A reader considers the current state of the Xbox vs. PlayStation console war and why Microsoft is unlikely to emerge victorious this year.
I often find myself reflecting on the console wars of old. During the Xbox 360 and Xbox One era, it certainly felt like the stakes were higher, that the fight between Sony and Microsoft was a fight to the death rather than a fight for higher market share. The last 10 years of watching their respective marketing, and more recently legal departments, duke it out for the hearts and minds of the gaming public have all but dispelled the notion that there will be some kind of fatality initiated by one side or the other.
It is no secret who has won the fight for market share. Sony is head and shoulders above Microsoft and has been since the dawn of the Xbox One era, since, like a Shakespearian tragedy, Don Mattrick revealed on stage the console’s fatal flaws. Yes, plural: TV and DRM and Kinect. Not to mention the lack of games. It was a complete capitulation, right at the precipice of the windfall that was the platform marketplace, the digital era.
Microsoft, rather than spreading their wings and letting the winds of change and convenience propel their profit margins to dizzying heights, allowed the Don to reach over his shoulder, draw a double barrel, and proceed in blowing not just his foot off but the entire leg. In a matter of hours Xbox had become the anti-consumer bogeyman. Attempting to put the last nail in the coffin of used game sales, they stood defiant for all of 10 minutes before back tracking but the damage was done.
The ultimate case study in how not to launch a product. Xbox showed a complete lack of care and attention to their customer base, in the pursuit of the girl that they never stood a chance with. We have since learned the battle for console supremacy is fought, not in the living room but in your mom’s basement.
Nearly 10 years on from that hallowed day, the story is still being told in the numbers. Xbox did everything they could to hand Sony the generation but that should not discredit the work done by the PlayStation team, pumping out unmissable exclusives and excellent technology at a reasonable price point. This all led to a devastating victory for Sony; Microsoft stopped releasing sales numbers, in an admission that the gap had become insurmountable.
After Don Mattrick fortuitously joined Zynga, of mobile game fame, three months after the Xbox One fiasco, Phil Spencer was anointed the next leader of the Xbox brand and there is no denying he’s done a good job. Where the previous management tried to differentiate themselves with a ‘voice remote for your TV’ Phil has begun altering what Xbox is fundamentally. While it’s still about the games, the Xbox brand is moving firmly in a new direction that shows early signs of promise.
The benefits of Game Pass are there for all to see, but there are still fears that crop up from time to time in regards to the Xbox brand, which the new direction and status as consumer champion have failed to vanquish. First party exclusives and the handling of their first party developers, in which Microsoft have an appalling track record.
Lionhead Studios, known for Fable, comes to mind. Microsoft failed to tie any of the studios that developed their flagship titles during the exceptional Xbox 360 era into their first party stable, with Bungie and Epic Games setting off for pastures new and the teams that took on the IP have been lacklustre at best, pumping out played out iteration after played out iteration.
The scope of Xbox Series X/S’s first party exclusives have been Gears 6 and Halo Infinite, franchises that are on life support. That was until the war chest was cracked open for major acquisitions in Bethesda and then the monumental, proposed purchase of Activision Blizzard. Suddenly Xbox is swimming in a sea of beloved IP. After a few barren years we are finally seeing the fruits of the Bethesda acquisition, with two major releases this year that we know of: Redfall and Starfield.
Both were originally planned for the first half of this year, with Redfall just about making that deadline with a May release date and Starfield failing to make it, and now expected in September. Redfall will have some extra shine as the first Microsoft-Bethesda title, but I have some concerns about this one. I expect it to be a good game, but Arkane is a developer that seems to be losing some of its identity in the search of its first commercial success and it’s telling that their first post-Xbox release is a co-op, possibly live servicey shooter, when they have been a single-player studio since their inception. [It’s not a live service game, they’ve said it’s more like Far Cry – GC]
The jury is out on this one, and I suspect it will be critically well received, but may suffer from a dwindling player-base shortly after launch; I do hope that I’m wrong. Then there is Starfield. As if Todd Howard wasn’t galaxy brained enough, he had to go and make Skyrim in space. This is as close as Xbox will get to a sure thing until The Elder Scrolls 6. It is worth mentioning that Forza Motorsport will also likely hit Game Pass this year, which I will play once and immediately drop in favour of Sony’s Gran Turismo 7 in VR.
During a barren 2022 the war cry of Xbox, and journalists favourable to Xbox, was that 2023 was Xbox’s year. Four months into the foretold year of Xbox, it is PlayStation who continue to distinguish themselves as the premier destination for high-end console gaming. They continue to secure third party release exclusive deals, their new PlayStation VR2 headset is an exciting prospect if adopted by the public and supported properly.
If you have budget constraints and own an Xbox and not a PlayStation, as a consumer you are getting better value, but what you are missing out on has been piling up for some time now. Games such as God Of war, The Last Of Us, Returnal, Spider-Man, The Ghost of Tsushima, and the list goes on. These are games developed by studios at the height of their power and working in conjunction with one another under the Sony umbrella, pooling resources and developing the most polished and breath-taking games the medium has to offer.
If VR is something that you have any interest in, I’m afraid it is tough luck as Xbox do not yet see the need to offer a product such as this. And there would be complications if they did, as the Xbox Series S may not have the raw power to support such a product this generation, considering Microsoft’s commitment to system parity.
Xbox feel as though they are a far cry away from having the same kind of development structure that exists within Sony at this time. Sony recently acquired Bungie, who for the most part will continue to work with autonomy but could offer Sony studios a unique perspective and significant know-how in the live service battle to come.
On a grander note, PlayStation is in somewhat of a cultural moment right now, with The Last Of Us being the first video game adaptation to receive critical acknowledgment, let alone acclaim. And the rest of the year, while it could potentially be a strong one for Microsoft, won’t be a complete blowout, contrary to predictions. PlayStation has the sequel to an established mega hit in Spider-Man 2, facing off against Starfield for the Christmas system seller mantle. The Activision Blizzard acquisition may alter the landscape further but at this moment, that is a distant concern for the consumer.
Despite all of the unanswered questions surrounding their management and strategy, Xbox have made commendable strides since the Xbox One era and for now they are not going anywhere. They’re still a contender to PlayStation’s dominance, even if they are a flawed underdog. Perhaps an emotional speech from a love interest or some words from a weathered and world-wise trainer may inspire Xbox to really make up some ground on the reigning champ. As far as 2023 goes, I suspect Phil and the team will be peeling themselves off the floor to go at it again next year.
By reader Anon
The reader’s feature does not necessary represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
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