Sony made one thing very clear during its showcase Wednesday afternoon: It has no intention of ceding any ground to Microsoft, no matter what the Xbox Series S costs.
The event gave players nearly everything they’ve wanted to know — launch date, launch prices, and a better look at what games would be available in the launch window. A blog entry from the company filled in some of the blanks, such as when pre-orders would go live and which first-party titles would be available on Day One.
The fight for customers that’s coming with the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X and Series S is going to reignite the console war in a way gamers haven’t seen since in the last 15 years. And the most recent Sony Showcase laid out the different ways the two companies plan to woo gamers. Both have merits, which is going to make this a fun battle to watch.
Exclusives vs. developers
Sony and Microsoft have both been throwing a ridiculous amount of money around in preparation for their system launches. And it’s now becoming clear where they’ve been spending it.
Microsoft is betting on the long term, spending the better part of the past couple of years buying up development studios. The thinking there is the exclusives they get from those game makers will pay dividends far into the future. Sony, meanwhile, is paying big third-party publishers for exclusivity on upcoming big games. And it unveiled a few giant ones Wednesday: Final Fantasy XVI and Deathloop. (That is, of course, in addition to the exclusives from its own internal studios.)
Microsoft’s strategy can pay off big, but it carries risks. EA, for example, has bought several smaller developers throughout its history, only to eventually shut them down as they failed to deliver blockbuster games. And Microsoft’s purchase of some major studios hasn’t lived up to expectations. (Rare, for instance, hasn’t created a true blockbuster in the 18 years since it was bought.)
Exclusive games are usually only exclusive for a period of time, though. And both Final Fantasy XVI and Deathloop will have PC versions, though console sales typically dwarf PC numbers when the game is released on both platforms.
Value vs. must-have games
There’s no doubt that Sony has the stronger lineup of launch titles. Spider-Man: Miles Morales looked especially strong, and Demon’s Souls, while it was the slowest part of the showcase, will excite many players. Meanwhile, the teaser for a new God of War next year shows the company is all set for the Halo Infinite threat.
There’s nothing wrong with having an embarrassment of riches on Day One — and a strong lineup of games in the following months. But every one of those games is an additional expense for players. With many of those titles bumping their price to $70, it could be cost-prohibitive for some players.
Microsoft’s lower-priced “entry” console – the Series S – and Xbox Game Pass (with xCloud) don’t have the firepower of Sony’s lineup right now and lack that new console smell, but for people who are trying to watch their spending in the pandemic, that could be appealing.
Streaming vs. a free “best of” catalog
Sony didn’t match Game Pass, but it did unveil what many consider the next best thing — and some might think wit as even better.
PlayStation Plus customers will be able to download a cornucopia of hit PS4 games, including Batman: Arkham Knight, Bloodborne, Fallout 4, God of War, and more. It’s a move that can blunt Microsoft’s value argument. The question then becomes one of convenience. Will audiences embrace streaming — and instant loading — or will they be OK downloading titles (and sacrificing the time and disc space required)? The answer to that question might evolve the further into this generation we get.
Sony wants a fight
So much for friendly competitors. Sony’s decision to launch within two days of the Xbox Series X shows they’re ready to throw down — and denies the Series X much solo time in the spotlight.
That decision, admittedly, could also have been influenced some by the pandemic, since Black Friday is essentially being canceled this year. Consumers will be ordering online as they start their holiday shopping — and spending less time in physical retailers. While it might have been a goal to have people lined up outside of stores in previous console launches, neither Sony nor Microsoft want their system launches to be pointed to as super-spreader events.
They definitely want to beat each other, though. Sony’s looking to protect its profit center, while Microsoft is more than ready to reclaim the “king of the mountain” crown it lost this generation. They might be putting together different battle plans, but both companies settle in for a prolonged fight.