On 4/6/2017, Microsoft shared specs with Digital Foundry and Eurogamer.net. Many gamers were at the edge of their seats, waiting to hear if all the rumors regarding Microsoft’s new powerful console were true or exaggerated. From a hardware perspective it’s really hard to argue that it’s not something to behold, with cutting edge technology supporting the past, current and future of this generation of gaming.
Unfortunately social media and many video game news outlets didn’t delay in asking “who wants a console this strong, we just want a console to play games on”. While it’s easy to call people fanboys and even realize that console wars will always exist, it’s too easy to call out hypocrisy and a strong bias for Sony this generation. Information digested by gamers is subjective and people may get their information from Microsoft or Sony focused news websites or YouTube Channels. However, reading comments in social media or on YouTube can be painful at best. Being the owner of two different PS4s, a launch Xbox One and an S, I hope I’m able to offer a objective opinion after living with these consoles for years.
Is There Really Bias in Gaming News?
Sadly, Microsoft has themselves to blame for the poor launch announcement back in May of 2013 due to very confusing messaging, pushing away gamers with restrictions on used games, and needing to connect to the internet daily (that dreaded DRM acronym). Initially you also had the option to play the game digitally after it was installed from disc. As the console is named Xbox “ONE”, they also allowed for video to be played through the HDMI in port, allowing for an all in one device. TV has moved to streaming devices through apps like Netflix, Amazon Video and Hulu. Bundling an arguably failed Kinect device didn’t help the cause, as software in the 360 era with Kinect 1.0 wasn’t stellar nor did it have strong developer backing. Motion sensor hardware performed poorly and was eventually abandoned by Microsoft mid-generation cycle. A lot of risks were taken and poorly wagered on.
So what did the X1 actually launch with? If you were an early adopter you were forced to buy the bundled X1 w/Kinect @ $499. Whereas Sony offered a non bundle @ $399. The option of choosing helped Sony a lot in this regard. DRM concerns never made it to launch nor did the restrictions on used games. That didn’t stop gamers from continuing to think they were present. Yet to this day I still know people who think they actually exist. Microsoft didn’t help their cause as their messaging prior, during and after launch was never easy to follow.
Launch/Current PS4/X1 Tech Discussion
During the launch of the PS4 and X1 a lot of people found their way looking for reasons to like or dislike their console of choice. Somewhere in the middle of it all, both consoles offered a lot and were aiming to do two very different things. Looking back at the launch of the PS4 it was apparent that the main aim for the console was to play games and not much else. The launch PS4 came very bare bones when it comes to UI experience and third-party apps. It was interesting for a new console to release with less app support than its predecessor, the PS3 (which also lacked third party supported apps at launch and lagged in gathering support throughout its life cycle). Sony did offer the PlayStation Camera at launch with two motion controllers. That bundle increased the price $150 past the initial launch price, making it more expensive than the Xbox One standard bundle which included the Kinect 2.0.
The Xbox One on the other hand, was developed to offer an all in one experience. You were able to stream anything through the HDMI port. If you wanted to stream older AND current consoles, tv, or app streaming devices like a Chromecast, it could do it. You were able to take advantage of streaming communication applications like Skype and even record yourself at 1080p. After that, you could upload to the cloud and even publish to YouTube. Unfortunately, this did take away from overall memory usage as some RAM was reserved for Kinect and it also resulted in a busy UI outside of gaming.
Immediately many news outlets began to mention the difference in raw power between the PS4 and Xbox One. So what was the main difference and how big was the difference at launch?
