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'The Console War is Over'


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The thread takes its name from the headline of a Gamesindustry.biz article which really resonates with my views on where we are as we enter into this next generation, something I thought might be worth discussing as we approach the inevitable cycle of keeping an eye on pricing, who's selling how many units and so on. We've covered some aspect of this in various threads, but I thought it deserving of its own space.

 

The article sums things up well in declaring that "Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo are playing the same game but competing for different trophies"

 

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This is a console transition year, and as such the console war rhetoric is at its peak. Whether in the media, amongst consumers or within the industry itself, with groups over-analysing every decision and the potential repercussions on those all-important hardware sales figures. Yet this time, more than with any previous generation, this 'war' is becoming increasingly irrelevant. 

 

Let's take Xbox. The company's current strategy is really not compatible with trying to out-sell PlayStation 5. The company is making all of its first-party exclusive games available via PC, its streaming service xCloud, and -- for a few years at least -- its current (and much cheaper) Xbox One device. 

 

Xbox boss Phil Spencer told us earlier this monththat he finds it "counter to what gaming is all about" to "force someone to buy my specific device on the day I want them to go buy it".

 

This position makes strategic sense when considering Xbox's focus on growing its Game Pass subscribers, which now total more than 10 million customers. If Microsoft turns around to those 10 million people and says that they have to buy an expensive new box in-order to access the next set of big Xbox games, that might result in decent console sales, but will likely hurt its subscriber base. That isn't an acceptable outcome to the company.

 

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Now compare Spencer's comments to those of his counterpart at PlayStation, Jim Ryan, who told us last year: "One of our tasks is to take that PS4 community and transition it to PS5 at a scale and pace that we've never delivered before." 

 

PlayStation wants to get its PS5 install base up quickly, and then release huge AAA games that have been purpose built for the platform. It feels the most effective business model for doing this is to sell these games to as many players as possible, individually, and at a price that will probably be around $60. It's a strategy that has served the company very well over the past seven years. Putting these exclusive games into a multi-platform subscription service on the day they're released, like Xbox does, is not compatible with that objective.

 

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Yet what success looks like to these companies is different. One is prioritising selling a service, whereas the other is prioritising the device. One of the reasons Phil Spencer cited Google as the biggest competitor to Xbox is not because PlayStation is suddenly insignificant, but because Google's current strategy is more in-line with what Microsoft is trying to do. 

 

 

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Then there's Nintendo. One question we've been asked in recent weeks is what Nintendo has planned to counter PS5 and Series X. The answer is nothing, and not because we believe it has no games coming out (although it'd be great if it announced something at some point). Nintendo has avoided going head-to-head with its fellow console makers since the GameCube. Its focus is with slightly different audiences, such as family gamers, kids, parents and lapsed players. Microsoft and Sony dabble in these areas with IP like Minecraft and LittleBigPlanet, but ever since they abandoned concepts like Kinect, Move and portable gaming, they've largely left Nintendo's segment of the industry alone. 

 

Nintendo has slightly different priorities, too. Console sales are important to it, but of more importance is the growth of its core IP, hence its expansion into the smartphone business. Outside of pure hardware sales, some of the most pleasing results for Nintendo during the Switch years has been the growth of almost all of its brands, including Animal Crossing, Zelda, Super Mario and associated IP such as Pokémon. It's through the success of these properties that Nintendo has been able to co-develop fancy LEGO sets, animated movies and theme parks.

 

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These differing strategies actually support the wider business. Xbox making subscriptions a viable model, PlayStation creating these cinematic, high-end experiences, and Nintendo engaging younger and older audiences, is something that supports the overall console ecosystem, which they can all benefit from.

 

https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2020-07-23-the-console-war-is-over-opinion

 

I really feel like we're going to have to abandon what now seem like outdated concepts when it comes to the methods we use in evaluating the success of consoles and the companies making them, even though on a grander scale I feel the "console war" mentality will grow to be more toxic than ever this winter, at the height of the age of tribalism on social media platforms...etc. I'm fascinated to see where things go, it's just a pity the launch of the next generation is coming in the midst of a global pandemic that inevitably mutes the excitement.

