Next gen is right around the corner folks. We’re getting news every day about new games, consoles and services. Here at Seasoned Gaming, we’ve taken a look at both Xbox’s and PlayStation’s current states as well as detailed info on their respective futures heading into next gen. I have no dog in this fight. What I do have is a rabid curiosity about how they are both attacking this jump into the future of gaming.
This article is going to be more of an opinion piece than a technical breakdown of their plans. I consider myself somewhere in the middle of casual and hardcore when it comes to the hobby. As such, I’m not as informed as a lot of people (mostly by choice). My lack of knowledge will probably show over the large portion of this article. With that being said, I welcome any and all criticisms levied at my hot takes. Having just recently returned to social media, it didn’t take long to see that the same arguments between the Twitter community were alive and well. The only thing that really changed were the buzzwords. You still see the big ones; power, tflops, exclusives. Joining the fray are some fresh faces like RDNA and SSD. In the long run, none of it is really going to matter. I don’t know who’s going to “win” the next generation. What’s more interesting to me is the how.
Xbox and Sony have been using the “Gillette” model for their businesses for some time now. This isn’t anything new. The two companies have been selling their hardware at a loss, for the most part, for a while now. The key is getting you into the ecosystem. Gillette sells you a razor with a couple of blades for say $15. Want to continue shaving? You’re on the hook for closer to $30 for something like four blades, the cost of which is pennies on the dollar. Again, not really new information, but this is rarely discussed when arguing about next gen. I’m just using this as base information for my next few arguments.
“I HAVE THE POWERRRRR!”
Power doesn’t matter, not in relation to sales at least. The largest portion of console owners never walked into a game store and said “I’ll take your highest teraflop console please!“. Not once. Power is there to make your game run at optimal levels. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I know all of the ins and outs on how these machines run. In fact, I might be the worst person to ask tech questions to. The key is, the gap between these consoles is shrinking. People arguing put more emphasis on resolution and frames per second than the actual graphical details. You can’t compare exclusive games as they’re developed specifically for their particular console. Instead, let’s look at Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey for example. It looks incredible on both the PS4 and Xbox One X. Does it run a little better on the X? Yes. Are 99.9% of people going to buy a new console solely for a game that they can already play because of a few higher numbers? If you think so, you should probably go back to Twitter and yell into your chosen echo chamber and stop reading this article. I can’t help you. On paper at least, it looks like the Series X is going to have more power than the PlayStation 5. OK, hopefully you sleep better knowing that. It’s not the size of the hammer, it’s how you swing it. I expect, at least early on next-gen, that most games will run perfectly fine on either system. Even if you start to see huge disparities in the results, it’s just not going to make a big difference in sales numbers.
“EXCLUSIVES MAN! EXCLUSIVES! BUT EXCLUSIVES!”
This is another argument that is used to lift your console up to the gaming gods. Do exclusives matter? Yes, but again, not in the way you want it to. I was late to the PS4 party. I decided to test the waters when I saw Horizon Zero Dawn. Now, if that was the only game I wanted to play, I probably wouldn’t have bought the system. God of War was coming. Spider-Man was coming. I had never played The Last of Us. I was without a true baseball sim and wanted MLB: The Show. While I think one game can sell a console, it’s not going to sell millions of consoles. If you look at the install base of the PS4, there are about 120 million consoles out there. The best selling exclusive game at the moment is Spider-Man with around 15 million copies sold. That’s around 13% of PS4 owners that have the game. I’m not trying to diminish those numbers, I’m just trying to show you that individually, exclusives don’t matter as much as they are being used to fuel the sales numbers. Now you can argue that as a group, the previously mentioned titles could be a factor. However, you begin to get into very subjective territory.
If you look at the Xbox side, there was less variety this generation as far as first party titles. Later in the generation you started to see a little more from their studios, but generally the focus has been on the “big 3”; Halo, Gears, and Forza. While there are no concrete numbers, I would venture to say that the ownership percentage of these games are at least a bit higher than Sony first party games if for no other reason, the lack of variety. Now before you jump on my ass for that statement, hold on. There’s always a caveat.
“I LOVE GAME PASS!”
I do. I really do. Back in 2017 Xbox launched Game Pass to the Live community. Touted as the “Netflix for gaming”, Game Pass basically allows the subscriber to play from a huge variety of games ranging from indies to first party Xbox games. A bit later, Phil Spencer announced that all first party games would come to the service day-and-date, starting with Sea of Thieves. Now it was a little bit rough around the edges at first. But since then it’s blossomed into the go to gaming subscription service. Eventually it was combined with Xbox Live for a discounted rate in Game Pass Ultimate.