The easiest way to think about it is that Xbox One has a stronger CPU with a 10% advantage in power. The PS4 on the other hand has a stronger GPU with a 1.84 teraflop GPU vs Xbox One’s 1.31 teraflops (keep in mind this was at launch and due to the Kinect integration). Currently Kinect-free games can reclaim 10% of the overall GPU power. The other important factor is how the two consoles work with their respective RAM. They both have 8GB of RAM. However, PS4 does use GDDR5 vs the slower DDR3 that the Xbox One uses. This can be misleading if you’re looking at raw RAM type and size. Each console uses the RAM differently and neither utilizes all the RAM when gaming. PS4 reserves 3.5GB for its OS and leaves 4.5GB for developers. Whereas the Xbox One allows 5GB for developers and only 3GB for the OS. Programming here is key and has depended on how developers use RAM when developing. It’s important to point out that both consoles are very different from a hardware perspective and development is also different. It’s very hard to look at a teraflops number to simply say the PS4 is a better console for overall gaming. This didn’t stop news outlets from pointing it out as fact due to the launch software offered from both consoles.
Is PS4 the Exclusives King?
A big point made by a lot of people is that the PS4 is where you can play the best exclusives. Past publications commonly state Sony “won” E3 with all their exclusives. I’ll touch more on that later. So lets take a look at software sold for each console and look at where all these exclusives really are in the system’s sold software. I’d like to preface the data collected below with not recognizing remasters as exclusives in this generation for either console.
It’s very important to note that the top 25 PS4 titles, in terms of sales, only have 1 current gen exclusive title and 2 remasters. Oddly enough, the highest selling game on PS4 is GTA 5 and the current gen exclusive is Uncharted 4. It’s after the late 30’s that other exclusives start making themselves known. Launch titles like Infamous and Killzone appear at #38 and #39. So at first glance, you start to wonder, where exactly are all these AAA titles that people speak of when they state “This is where the exclusives are”. Why are the majority of PS4 owners playing cross-platform titles? When games like Call of Duty, Battlefield and Fifa hold solid spots in sales charts, it’s puzzling when you hear Sony tout their exclusives prowess.
Sony has spent a lot of time marketing their exclusives, but what are they amounting to in sales? With the exception of Horizon Zero Dawn, their top exclusives barely break into the top 40 sold software on the console. Killzone, Infamous, Driveclub, Little Big Planet 3, No Man’s Sky, Knack, The Order, Bloodborne and the low selling The Last Guardian don’t really show as system sellers or must have’s for the console just by sales history. Games like Bloodborne, which have a selective audience have excuses, but the others don’t appear to have strong reviews from critics, and gamers haven’t gone out of their way to purchase them either.
Microsoft has a slightly different story, when it comes to software sold. While it does also have 2 remasters in its top 20, it also has 2 exclusives in the top 10, and even more telling is that it has 8 overall exclusives in it’s top 40 compared to the 2 with the PS4. So what does this mean? Xbox One owners play more exclusives per console compared to Sony PS4 owners who don’t prefer exclusives?
At the moment there have been roughly 57 million PS4s and 29 million Xbox Ones sold. We are almost at a 2:1 ratio in favor of PS4. However, the ratio of exclusive software sold between Sony and Microsoft is very different. The average X1 owner is more likely to buy exclusive X1 software compared to the average PS4 owner by almost 3:1. Has the tale of last generation between the 360 and PS3 flipped? Has the PS4 become the place to play cross-platform games, and if so, why? It’s important to note that the average score of X1 exclusives outscore PS4 exclusives by almost 10 points. We’ve learned the hard way with games that quantity does not equal quality.
Remasters, not remakes, are blatantly obvious when counted against Microsoft. It’s unfortunate that they get added as exclusives, with something as easy as a 1080p upscale treatment and either a steady framerate or increase to 60 frames per second. There is no doubt that they are the definitive version of the game to play, but is this the true answer to backwards compatibility? Backward compatibility has shown to run games smoother and it’s free if you already own the game.
