2020’s Console Wars: Sony vs. Microsoft

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As the console generation for both Sony’s PS4 and Microsoft’s Xbox One draws to a close, console gamers are wondering in anticipation for what exactly is next. With both tech giants having already announced the next console in their line up, with the ever-so-unsurprisingly named PS5 following the PS4 while the ever-so-confusingly named Xbox Series X will follow the Xbox One (with the confusion deriving from a later model named the Xbox One X), both consoles have a confirmed Holiday 2020 release date. In an epic showdown of commercialism and the attempts to keep player’s loyalties existing through to next big leap of consoles, Microsoft and Sony are in the key stages of revealing all there is to know about their upcoming consoles in a continuous war that has the two companies duking it out for victory in the next generation.

The current generation of consoles has lasted roughly seven years, with both the PS4 and Xbox One receiving a worldwide release in November 2013. For Sony, they needed to reinstate loyalties from their previous generation after the PS3’s rough launch; a steep starting price discouraged gamers from purchasing the console while others swapped over to Microsoft’s cheaper Xbox 360. For Microsoft, the Xbox One needed to continue to garner and carry the company’s respectability into the next generation and continue to be considered as a strong competitor and viable alternative to Sony’s consoles which had a full generation of loyalty (the PS1) ahead of Microsoft. Both consoles kicked off with a bang and have had continued strong sales over their lifespan, with the PS4 selling more than 110 million units and the Xbox One selling a respectable 50 million units. While it’s easy to say that Sony’s console wins the current generation on sales alone, that doesn’t knock Microsoft’s achievement in building a fundamentally more powerful console which arguably gave the player more for their money. However, Sony’s win of this generation isn’t in pure sales alone, with their garnering of a highly respectable list of exclusives – as well as releasing some of the best games of the generation as first-party exclusives – being the main factor for their success. Horizon Zero Dawn, Bloodborne, God of War (2018), Marvel’s Spider-Man and the Last of Us: Part II are just a few of the phenomenal titles that have been exclusive to PS4, wielding critical and player acclaim that the Xbox One just hasn’t managed to match. In an industry that thrives off fun and attracting loyalties from consumers who can only afford one of the two consoles, Sony has proved that having a strong exclusive library is a surefire way to attract customers and win this generation’s console wars. But who will win the next?

Before the Xbox Series X or PS5 were announced, both Sony and Microsoft were hard at work in bringing about exclusives for their next-generation which involved the purchasing of existing third-party studios. In a span of two years, including 2018 and 2019, Microsoft acquired 8 different studios that would begin pumping exclusives for their current generation but more so for the next generation. From Ninja Theory (of Hellbalde: Senua’s Sacrifice) to Obsidian (of Fallout: New Vegas and The Outer Worlds), Microsoft’s acquisition of highly competent teams that have already released hugely successful games puts them in good stead to make up for this generation’s lack of Xbox exclusives. Microsoft then went on to group these studios that had become their subsidiaries under a new umbrella name as Xbox Game Studios – a fitting name for the fifteen studios that Microsoft now had working on exclusive content for their consoles.

Sony, on the other hand, has only acquired one extra studio leading into their next console and that is Insomniac Games (of Ratchet & Clank and Marvel’s Spider-Man), but the reason primarily lies in the fact that Sony Interactive Entertainment Worldwide Studios was already comprised of twelve studios before the acquisition. Whereas Microsoft rushed to buy studios of varying size but all with a somewhat respectable output, Sony has favoured relying on building a strong working relationship (through exclusivity deals) with a studio before eventually buying. This means that although Sony owns fewer companies than Microsoft, they have a similar amount of studios making games for exclusively Sony consoles (with a likelihood of acquiring the studio later down the line).

So going into the next generation, both companies seem capable of having an equal output of exclusives games; however, a high output doesn’t make necessarily mean high quality and this is where Microsoft and Sony will effectively make or break their console. Anticipation for Sony exclusive games is admittedly higher than Xbox exclusives for multiple reasons. The most notable reason is that players already have a lot of faith in Sony for their exclusives. Just look at the games I mentioned before and the many others Sony have put out over the past seven years. Releasing roughly 2-3 exclusives each year, Sony’s quality has always been consistently high, and that seems unlikely to stop going into the next generation. Sony is working on an effective model of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”, and aren’t rushing to acquire more studios than they need or feel capable of handling. By resisting to change how they’ve been successfully working over the past seven years, it seems unlikely that the PS5 will suddenly mark a steep downfall in quality (although stranger things have happened). Another reason is that Sony has a range of hugely successful IP who will see sequels debut on the PS5, the first confirmed one being Horizon Forbidden West that’s expected in Q1 2021. Gamers love sequels and having successful IP return on the next console is a surefire way to maintain players’ loyalties to console brands. The final big reason is because of the success of Sony’s PS5 reveal event and game showcase on June 11th. They confirmed over twenty games of varying sizes and packed the forty-minute event with vasts amounts of titles and details to fall in love with. It was a showcase which more than met many people’s expectations and beautifully drove up the hype for the PS5. While it lacked much gameplay footage, it had the event early enough to allow for the following months to begin to showcase how these games will look and play, and it did what it was intended to do – get people excited!

