The next-gen console war is about to kick into action. However, Xbox and PlayStation are fighting different wars. Which strategy is going to be most effective?
Welcome to Friday Free Talk, if you are wondering what that is well, let me explain. Usually, on a Friday you might have been looking for the What This Fan Wants From… column. It was a fun column for me to write, and I won’t stop with the crazy fan expectations and predictions. However we are running into a small problem, and that’s almost a year (so far and counting) without any blockbuster releases. I’ve already covered the next couple of years of the MCU, or near enough. Star Wars? It could be late ’23, 2024 before we see Taika Waititi’s next movie. As for the Disney+ side, big things seem to be coming, but we are not quite there yet, are we?
Ultimately, the column was too restrictive and focused. This new Friday Free Talk format as it reads, can be about almost anything that’s topical or interesting to discuss and read. So let’s get into what we are discussing this week. The impending console war is about to explode, or is it? In my opinion, Xbox and PlayStation are fighting a different war.
The Traditional Console War
It’s simple, isn’t it? Whoever sells the most consoles wins. Traditionally this would boil down to several factors. Go back far enough and there was a belief that whoever had the most powerful console would win. However, it’s been proved this is not the case. The PS2 was a monster and was nowhere near the most powerful console out there. Then, we have the Wii generation to consider. The Wii was very underpowered compared to PS3 and Xbox 360. However, that generation saw a new tactic employed by the superpowers. Exclusivity was the major weapon now employed by both sides of this war. Xbox would buy timed exclusivity, or extra bonuses for gamers on their console and Sony began doing the same. Equally, both companies owned their own studios and were also publishing first-party exclusives to win consumers over.
Xbox learned a harsh lesson in the PS360 generation, and PlayStation some valuable lessons. As the world moved into the next console generation we saw Xbox stopping paying for timed exclusives, whilst PlayStation stepped it up. Xbox failed miserably in the current generation, to begin with. Not many if any timed exclusives and not enough first-party content form Xbox’s own studios. Then you add in the fact that the standard Xbox One was less powerful than the standard PS4, and, well, game over.
Xbox had to rethink. Sony was spending a fortune and picking up studios as well as paying for times exclusives, but fans were not happy. Even fans on PlayStation bemoaned the timed exclusives and the extra content because it usually came at a price (gameplay-wise). Then came a small opportunity for change. You see in reality both the Xbox One and the PS4 were underpowered and the gap to PC was growing ever wider.
Cue the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X, plus a new man in charge at Xbox, Phil Spencer. The Xbox One X was far more powerful than the PS4 Pro, but mid-way through a generation it made no real difference. Sony still had better brand loyalty, almost religiously so from some fans. Sony has the more celebrated exclusives and seemingly has become the dominant console superpower. Some even questioned whether there was any point in Xbox carry on making consoles.
A New Battlefield
As we move into this console generation we say Sony employing the same strategy that won them the previous generation. Sony want’s to have the most console sales. This time though, Xbox seems to know PlayStation has already won that battle. So now Xbox is playing a very different game.
Since Phil Spencer took over Xbox has done three important things. Firstly, they have produced the most powerful console for this generation in the SeX. Secondly, Microsoft has been buying up studios to make first-party content, though still playing catch up to Sony. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, is Game Pass. You see, Xbox does not have to sell more consoles than Sony, they just need to be more profitable. Game Pass is a new way of getting money from consumers and you don’t even have to own an Xbox to use it.
Xbox understands that for those who want the full gaming package, they are going to buy a PS5. However, a lot of gamers will also purchase either a second console, or a gaming PC. For those choosing PC, well, that’s kinda Microsoft’s domain already and Game Pass allows Xbox gaming for an affordable price on PC. I.e. If you purchase a PS5 and subscribe to Game Pass on PC, you still give Microsoft money. Tell me what is more profitable, console sales, when the company takes a hit on every one sold? Or is it making money off of Game Pass subscriptions which have a minimal outlay? But what about those who cannot afford to purchase a gaming PC (they are expensive)?
Well, Xbox has kinda cornered that market as well. For gamers going dual console, Xbox has made it easy. The Series S is not as powerful as the PS5, or the PS5 digital, which is just the same machine as the PS5 with no disk drive. However, The Series S is far more affordable than the PS5 digital. For a second console, Xbox has made the Series S very attractive. Again, it’s not about the console sales though, it’s about giving the consumer a platform on which to subscribe to Game Pass. A regular yearly, or monthly income that is proven to be more attractive than up-front costs.
And let’s say you can’t even afford to get a Series S? No problem, many consumers already have lower-powered PCs, tablets, and smartphones. I’m an Xbox gamer, and don’t have a massive interest in Sony’s exclusive line up outside Spider-Man. For me to get access to Sony’s exclusives I have to buy their consoles. There is no other choice, and that’s a cost I am not willing to pay. However, let’s say Xbox has a killer first-party game that one of my colleagues going Sony fancies playing? It’s actually very affordable to play that game?
Once someone subscribes to a service such as Xbox Game Pass, they are more likely to stay subscribed because access is there for games they may want to play. Ultimately, Xbox in my opinion is going to make more money than Sony in the gaming industry over this next generation. Not through console sales, for the first few years, those will cost more to make than they sell for. But in committing gamers to a subscription service in the way so many are committed to the likes of Netflix or Amazon Prime.
The Final Word
As a final discussion, we should probably talk Bethesda. Microsoft has purchased the company that owns Bethesda and that means the games they produce are also owned by Microsoft. The fact is this has left a lot of PlayStation gamers nervous, I wouldn’t be. Xbox has sad that exclusivity will be on a case by case basis. So let’s talk the big one, The Elder Scrolls 6.
The only reason for Xbox to make that game exclusive is to sell consoles. As we just discussed, that does not seem to be Xbox’s strategy. So I truly believe The Elder Scrolls 6 will be released on PS5. However, if you are Sony only, you’ll either have to pay full price for the game, which is money in Microsoft’s pocket, or you could subscribe to Game Pass, get this, plus all the other Xbox games you have not tried. The best experience for that game outside of Xbox will be PC, but I’m betting it’s still going to be decent through Xcloud on tablets, and work laptops etc.
The purchase of such a big studio with a franchise that has a dedicated fan base is a smart move. As said above, this isn’t a console war any longer, it’s a video game industry war. Sony is playing by the old rules and will 100% sell more consoles than Xbox. Microsoft however, is going to make more money when all is said and done. Xbox and PlayStation are fighting a different war, I’m just not sure Sony fully appreciates what war they are in. Can Sony afford to keep paying for all these timed exclusives and extra content, it’s not cheap after all? Can Sony really afford to sell the PS5 at the same price as the Xbox Series X? Industry insiders still say that Sony wanted to charge quite a bit more and were forced to cut back.
Xbox and PlayStation are fighting a different war, and I’m not sure Sony can compete with the behemoth that is Microsoft. How many more studios can Microsoft buy and place their games onto Game Pass? Hell, if they truly wanted to Microsoft could probably afford to buy Sony, but they’d never be allowed. Xbox and PlayStation are fighting different wars, and I think this time, Xbox is going to win.
What do you think of all this? Do you agree with my reasoning, or disagree? Share your thoughts below as always.
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