Beginning in September, Microsoft’s cloud gaming service Xcloud (more on this later) will be included at no additional cost. While value is subjective, it’s hard to argue against it here. And while your mileage may vary, I can confidently say that for my money, the return has been outstanding.
It’s not perfect though. My first criticism is the lack of new first-party games. This is more a symptom of the brand as a whole. However, they’re coming. My second is marketing behind it. Ultimately this doesn’t affect me one way or the other, but when you’re sitting on something with the potential to reach far more people, you have to shout your services from the rafters. Yes, it was reported that Game Pass has more than ten million subscribers. I’m guessing that’s probably around 20% of current console owners. Nothing to sneeze at but I think it could be far more with better marketing strategies. Also, due to the fact that Xbox rarely shares solid numbers, these are mostly estimations. I get it I guess. If I go swimming I wear a shirt so people don’t have to see my fatness. If you’re behind in the sales department, maybe you don’t want people to see your numbers (fat). I do it for others though. I have no shame.
“BRING IT ON!!!”
So let’s start to break down what it’s going to to take for both of these companies to reach their maximum potential going into next gen. Before I go into them individually, let’s talk about a couple of things that affect both of these powerhouses. First of all, price. This one is obvious. There are a thousand rumors and predictions out there so I’m not going to even speculate. Times are tough for some people. If I’m a parent and the kids ask for a PS5 but the Xbox is significantly less expensive, I’m going to question why they have to have that particular system. Maybe you have an extensive library of games and want to continue to play said games. Maybe all of their friends have a PS5 (which up until recently is probably a bigger system seller than people give it credit for). Regardless of the reason, don’t think it won’t be a factor.
With that in mind, Fortnite, Call of Duty and Minecraft are just a few of the games that now allow cross play. These three games sell systems. These IPs have some of the biggest engagement numbers in the game. Guess what? You can play with anyone you want to. On Xbox and you want to play Minecraft with your buddy on PlayStation? You can. Do your kids want to play with their cousins on the Nintendo Switch while playing on their IPhone? Affirmative. Now let’s assume that one console is $100 more but your kids only play one of these exclusively. Unless your dad is a Twitter fanboy, you’re probably going with the cheaper option. Now, is the system perfect? Far from it. There’s a little more involved in accessing some of these features. Nothing that takes more than five minutes to figure out, but it’s still there. The biggest problem is that aside from the hardcore section of gamers, nobody really knows it exists. Sony isn’t going to market it. It doesn’t make sense for them to, given their current lead in console sales. There’s a little more noise about it from Xbox but really only for Minecraft. Maybe they can’t push it due to marketing deals. I have no idea. Also several big titles don’t currently support it. FIFA, Madden and the 2K Sports games show no signs of implementing cross play. And while Ubisoft has said they are working on it, Rainbow Six Siege still lacks the feature. So how do these companies make the biggest impact in terms of sales and engagement going into next gen? I’m glad you asked.
“DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK!” (XBOX)
“When you talk about Nintendo and Sony, we have a ton of respect for them, but we see Amazon and Google as the main competitors going forward,” – Phil Spencer, Head of Xbox
When this quote came out, it took me a minute to figure out what the hell he was talking about. Now I get it. Xbox has shifted from the traditional way of looking at how companies compete. Instead of focusing solely on the number of consoles sold, they’re far more concerned with engagement through content and services. The entry point no longer matters. What does this mean? It means they don’t really care where you play their games, as long as you are using their services. Game Pass has already been a success, at least according to them. What we haven’t talked about yet is xCloud. Their end goal is to be able to access your library through more devices anywhere you go. Again, not going to get into the details. They’re using their Azure network to basically emulate hardware so you can play on your PC, your phone, or your tablet. At some point, maybe on a TV. That’s as much as I understand on the tech side of things. The point is that you’re getting more options. It’s still too early to call it a success or a failure. Xbox has struggled with sales globally compared to PlayStation so in the end, this service has the potential to bring the global attachment rate more in line with the PlayStation juggernaut. I don’t know how successful this strategy will be, but they’re definitely committed. This is where Spencer’s statement comes into play. Sony doesn’t currently have the infrastructure to compete with them in this area. Amazon and Google do. What we’re finding out is that it’s not that easy to just jump into the gaming space. We’re seeing both companies struggle coming out of the gate. I’ve always believed in striking while the iron is hot. Microsoft is so far ahead right now when it comes to experience that it will be interesting to see how the other companies adjust in the future.