Microsoft, on the other hand, hasn’t been as successful with their exclusives or their showcase events. The Xbox One was dominated by many exclusives that were… okay. They had the odd shining star (Gears of War 5), but in general, from the likes of Sea of Thieves, Crackdown 3 and even State of Decay 2, their exclusives just didn’t have the same driving power that Sony has had up to this point. Yet, that said, Microsoft seems ready to change that with the studios they have acquired and have started actioning ways to maintain or bring back player loyalties. Games from dormant series like Fabel and Halo have seen a revival for the Xbox Series X, and in their most recent event, Xbox confirmed many more new games that will eventually hit their next-generation console such as Obsidian’s new IP Avowed. Sadly though, both of Xbox’s showcase events have been somewhat lacklustre and sadly met with many forms of criticism, from the tearing apart of Halo Infinite‘s graphics to the misleading reveal of Assassins Creed: Valhalla (a CGI trailer rather than gameplay). That’s not to say Microsoft is in jeopardy or anything, but they have floundered a bit on games next to Sony. Although, there is one massive draw to a Microsoft console that Sony sadly lacks, and that’s Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass. Microsoft has confirmed that all their exclusives showcased in their recent July 23rd event will hit Game Pass which means for a price that currently sits at no more than £10.99 a month, all Xbox gamers can play Xbox exclusives on release day without forking out prices in excess of £50. This business model is something that Sony flat-out refuses to follow and may be the thing that hampers their next console, especially with the state of PlayStation Now (an underwhelming library of games that lacks the draw of Game Pass). It’s an appealing and more affordable alternative to owning a game that – if Microsoft can match the quality of Sony exclusives – may encourage gamers to choose the Xbox Series X over the PS5 down the line.

The last thing to think about is the hardware, because you can’t have a console war without consoles. In simple terms, the Xbox Series X will be the more powerful console, but it’s much harder to boil it down to such a simple statement than many would think. The Xbox Series X currently boasts bigger storage (1TB SSD over PS5’s 825GB), a higher GPU (12 teraflops over PS5’s 10.3 teraflops) and a faster CPU (3.8 GHz over PS5’s 3.5 GHz), with the GPU and CPU being the main component of how “powerful” a console/machine is. Sadly for the PS5, none of its technical specifications are better than Xbox’s, with all its other specifications a near mirror-match of the Series X. This is a problem for Sony, because despite their console being deemed the “least” powerful, it’s expected to be more expensive. At first glance, this doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense unless you delve into the PS5’s SSD storage and their new controller.

For the PS5 controller, Sony has opted for a complete redesign with a curvier and more ergonomic design that at first looks strikingly similar to the shape of the Xbox controller. Another new feature is its haptic feedback, which will play into the adaptive triggers feature that Sony seems really excited about. Haptic feedback and adaptive triggers mean that studios and developers will be able to add tension to the R2 and L2 buttons when a player presses them to receive a more immersive feeling. The idea is that if you’re pulling back the string of a bow and arrow, you’ll feel the resistance in the buttons which should feel distinctly different from firing a gun or other weapons. It’s a pretty niche idea and if integrated well could be a great feature for gamers, but how well its integration goes is still anyone’s guess at this point.

The other big thing that Sony has been pushing is its ‘custom 825GB SSD’ that has many professionals and those in the industry intrigued. There’s not too much knowledge about how this SSD is so remarkable except for the fact that Sony sees this as their chance to finally defeat every gamer’s pet peeve – loading times. With the PS5’s SSD, the console seems set to be able to retrieve information at a startlingly quick pace (or so Sony says), but how this any different from how the Xbox Series X handles load times is yet to be seen. At this point, we still see a lot of numbers and specifications but very little proof and examples of the capabilities, so all we can hope for is that both consoles will give us more footage and deeper dives in the near future.

The console war for the next generation began well before consumers and gamers knew about either the PS5 or the Xbox Series X. Behind closed doors, both companies started developing strategies to win over new players, keep old ones, and maybe steal their competitor’s audience – and this was well before their current generation was over. While it does seem that PS5 sits in the best position to start the next generation of console wars on top, it’s far from a guaranteed win when Microsoft has stepped up their strategy and adapted their competitions business model.

Both the PS5 and Xbox Series X are due at the end of 2020. You can watch the PS5’s hardware reveal below.

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News Editor 20-21. A second-year English student with a passion for absolutely everything (but especially literature and drama) apart from his degree.

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