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Gamasutra's erstwhile opinon-havers stop for a moment to discuss the highs and lows of the next generation of console gaming.

September 22, 2020

12 Min Read

We now know the larger scope and strategy of Microsoft and Sony's next-gen console releases. Microsoft has come out with aggressive pricing for both the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, pricing each respectively at $499 and $299 while making huge pitches for Xbox Game Pass. And in a late-breaking update, it's purchased one of the most popular game publishers for the cool price of $7.5 Billion.

Meanwhile, Sony has shown off a number of high-profile platform exclusives, telling players that they'll get their money's worth for buying either a disc-based PlayStation 5 for $499, or a digital edition at $399. But a number of those exclusives, for various reasons, aren't all that exclusive. 

Is anyone winning "the console war?" Is either company poised to do better? Will Nvidia's surprisingly cheap graphics card offerings have any impact? Will Alissa & Bryant ever get their PlayStation 5 pre-order from Amazon? The Gamasutra editorial team has once again weighed the facts and come back with a wildly irresponsible array of opinions. 

If you need our take on the state of the next console generation, you can now find them neatly organized below. 

Chris Kerr, Gamasutra Contributor (@kerrblimey)

Alright, now that Sony has taken its last roll of the next-gen dice and done the bare minimum in tentatively matching Microsoft in terms of pricing, I can say with absolute confidence that I'm officially barely excited for the next generation.

For me, the Xbox Series X and Series S (which is a genuine steal at $299) seem like better value propositions at launch. The Series S in particular *should* do the business and convince folks to make the immediate next-gen switch and dip into Game Pass (if they haven't already). It's also a great option for those who can't afford to drop $499 on a home console during a pandemic, so Microsoft gets some shiny bonus points for that.

I'm sure the Series X will sell like hotcakes, too, despite the fact there's little reason to plump for the premium model right away - unless you want to whittle away the hours staring at a rotund lump of plastic while dreaming of all the things it'll be able to do in a few months time. Hey, there's no shame in that.

Honestly, the same goes for the PS5. I'm an absolute schmuck, so I've spent the past week flip-flopping more than a Tory front-bencher (Editor's Note: Chris Kerr is totally British) before eventually deciding to get BOTH consoles at launch. It makes sense for me. I know I'm going to use them a bunch in the long-term, I work in the games industry, and I want to be part of the conversation on day one, but I know full well I'm going to unbox each one, try unsuccessfully to stuff them into my TV cabinet, and then wonder what on earth I'm meant to be playing. Sure, I'm looking forward to using the extra firepower to run current-gen titles at lightning speed and work through my backlog, but it's not a prospect that has me counting down the days until the postman arrives.

It kinda feels like Microsoft and Sony could've rolled out both consoles in early 2021 with a more robust launch lineup. Based on everything we know right now, it doesn't seem like anyone is clamoring for next-gen hardware in 2020, but rather that we've resigned ourselves to making the upgrade because, well, it's happening anyway.

I'm rambling now, and I suppose the point of this thread is to make a sweeping prediction and proclaim who'll win the next-generation argument. So, looking at the current state of play, my head tells me Microsoft should wipe the floor with Sony. Game Pass is a preposterously good deal (and will continue to be moving forward), and the financing options Microsoft has cooked up for both the Series S and X are hugely enticing. Microsoft has also been bolstering its first-party ranks with a mountain of acquisitions, so there's going to be some hugely exciting projects coming together behind the scenes.

My heart, however, tells me Sony's promise of more 'console exclusives' down the line, coupled with the fact its first-party studios have a proven track record of churning out acclaimed titles like God of War and The Last of Us: Part II, will give the PlayStation 5 a notable head start. It's a cliche, but leopards don't change their spots - or at least, not overnight. Consumers who want to play the best of the best trust Sony to deliver the goods and Microsoft is still playing catch-up in that regard. Microsoft is well-positioned for the future with Game Pass and xCloud, but in the here and now I wouldn't bet against Sony. 