 

Personally I've come to find the idea of Sony largely sticking to tradition, Microsoft exploring uncharted territory and pursuing something unique, while Nintendo does as Nintendo does, to be one of the most compelling arguments in years for why the market should even sustain three systems. Chances are one of these companies has a platform that's able to meet the wants/needs of all types of gamer, and even for those most fortunate enough to be able to afford them all, their individuality may make for the best case yet for having all three. 

 

I have no idea whether what Microsoft is doing is going to work or not, but knowing where they are in establishing in house studio talent compared to Sony, if they had just gone into this next cycle adopting the typical console formula I'm not sure things would have worked for them either. Weirdly, we know that is in fact what they needed to stick to going into the launch of the XB1. They initially chose a different path then, but it backfired miserably resulting in a costly scramble to pick up the pieces. Is that an ominous sign that shifting focus will doom them once again? I'd argue no. Strangely they could not see the kind of media features they were touting in the XB1 were mere months from becoming quite standard in TV operating interfaces, and above all, what they're going right now with Game Pass and, in years to come, xCloud, is both gaming focused and consumer friendly.

 

Part of me does genuinely think this next generation could well mark the last physical Xbox console in one way or another though, with a view to xCloud being their next core focus for Xbox, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Perhaps I'm wrong, perhaps at the very least this will be the last bow for Playstation and Xbox games on physical media, but all three companies will continue to produce new hardware come 2028. I'm certainly a little uneasy about how little Microsoft seem to want to sell the SeriesX, placing emphasis on Game Pass instead, and that's left me giving some thought as to whether I'd want Sony to adopt a straight equivalent to Game Pass themselves and whether that seems like the natural evolution of where things might be going over the next eight years, but I actually think that not only do they not need to, it would in fact be bad for the industry in the long term if they did, and would lead to such services being truly unsustainable. Little tweaks to Playstation Now seems like a more viable pursuit for them in future I think.

 

Each company walking their own distinct path makes the most sense to me now, and the only winners left will be the consumers. 

 

 

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I agree with a lot of what this article says. In a lot of ways, what Microsoft is doing now reminds me of what Nintendo did years ago with the Wii. They weren’t having success beating the competition on their terms, so they changed the terms. Rather than compete by having the most powerful hardware, they competed on the play experience with the Wii remote, making gaming more appealing and accessible to a wider audience. For Microsoft, its transforming Xbox from a box you put under your TV to a platform where you can play your games on a variety of devices in a number of ways. I like this because it means that each major platform offers something a bit different than the other.

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I recall Gary Witta and various others declaring, when the Ps4 came out, that this was the last console generation. We’ve heard these arguments before Charles.

 

if Microsoft is like google and Sony is like Apple in the argument of hardware-centric versus services-centric, I’ll probably do the same thing i did in the world of phones. I’ll start thinking Sony is evil and then buy their console anyway because I am a sheep.

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17 hours ago, JFo said:

 I like this because it means that each major platform offers something a bit different than the other.

 

Right. My impulse purchase of an XB1 X in late 2018, aside from wanting to see just what direction MS were going in first hand, was in part spurred by my questioning whether I could really juggle owning that many consoles at once anymore (I still had my PS4 Pro at this time, so both sat in rotation alongside my Switch). Even after parting with the XB1 X (and the PS4 Pro at roughly the same time) after six or seven months, I actually wasn't sure that I could. Let's face it, owning just one is enough of a time wasting luxury. I was immediately a fan of Game Pass of course, while simultaneously finding myself overwhelmed by it. In hindsight that reaction seems premature. The titles I was playing on Game Pass were largely games I was interested in playing, games I would have considered buying on or close to release, or at a later date on sale on PS4 or Steam at some stage anyway. It only felt overwhelming because suddenly, there so many of those games were, ready to play, all at once. Why I felt like I psychologically had to wrestle with rushing through titles on Game Pass I don't know, as we know the life of titles on the service is respectable, and Microsoft have the decency to give people a heads up when games are due to leave. 