I want to touch base real quick about the “Japanese Studios” argument. This isn’t a play for the Western markets. In reality, those games aren’t going to appeal to most people. At least here in the West. And vice-versa, Halo and most FPS games have a much smaller audience in Asia. I started a playthrough of Yakuza 0 on the Xbox One and was shocked at the number of people who didn’t even make it to chapter 4. It’s pathetic. If you are going to use this as an argument for your plastic box being superior, then at least use it in a more realistic context. This has to be a play to reach the Eastern markets through xCloud and Game Pass. Halo isn’t going to do it. You have to entice your intended audience with what they want. Regardless, the end result is great for everyone that subscribes to the service, for sure. More options.
So what else can Xbox do? How about some bullet points:
- Marketing. Way better marketing. You have an excellent service in Game Pass. Push it harder. News flash: you can advertise your products and services outside of big release windows.
- Give us some new games. Now that they’ve at least revealed part of their hand, we know some of what to expect. Some are a long way off and they’re still sitting on some great IPs. Now it’s time to deliver.
- Keep improving Game Pass. Their biggest hurdle now is convincing third party AAA studios to release games on their service. They have the money to throw at one of these studios as a test run. It has to make sense to all parties, but this would be huge.
- Be more clear with your messaging. Why should I buy your product? What will games actually run at? 4k 30fps? Will we hit 4k 60fps at some point? Hell, the One X can do it now. No more caveats. We went from “You can play all these next-gen games on your OG Xbox One” to “Well, some games are going to only run on next-gen consoles“. What? Will they be playable on xCloud then? To be fair, this is a problem for both companies but Xbox excels at it. It’s maddening at times.
- Finally, if you plan on doing more remote monthly shows, for the sake of everything holy, buy your people some decent mics and cameras. Minor nitpick that doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m talking about, but c’mon man!
“I MUST BREAK YOU. ” (PLAYSTATION)
“We do believe in generations, and whether it’s the DualSense controller, whether it’s the 3D audio, whether it’s the multiple ways that the SSD can be used… we are thinking that it is time to give the PlayStation community something new, something different, that can really only be enjoyed on PS5.” – Jim Ryan, Head of PlayStation
Talk about different strategies. Where as Xbox is focused on bringing their services to more people across multiple platforms, PlayStation is going all in on their next-gen console. Or are they? Sony would be foolish to abandon their PS4 install base. Jim Ryan has said as much. Does that mean that Sony first party games will solely be on PS5? Maybe, but like I said earlier, most gamers will be playing the bigger 3rd party games. If you think that companies like EA and Activision are going to stop developing games for 100 million people, you’re out of your mind. Yes, there will come a point when it happens, but the timetable is unknown. If I had to guess, I’d say two or three years, maybe less. The market will dictate when it happens. Both companies have acknowledged that game development is different now due to Covid. Maybe that changes in the future, but you adjust as needed. Ryan guesstimates anywhere from 15 to 25 million PS5s will be sold in the first couple of years. I have no idea if that will happen, but it would be a solid number. So how do you improve those numbers? Sorry Sony fans, but they should take a page out of Xbox’s book.
Warning, the following theory needs to be taken with an open mind. I think Sony needs to put their first party games on PS Now day and date. Before you come at me with those pitchforks, give me a second to explain. First, let’s get rid of development costs, marketing and whatever other costs and assume that a game makes 100% pure profit on each copy sold. Obviously this isn’t the case, and there are other factors involved, but just for the sake of argument. Let’s look at 2018 and focus solely on Spider-Man and God of War. Yes, I realize there were others like Detroit: Become Human and to a lesser extent, Astro-Bot, but the first two were your heavy hitters and it wasn’t even close. Now, lifetime sales for these two games sits at around 25 million units sold. Now, ignoring any discounted prices, at $60 a pop, that’s 1.5 billion dollars. Now, let’s assume that PS Now had the same percentage of users as Game Pass at around 20% and at the same $10 a month price. At 25 million subscribers, since those titles released that would be approximately double the take at 3 billion dollars.
