, 3DS, Wii U, PS Vita)
6. The LEGO Movie Videogame (360, 3DS, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita)
7. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (360, PS3, DS, 3DS, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One, PS Vita, PC)
8. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (PS4, 360, PS3, Wii U, 3DS)
9. Grand Theft Auto V (360, PS3)
10. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (360, PS4, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PC)

NPD adds that Yoshi’s New Island (3DS), Infamous: Second Son (PS4), MLB 14: The Show (PS3), Kinect Sports Rivals (Xbox One) and Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfares (360) rank in the top 10 if you list software without SKU combinations.

While the Wii U doesn’t seem to be registering here, NPD says its software sales were up year-on-year by over 80 percent. And while Microsoft’s selling fewer Xbox Ones than Sony is PS4s, it’s still leading in software sales across the Xbox platform, according to Microsoft, selling 2.6 million units (I assume that’s across physical and digital, but Microsoft doesn’t specify). Of that, the Xbox One accounted for 447,000 and the Xbox 360 2.2 million, “totaling 53 percent of the total software market share,” again, according to Microsoft. Microsoft adds that the Xbox 360 is still the dominant seventh-gen console, selling 71,000 units in April.

Let’s shift gears and consider a few contextual points.

As noted last month, the numbers don’t mean precisely what they seem to (though sales numbers rarely do). But the picture this month is a trifle clearer than last. Gamasutra reminds us, for instance, that on Microsoft’s recent earnings call, CFO Amy Hood admitted Xbox One console supply was outpacing consumer demand. And here’s Gamasutra’s take: “This is a situation that did not appear to exist during the early days of the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, which reputedly saw slower, supply-constrained beginnings.”

That said, it remains a truism, however bored some are of hearing it at this point, that Sony’s PlayStation 4 is available in far more countries than Microsoft’s Xbox One (72 versus 13 at last count). That’s not an attempt to excuse the unit sales disparity, which is substantial and important in its own right, but it is an attempt to factor in the broader reality. Yes, potential buyer demographics veer and lurch wildly from country to country for more or less obvious reasons (population differences chief among them), and it’s certainly not the case that all the countries Microsoft isn’t in automatically account for all of that 2 million (or more) sales gulf. But it’s also baldfaced nonsense to suggest Sony and Microsoft are competing on precisely equal terms. I doubt anyone disagrees the PS4’s outperforming by wide margins, but the points aren’t mutually exclusive.

In any event, as Gamasutra further notes, Microsoft clearly seems to be having problems maintaining next-gen momentum: 115,000 units sold in April is a significant downturn from 311,000 units sold in March. Respawn’s Titanfall was supposed to energize the console, and it did to an extent in March, but not enough to give Microsoft the edge it’s been looking for over Sony: the lion’s share of Titanfall sales in April were for Xbox 360.

That edge may have instead arrived this week, however, with a $100 price drop and Microsoft’s excision of its motion-sensing Kinect camera from a new $399 SKU that’ll consist of the Xbox One alone (you can still buy the Xbox One with Kinect for $500, but it seems likely the bulk of Microsoft’s June hardware sales and future ones besides — the new SKU goes live on June 9 — are going to be Kinect-less).

Conventional wisdom holds that Sony’s been winning because the PS4 is less expensive and perhaps a shade more powerful (that’s the perception I’d wager most have, rightly or wrongly, reading article after article about this or that multi-platform game running at lower frame rates or pixel counts on Microsoft’s Xbox One). Microsoft just solved its price-perception problem. The questions remains whether it can mitigate this performance-perception one.

Its software lineup’s appeal, built largely on multi-platform games at this stage, is arguably on par with Sony’s, and its Xbox Live online community was one of the Xbox 360’s crown jewels, so there’s incentive from that angle for all those Xbox 360 gamers — who’ve outnumbered PS3 gamers by millions in the U.S. for years — to follow the Xbox platform’s flightpath, if only for social network reasons.

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