TLDR: Both consoles should've been released in 2021 with more games that utilize the hardware - and when the entire world has (hopefully) finished crumbling around us. 

Alissa McAloon, Gamasutra News Editor (@gliitchy)

I’m writing this minutes after getting an Amazon email about our PlayStation 5 pre-order potentially being delayed which, coupled with the confirmation that the PS5 won’t fit in an IKEA KALLAX shelf cubby, has conjured a dark cloud over my next-gen excitement. (Editor's Note: IKEA did not respond to our query asking why they are disrespecting gamers).

Still, it’s been interesting to watch all of this unfold for Xbox and PlayStation over the last year, and both are taking a very different approach to their next-gen plans. Chris already hit many of the Xbox bullet points, but one thing that’s curious is its big focus on getting folks into the Xbox Ecosystem rather than just rushing them to buy the newest, shiniest box. 

PlayStation, despite recent news that some PS5 games will also come to PS4, is telling us the PS5 is where we need to be for the best new games and the best new experiences powered by the best new technology. Xbox’s entire strategy is to meet us in the middle, wherever that middle may be.

The Series S is especially interesting in this context; it’s a great entry point for Xbox newbies, and, counter to Chris' point about delaying consoles to 2021, feels like a shoe-in for parents looking to put a new console under their kids’ Christmas trees this year especially when coupled with Xbox’s carefully cultivated services like Game Pass. Those that care about high performance can shell out for the full $499 Series X, those that don’t can pick up a Series S for the same price as a Nintendo Switch, Xbox One S, or PS4 Slim costs right now.

Or, if they’re not ready to upgrade they don't have to; Xbox Series X|S exclusives will launch on One anyways.

Using only my consumer brain, I’m personally sold on the PlayStation 5. I know, from past experience, that PlayStation exclusives are more my jam than Xbox exclusives. I was PS4 primarily this generation, so once more news on their backwards compatibility functionality is out my current-gen library will, presumably, live on. I do not like the Xbox One UI. It frustrates me, which doesn’t inspire hope for the Series X|S’s interface, and Game Pass conceptually throws my decision paralysis into overdrive, so that’s not a selling point for me. Plus, PS VR is cool and (given PlayStation is providing adapters to current PSVR owners) it seems like it’ll have some presence in the PS5 generation because of that.

But then again, and this might be the bitter-about-my-IKEA-shelf speaking, what’s the rush for me as a consumer? 

Aside from securing a now-potentially-delayed preorder to dodge future in-store scarcity, most of the next-generation games I’m interested in won’t be out for quite some time. Next-gen pricing also has many games launching at $70 rather than $60, which will probably be fine in the long run but is just expensive enough where a new game impulse buy feels considerably more irresponsible than before.

Will other people share that sentiment? Is $70 finally too much for a new game? Will Xbox’s leisurely approach to encouraging a jump to new hardware impact sales of their higher-end Series X? How will both Xbox and PlayStation offering lower-cost, all-digital consoles affect businesses like the already-struggling GameStop that make most of their bank on (collectibles and) reselling used physical games? 

I’m starting to sound like the narrator at the end of a TV show episode, but what I’m really getting at here is that this console generation feels very different from the start PS4/Xbox One and I’m really looking forward to seeing it all unfold this November and beyond.

Bryant Francis, Contributing Editor (@RBryant2012)

Alissa I have also received that e-mail. To me, the PlayStation 5 is now a very expensive concept as much as it is a console. 

I'd like my contribution to this thread to be an acknowledgment that the next generation of game consoles is launching in a vastly different world than the one the last one did. Normally, I'd like that to just be because of the prevalence of online games, subscription models, and a portable Nintendo console, what people want out of video games has changed.

However, I'm writing this right after I got the news that Ruth Bader Ginsberg died. In a Pandemic year. On the first day of fresh air in my city for about a week. Nothing is normal!!!!!!!!!!

