If nothing else, 2020 has been a year of change but also chaos. Most, if not all, careers and areas of work have been hugely affected by the spread of COVID-19, and the video game development industry is no different. This year has seen unprecedented change in the video game industry, with companies like Nintendo forgoing large and gaudy presentations in favor of monthly developer showcases to keep players informed. Meanwhile, Ubisoft opted for hosting online panels and streams to emulate the experience of attending E3 or similar events in person. This year, in-person events, competitions and presentations have been largely canceled or transferred to an online format. This would be a big deal for the industry in any single year, but 2020 also happens to be the year to herald the start of a new console generation.
In the next month or two, the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X will be released for the general public. On Sony’s end of things, the PS5 has a large number of exclusive titles to support their player base. On Microsoft’s end, the focus seems to be on supporting existing players through services like Game Pass and acquiring new intellectual properties through buyouts, as we have seen with Microsoft’s purchase of Zenimax and Bethesda recently. Needless to say, both companies have generated a sizable fanbase over the years and there is a lot of hype surrounding these new releases. With both companies pulling out all the stops, it is very easy for consumers to get lost in the excitement of the console war, without stopping to consider how exactly we got here. So, for a moment, let’s go over the main two competitors in this console war and some pros and cons of each.
Representing Microsoft, the Xbox Series X will be releasing two versions. The “Series X” is the standard, while a cheaper digital version called the “Series S” will lack both the ability to play 4K games as well as a traditional disc drive. The current promotional strategy for Xbox seems to be focusing on Xbox Game Pass, a currently available service which allows customers to download games from a catalogue with a monthly subscription. The weakness of Xbox is the lack of first-party exclusive titles, as even Halo Infinite, their flagship game, will be neither a launch title nor be exclusive to the system, releasing on PC as well.
Sony’s Playstation 5, by comparison, has an already extensive number of exclusive titles planned for the system. Horizon Forbidden West, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, a Demon’s Souls remake, Deathloop, Ghostwire: Tokyo, Kena: Bridge of Spirits, and a new God of War game (likely titled Ragnarok) are all PS5 exclusives, giving the system an edge over the competition. A new free benefit to the PS Plus program, PS Gold, was also recently revealed, giving members access to a large library of downloadable content (though not as expansive as Xbox Game Pass). Sony’s weakness in this regard is their legacy titles, as Game Pass features a pre-existing library of already released games. Sony seems to be looking in the right direction with the Gold program, but as of now, Xbox has a more expansive though significantly older list.
Though it is too early to call the result of this console war, the companies at play seem to be changing their strategies to both mirror and separate themselves from one another. With Xbox and Playstation going in such vastly different directions while Nintendo happily remains a mainstay, this particular gaming generation is shaping up to be one of the least confrontational so far. Of course, that is only until the consoles are in player hands; PS5 preorders sold out the moment they were made available and Xbox is lending some of their IPs to other companies, so the gaming landscape is in unexplored territory. Though this year has been rough, it will soon be coming to an end, and I am curious to see what we will all be playing by New Year’s.
The wheel of fate is turning.