 

It's taken some time, and a better insight into what Microsoft are offering with the SeriesX, to re-evaluate and see if I would genuinely benefit from being a three console owner again over the next year or two. The fact the there companies are all offering unique systems, games and services makes as good an argument for justifying it as perhaps there's ever been in a console generation, though I've still a lot of thinking to do as to how I'd manage allocating time to so many games, when the amount on Game Pass alone is plentiful (and the fact I have still accumulated a backlog with only a modest library of games on the Switch alone). How those of you married with children do it I may never know. I really do value backwards compatibility immensely as it means giving a far longer shelf life to games we've missed out on. I was browsing the PS4 summer sale webpage last night just out of curiosity, and it felt comforting to know that the PS4 games of interest to me should still be there whenever I get a PS5 (and be absurdly cheap on account of being yesterday's news to most gamers).

 

I'm almost viewing the SeriesX as a fuss free scaled down PC that I can have hooked up to my TV in the living room, which isn't far from the truth of what it is really. I did think about just building a new PC again, and going PS5 + Switch, but the SeriesX performance will likely exceed the performance of components I'd have been able to afford, and would still manage to cost less... Then Frontier went and announced Planet Coaster for consoles (with keyboard/mouse support on the xbox version) and I realised that the sim and strategy games primarily of interest to me on PC will in fact soon be playable from the comfort of my couch (not that I can make much time for games like that these days, but the incentive to treat them more like comfort food is greater on a console than on a PC for me). The fact future Macs will have their own silicon meaning goodbye to gaming under bootcamp on an iMac meant writing that off as a possible re-entry point into the MS/Game Pass ecosystem too, and further made the SeriesX are more practical proposition. 

 

The Playstation meanwhile, is something I've come to view similarly to Nintendo consoles in that I know I can expect a certainly quality of exclusive game on those systems (that, plus my weird psychological hangups about still viewing the Playstation as "home" for what have since become multi-platform franchises like Resident Evil, Yakuza, Spyro...etc). It's interesting looking at Keith's poll and seeing PS5 with a clear lead amongst forum members. There's such a devotion to the quality of output from SCE (rightfully).

 

 

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4 minutes ago, foogledricks said:

I recall Gary Witta and various others declaring, when the Ps4 came out, that this was the last console generation. We’ve heard these arguments before Charles.

 

if Microsoft is like google and Sony is like Apple in the argument of hardware-centric versus services-centric, I’ll probably do the same thing i did in the world of phones. I’ll start thinking Sony is evil and then buy their console anyway because I am a sheep.

 

I don't think there's any suggestion that this would be the last console generation, just that it might be for Microsoft since one would think the natural point of focus for them over the next decade is Game Pass > xCloud. Building such a powerful console to sell this holiday, yet seemingly underselling it in having yet to have established a clear marketing message as to why people should buy a SeriesX anytime soon, is still puzzling to me. There do seem to be certain decisions at odds with one another within the Xbox division right now, which could trip themselves up. 

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26 minutes ago, Angry the Clown said:

How those of you married with children do it I may never know

 

I just don’t watch as much TV or see as many movies as I used to. If I have a couple hours to spare at night after the kids go to bed, I spend that time playing something for an hour or two. Even playing just a little bit every night means that I can get through a lot of games over the course of a year.

 

Part of me would really like to watch more movies and TV, but when faced with the decision of what to do with my limited spare time, the lure of games almost always pulls me in.

 

And yet, despite that, my backlog is still absurd. 🙃

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We will not see an end to consoles until every household can have a good broadband connection. The way things are right now, I don’t see that happening by 2027-28. 
 

