The next generation of video game consoles is now here.
Both Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Sony’s Playstation 5 hit stores this week — the newest chapter in an ongoing face-off between Microsoft and Sony.
At the start of the 21st century, Sony was in control of the video game market, with fans lining up in packed stores to buy the Playstation 2. But less than a year later, Microsoft would release its first ever video game console. The Xbox was big, ugly and powerful; the commercials advertised a new dimension to console gaming: An emphasis on online multi-player and connectivity.
None of this was enough to topple Sony’s reign at the time, but the Xbox did announce the arrival of a new competitor. And since then, the battle between Microsoft and Sony has been a hotly contested one.
This year, both corporate titans are releasing their new consoles at a strange time: during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Gaming has really reached a lot of new audiences,” says Carter Rogers, an analyst at Nielsen’s SuperData. He adds that despite all the economic insecurity brought on by the pandemic, video games are just as popular as ever, and are facing less competition from other entertainment, like movies and live sports. Earlier this year, the Nintendo Switch console saw hardware shortages as games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons posted record sales numbers.
For the next few months at least, it’s mostly a question of how many devices can be shipped out. Demand certainly won’t be an issue in the near future.
“For the next few months at least, it’s mostly a question of how many devices can be shipped out. Demand certainly won’t be an issue in the near future,” Rogers says.
Chris Plante reviewed Microsoft’s new Xbox Series X for the website Polygon. He says that during the last console generation, Microsoft went on all in on the Xbox being an all-in-one entertainment device: “Infamously, during their big reveal event, they spent the majority of an hour talking about everything but video games.”
But Microsoft’s tune has now changed. Central to the plan this time around are lots of games, presented at an affordable price.
“I think the biggest thing on Xbox right now is Game Pass. Which is their version of Netflix for video games, effectively,” Plante says.
For around ten dollars a month, Xbox offers access to a constantly updated library of over 100 games, including big name franchises like Halo and Gears of War.
However, there aren’t many new games to play — something that might change as the generation wears on. Microsoft recently acquired Bethesda Softworks, makers of the Fallout series. They also acquired Double Fine Productions, Tim Schafer’s iconic development studio.
“They are just gobbling up studios,” Plante says. “People who like games like Fallout or Elder Scrolls, those games will be part of Game Pass moving forward.”
So while Microsoft’s strategy might feel less ambitious this time around, Sony is turning some heads with the Playstation 5.
That starts with the look of the console itself — it has a mostly-white exterior and is one of the heaviest game consoles ever, making it the subject of many a meme.
“There have been some funny comparisons online,” says Elise Favis, who reviewed the new Playstation for the Washington Post. “I think my favorite is comparing it to a storm trooper.”
Favis calls the console a “sensory experience.” That experience starts with its innovative new controller. “It has haptic feedback. Which is basically a more sophisticated range of vibrations and sensations that you will feel in the palm of your hand. So for example, you can feel the pitter patter of rain drops.”
The system also features an impressive line-up of new games, including Spider-Man: Miles Morales and a remake of Demon Souls.
But Chris Plante reminds us that if you can’t get your hands on a new console, you’re not necessarily missing out just yet.
“I think the marketing machine of video games has broken our brains. There are great games coming out this fall, they’re gonna look amazing on the new consoles. But you can play them on your older console too.”