Now there are more things to consider. Yearly subscriptions can be had at a discounted price. Ok, now we’re back to even money at $60 for a yearly subscription. I also believe that the attach rate would be higher because Sony knows how to market. I know that there may be several holes with my argument. Consider this though, that’s only over one year while it took a little over two to hit those sales numbers on the games. I really think they’d either break even, or actually boost their revenue though. Something else to consider is the rise of digital sales. Less overhead right off the bat. Due to the new way of life, those numbers have been accelerating. There’s a reason that Sony is offering a new digital only version of the PS5. “But Dan, they don’t make 100% profit!”. I know this. Maybe I’m way off and they would make more money staying with their current model. I’d just like to point out that people still buy games that are on Game Pass. In fact, according to some developers, it’s actually boosted their sales. Bottom line? If you are going to tell me that you wouldn’t sign up for this kind of service, you’re lying. If you’re going to tell me you would never consider it because you would be taking money away from Sony, you should probably reconsider your priorities.
Another touchy subject with Sony has been the messaging behind backwards compatibility. Nobody really has any idea what it’s going to look like. Why? Before you get any ideas, I’m all about new games. This should be everyone’s number one priority. I also want to be able to play my old games if the mood strikes. They’re not mutually exclusive. People want their purchases to carry over to the next gen systems, and why shouldn’t they. I have over 1000 digital games between all of the platforms. Some are pretty old. Most of which I’m probably not going to play ever again. There’s just something about having that option. The technology is there. It’s been there for a LONG time. Xbox is offering Smart Delivery with certain titles. Let’s be clear, Smart Delivery really is a fancy name for free upgrades. Almost every game recently announced has said that there would be free upgrades for both consoles (unless you’re EA or 2K and then you make it as complicated as possible). At least Xbox is more clear in this area. As far as pure backwards compatibility though, we have no idea what we’re getting with Sony. Will it just be first party games? Wish I could tell you. It should be noted that after July 13th, Sony has instructed all developers that any games submitted for the PS4 should also have full PS5 compatibility. So they have that going for them, which is nice.
Can Sony improve in other areas? Of course they can:
- Don’t get cocky. I’ve always enjoyed watching how companies in gaming run their businesses. Sony has always kept the pressure on. I question if they still have that mindset sometimes. Not because they don’t still have that fire, but because their competition is changing gears. It’s like playing a team that’s playing an entirely different sport.
- Continue to support VR. I still think it’s a niche market, but games like Half-Life: Alyx and Beat Saber are starting to emerge as some pretty desirable titles. PSVR is still considered more of a basic VR headset but for the price it’s a great entry level piece.
- How about a controller that lasts for longer than four hours? Seriously, I have no problem with the DS4. I prefer offset sticks but it’s not that big of a deal. Maybe I’ve just had bad luck…with five separate controllers. Don’t even say, “Well you can just plug it in and play!”. I don’t want to hear that garbage. What is this, 1993?
- Fully embrace cross-play and cross-progression. You already have a large lead in platform sales. People are generally going to stay where they’re comfortable. Even if your price point is a bit higher than your competitors, if you completely embrace and make people aware of how it works, you’ll retain an even larger percentage of players.
“NOW YOU’RE PLAYING WITH POWER?”
I know I haven’t mentioned Nintendo in this article. So this is for all of the Nintendo diehards out there. Nintendo does, in fact, exist and they continue to dominate the gaming world year in and year out. They just dance to the beat of their own drum. Sometimes it defies explanation. Maybe it’s the nostalgia factor. I’m clueless. Just thought I’d mention them so nobody feels left out.
“AND THE WINNER IS…”
Who cares? As cliche as it is, gamers win in the end. Honestly, I just kind of get tired of the same, played out arguments you see on social media and wanted to shine a light on a few areas that people forget about when it comes to the competition between these two companies. There’s a good chance that everything I’ve covered above makes zero sense to anyone but me. Here’s what I know for sure, I’m really looking forward to seeing what next-gen brings. If I’m being completely truthful, up until this point, I haven’t seen much to get me super excited. There’s a couple of games here and there. There’s a “potential” for developers to push the envelope in some areas given all of the new technology. So far we really haven’t seen much that screams next generation, at least in my opinion. There’s still time though. Both companies have a lot of work to do before launch. Hell, we still don’t even know how much they are going to cost. Both companies have merely given us a small taste of what’s to come. I’m super excited to see what these guys have up their sleeves. No holding back, no more “wait until next year”, it’s time to bring the heat! Don’t disappoint us.
For slightly more serious and in-depth looks at how Xbox and PlayStation are approaching next-gen including hardware and services, we also recommend the following articles.
Heading into Next-Generation with Sony and the PS5
Xbox Entering Next-Generation in a Position of Strength
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