I like that they have a differing strategies. It makes owning all 3 more viable to me. But I also feel as MS keeps mixing the message. One moment it’s we care about you being in our eco system no matter what you’re on, the next is all about the more powerful hardware and we have some flexibility to compete with whatever Sony does price wise. I don’t feel their messaging is always the best. 

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29 minutes ago, Paul said:

We will not see an end to consoles until every household can have a good broadband connection. The way things are right now, I don’t see that happening by 2027-28. 
 

I like that they have a differing strategies. It makes owning all 3 more viable to me. But I also feel as MS keeps mixing the message. One moment it’s we care about you being in our eco system no matter what you’re on, the next is all about the more powerful hardware and we have some flexibility to compete with whatever Sony does price wise. I don’t feel their messaging is always the best. 

 I suspect another case of multiple cooks in the kitchen 

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12 hours ago, Paul said:

I like that they have a differing strategies. It makes owning all 3 more viable to me. But I also feel as MS keeps mixing the message. One moment it’s we care about you being in our eco system no matter what you’re on, the next is all about the more powerful hardware and we have some flexibility to compete with whatever Sony does price wise. I don’t feel their messaging is always the best. 

 

It's going to be interesting to see their approach to marketing as we get closer to the actual release in a few months time. Since Thursday I keep coming back to the thought that the only thing that's really going to make the SeriesX turn heads at launch will be the surprise of a low price, but if Microsoft are truly not massively concerned with shifting huge quantities of units over the holidays then I'm not sure what incentive they have to be so aggressive. We still don't know how lockhart will fit into the marketing strategy, and whether it will only confuse things further for consumers (I fear it might).

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I forgot to add yesterday, when writing about all three companies offering something unique, that Playstation look to remain the only torchbearers for VR on consoles in the years ahead, which brings a lot of extra value to the PS5. I've still never tried VR, but I'm quite excited to see where they take what I assume will be a PSVR mk2, and it'd be nice to get some more information about the PS5 system architecture itself because we have to assume there's a lot under the hood of the console that will help enhance the fidelity of the VR experience in future and had been designed with VR in mind.

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Interesting possible insight into UK gamer intentions:

 

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According to new research, over half of all gamers plan to buy a next-gen console within three months of launch, with Sony’s Playstation 5 the clear device of choice. 

 

The findings come via a wide-ranging survey of over 3,000 pop culture fans in the UK undertaken by pop culture agency Experience12. Data was collected between June 25th and July 2nd through MCM Comic Con online channels. 80 per cent of the respondents were aged between 18 and 34 (48 per cent were in the 25-34 year old category; 32 per cent in the 18-24 category). Meanwhile, 58 per cent were male, 38 per cent female, 2 per cent non-conforming and 1 per cent transgender.

 

When asked to choose which upcoming console they were most excited about, 84 per cent named PlayStation 5, compared to 15 per cent who are most anticipating Xbox Series X.

 

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In terms of when they plan to buy these new consoles, 37 per cent said ‘at launch’, 9 per cent expect to buy within a month, 12 per cent within three months and 26% within six months of launch.

 

Console prices could radically change these estimates of course. It would have been interesting if people had been polled on what price they expect to pay/are willing to pay, for the new consoles in the first three months of release.

 

Halo Infinite just squeaks into the top 5 most anticipated games:

 

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Given the intense hype around the game, even following its delay to November 19th, Cyberpunk 2077 is unsurprisingly the most anticipated game among those surveyed. 43 per cent of respondents said CD Projekt’s title was the one they’re most excited about, followed by Square Enix’s Marvel’s Avengers at 15 per cent.

 

Top 5 Most Anticipated Releases

  1. Cyberpunk 2077 (CD Projekt)
  2. Marvel’s Avengers (Square-Enix)
  3. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 Remaster (Activision)
  4. Dying Light 2 (Techland)
  5. Halo Infinite (Xbox Game Studios)

 

https://www.mcvuk.com/business-news/over-half-of-gamers-intend-to-buy-a-next-gen-console-within-three-months-of-launch-with-the-ps5-the-clear-favourite/

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