When the Scalebound cancellation came through media outlets immediately shared click bait stories like “Xbox in trouble?” or “Is this the end for Microsoft”. Yet games like the Final Fantasy 7 remake, Kingdom Hearts 3 or even Death Stranding get massive fanfare without even a release date in the near future and very little development insight. This also happened with the launch of the PS4. Games that weren’t even near a release date on the calendar were sold as upcoming and didnt arrive until year one or even two of the console’s life cycle. Sony is notorious for showing PS4 console trailers with games that aren’t even near release. This is currently happening with Gran Turismo. How about the outcry about JRPGs missing from the Xbox One exclusives offering? AAA Games like Persona, Nier, and Nioh are available and fantastic, but they don’t sell particularly well in Europe and North America which are the world’s biggest markets. I’m not saying they shouldn’t exist or that Microsoft shouldn’t try to get more of these, they should. However, many of these sell 20% of the total sales compared to other exclusives on both consoles yet they receive coverage for weeks.
Lackluster Response to the Tech within Scorpio?
As news trickled out about the new specs from Project Scorpio it didn’t take long to notice hypocrisy. Remember when the PS4 and Xbox One launched and numerous news outlets talked about the 720p vs 900p distinction with BF4? It would have been easy to point to the cost of a Xbox One at launch compared to PS4. But that wasn’t the argument.
Many people went out of their way to say the better GAMING experience was found on PS4 and the Xbox One lacked in numerous areas. I’d prefer to leave OS, who has the better controller and what gave “more” for gamers at launch for another article but did the PS4 really give gamers the superior gaming experience?
A few news outlets actually did blind testing with people in the gaming industry and the results were telling. Most people could not tell the difference in cross-platform games when the resolution was different. Another interesting fact, a lot of people didn’t have a 1080p TV when the Xbox One and PS4 launched. Many launch games didn’t even offer 1080p, and still don’t. However, this was gamers and news outlets biggest point. “But the PS4 does 1080p and has more power”. I still have local friends who claim gaming is better on the PS4 compared to the Xbox One. When asked why, resolution or frame rate is a common answer. I’ve always felt it’s important to differentiate between an informed gamer versus a casual gamer to where I find myself questioning if they actually know the resolution and frame rate between the 2 titles.
How have trusted news outlets responded to Scorpio? What sort of message did Scorpio illicit from audiences with a bias towards Sony or Microsoft? Personally, I saw a lot of people roll their eyes at Microsoft, saying “resolution and raw power are not important”. I found myself wondering why these important factors, in this generation, no longer matter? Why are resolution and frame rate no longer a priority? Scorpio promises to give true 4k gaming and improve existing games that may not see 4k patches. It will shorten loading times and provide smaller improvements like upping resolution from 720p to 1080p. Backwards compatibility is said to get enhancements as well.
The PS4 Pro had a very lukewarm launch as there wasn’t enough of an improvement over the launch and slim PS4, which share the same tech. I’m curious if gamers feel a new, improved console won’t give much back due to how the Pro launched. Maybe gamers don’t care this generation as most are PS4 owners and don’t care to rebuild their library? We are also in a similar setting where true 4K won’t be the norm for 2-3 years, just like 1080p was years ago. The PS4 Pro is very different when compared to Scorpio in raw power and offerings to existing and past software.
It’s very hard to argue that Xbox One didn’t have a horrible launch and made a series of missteps. Comparing where the systems have come since launch, it’s even harder to make a case that Microsoft hasn’t improved on everything from console offerings, UI updates and having listened to customer feedback. Is the bias fair? Yet the bias in conferences, announcements and even the misconceptions of exclusives being system sellers continues fairly often. Xbox One S has bridged the gap closer in performance to the launch PS4 and current Slim, while the Scorpio is a response to gamers wanting more from this generation of gaming and not to replace the Xbox One S or the PS4 Slim. While both Microsoft and Sony take jabs at each other, a lot of the bias I feel exists comes from trusted sources people rely on. Could it be a bias based just on overall audience numbers, when the number of consoles sold may factor into how to cover the current generation? Or could it be a dislike towards Microsoft for whatever reason? I’m sure a case can be made for any reason and we are all aware that fanboys exist regardless of ignorance towards both products. In the end, it’s important to know where you’re getting your news and content to feel like you’re getting fair news and content.