I love the smell of a coming console upgrade in the morning. Although growing old and jaded has dulled the sheer excitement of a new generation for me, I still get a thrill seeing hardware companies compete for my money with features and exclusive games.
What I have never liked, however, is the edgelord console war that dogs trying to actually discuss pros/cons of new systems online. People can like what they like—it does not make them bad or good for preferring Xbox over PlayStation, or vice versa, and ultimately the vitriol with which some fight is detrimental even to the huge corporate brands.
Console war nonsense was perhaps the most pronounced around the end of the last generation and the beginning of our current generation, where the PS3 and Xbox 360 were equal in sales but the former still “failed”, or how the Xbox One stumbled out of the gate but has since become an excellent gaming machine.
This time, both Microsoft and Sony’s approaches to announcing their new generation consoles have been fun and refreshing. We already knew quite a bit about Xbox’s Project Scarlett, including one of its highly anticipated launch titles, and now Sony has released more concrete details about the PlayStation 5. For Microsoft, the new machine represents a leap forward: another chance at being part of the conversation after Phil Spencer’s regime morphed the One from sad second place into an amazing, feature-packed box (for those with good Internet, at least).
Together with Sony’s low-key release of next-gen tech specs and even the features of a potential DualShock 5, both companies are undercutting the brewing storm of console wars. Wired just dropped the interview with Mark Cerny like it was any other (exclusive) tech news.
Not to take things the wrong way: a big chest-beating event will still be present—an exercise in drumming up sports-team like fervor among gamers that, for my money, will come as soon as the week after The Last of Us Part II releases in February. And yes, this is not just any old tech news, but with details of the PS5 so unceremoniously out in the wild, the next twelve months will look very different from the same time period in the lead-up to the PS4 and Xbox One.
Perhaps this early-start, slow-release of information is part of both companies’ attempts to lock down their current core users as the generation turns. Previous generations have always seen the fickle customer base sway from system to system based on price and features; now, retaining users for Internet-based subscription services is more important than ever.
Even at a distant second-place in the numbers game, Microsoft has Xbox Live and Game Pass, both of which have steady subscribers in the millions who will happily buy an upgraded box. The release of half-step systems (PS4 Pro and Xbox One X) proves that this is not a new strategy, and regardless of their mainstream success, both new gen systems will rely on these continuing users (not to mention the free brand billboard that an Xbox or PlayStation fan becomes to their friends).
Most important, however, is that the specifications of both boxes promise such similar features as to make the power conversation meaningless. Whether with the epic-sale brands of God of War, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and Spider-Man, or with platform-agnostic services like Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, Sony and Microsoft are competing for eyeballs on their brands rather than the “which box has more teraflops?” console war argument.
After all, as the real gamers know, PC is clearly the only platform that matters.