Before our readers yell at me for putting politics in a next-gen article I'll be sure to make it relevant---the state of the world will impact the state of this launch. The US is in rocky economic territory, the physical shipment of these PS5s will impact Sony's profit margin (there's talk that they're using air-based transportation instead of sea-based this year), and while I do believe the creep toward $70 makes sense on paper, we're heading for a new world where free-to-play games like Fortnite and Spellbreak may be more appealing than Halo: Infinite or Horizon: Zero West.

Microsoft seems be highly tuned to the shifting landscape. Sony? Less so. 

Microsoft is offering payment plans that come with its subscription service. Microsoft's two-tiered console strategy isn't just about digital vs. physical, it's about capturing an audience that won't be buying into 4k. Microsoft is launching a service that lets you play your games on (Android) phones. Microsoft's current exclusive lineup is weaker than Sony's (other than my sweet sweet boy Master Chief) , but does the average player care about exclusivity anymore?

Of course not. The "average player" is now playing some online game of notable size, probably on their phone. And Microsoft seems to have their ear. 

Sony's standout strategy for the last generation has been strong support for "core players" with deep pockets and a deep bank of studios to provide exclusive, graphics-pushing games. And they are good games! I can't wait for their imminent sequels on PlayStation 5. But even Sony's starting to acknowledge that shipping on PC (and having their first titles playable on PS4) is earning them cold hard cash. 

No console launch is truly happening on firm ground but I wonder how this year's announcements would have played out if E3 had happened as usual. Chaos is the only constant. I can't wait to see how Tim Sweeney tilting at Apple's windmills will impact all of this. 

Kris Graft, Editor-in-Chief (@krisgraft)

So, a couple of observations: First, Microsoft's strategy this time around, despite its confusing Xbox branding strategy, is much cleaner and clearer than Xbox One's. Remember that fiasco? There was so much confusion about always-online, Kinect, Xbox One's role as the mighty entertainment center consolidator, etc. What a mess that was.

With Phil Spencer fully in control for years now, Xbox is getting back to its roots as a game console that's derived from a PC gaming heritage, and for me, that's a good thing. I'm attracted to the idea of hardware updates that inherently do not throw thousands of pieces of software into obsolescence. That idea of continuity that's on par with my library of PC games is reassuring to me, even though I know I won't be playing so many games from say, 2007.

[Note: I stopped here on Friday, then on Monday news came out about Microsoft buying ZeniMax for $7.5 billion.]

HOLY CRAP, I was not expecting that but it seems like a good fit considering Bethesda's PC heritage, their close relationship with Xbox, and the fact that Microsoft needs to boost its stable of first-party studios if it wants to be on the world-class level of PlayStation and Nintendo. Next-gen is heating up in ways that I did not consider.

The acquisition does show a huge level of commitment Microsoft has to games and its Game Pass subscription model, where these new first-party titles will end up. Seeing Nintendo, PlayStation, and Microsoft attack the next-gen from different strategic angles has been kind of fascinating.

These are quite different approaches and all three can benefit in their own unique ways while competing in the same market: Nintendo comes with the unique hardware and classic franchises, PlayStation brings its prestige branding and world-class development studios, and Microsoft is working toward an almost PC-style approach to hardware upgrades and more importantly, making big moves to add value and expand its subscription business.

To segue into some of Bryant's original questions, I think some people overstate the competition that new consoles face from gaming PCs. I love my PC, and depending on my mood, PC is often my primary game device. But for average people or those who just don't want to be arsed with PC shenanigans, consoles' plug-and-play friendliness and overall value are extremely attractive. Mainstream users will always go for more convenience, not less.

As for which console do I preorder...first, I never preorder anything, and also -- I won't get drawn into console war rhetoric! I honestly think each console has its own unique strengths.

If you have your own opinions about the state of the next console generation, be sure to reply in the comments!

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