I often find myself thinking about the console wars of yesteryear. During the Xbox 360 and Xbox One era, it certainly felt like there was more at stake, that the battle between Sony and Microsoft was a life-and-death battle rather than a battle for greater market share. The last 10 years of watching their respective marketing and more recently legal departments have fought it out for the hearts and minds of the gambling public, and have the idea that there will be some kind of fatality initiated by one side or the other almost completely expelled.
It’s no secret who won the battle for market share. Sony is head and shoulders above Microsoft and has been since the beginning of the Xbox One era as, like a Shakespearean tragedy, Don Mattrick exposed the console’s fatal flaws on stage. Yes, plural: TV and DRM and Kinect. Not to mention the lack of games. It was a complete capitulation, right on the brink of the windfall that was the platform marketplace, the digital age.
Microsoft, instead of spreading their wings and letting the winds of change and convenience drive their profit margins to dizzying heights, allowed the Don to reach over his shoulder, pull a double barrel, and not just blow his foot off , but the whole leg . In a matter of hours, Xbox had become the anti-consumer bogeyman. In an effort to hammer the final nail into the coffin of used game sales, they stood defiant for 10 minutes before going back, but the damage was done.
The ultimate case study on how not to launch a product. Xbox showed a total lack of care and attention to their customer base, in pursuit of the girl they never had a chance with. We’ve since learned that the battle for console supremacy isn’t fought in your mom’s living room, it’s in your basement.
Nearly 10 years after that holy day, the story is still being told in numbers. Xbox did everything to give Sony the generation, but that shouldn’t discredit the work of the PlayStation team, pumping out must-have exclusives and excellent technology at a reasonable price. All this led to a crushing victory for Sony; Microsoft stopped releasing sales figures, acknowledging that the gap had become insurmountable.
After Don Mattrick happened to join Zynga, known for mobile games, three months after the Xbox One fiasco, Phil Spencer was anointed as the next leader of the Xbox brand and there’s no denying that he’s done a great job. Where the previous management tried to differentiate itself with a “voice remote control for your TV”, Phil has started to fundamentally change what Xbox is. While it’s still about the games, the Xbox brand is firmly moving in a new direction that shows early signs of promise.
The benefits of Game Pass are visible to all, but there are still fears that crop up from time to time regarding the Xbox brand, which has not been able to overcome its new direction and status as a consumer champion. First party exclusives and the handling of their first party developers, in which Microsoft has a terrible track record.
I’m thinking of Lionhead Studios, of Fable fame. Microsoft failed to tie any of the studios that developed their flagship titles during the exceptional Xbox 360 era to their first party stable, with Bungie and Epic Games moving to new pastures and the teams taking the IP on themselves names were bland at best, pumping out iteration after iteration.
Scope of the Xbox Series X/S first party exclusives were Gears 6 and Halo Infinite, franchises that have life support. That was until the war chest was broken open for big Bethesda acquisitions and then the monumental, proposed purchase of Activision Blizzard. Suddenly, Xbox is swimming in a sea of beloved IP. After a few bare years, we are finally seeing the fruits of the Bethesda acquisition, with two big releases this year that we know of: Redfall and Starfield.
Both were originally slated for the first half of this year, with Redfall coming close to meeting that deadline with a May release date and Starfield falling short, now expected in September. Redfall will get some extra polish as the first Microsoft-Bethesda title, but I’m concerned about this one. I expect it to be a good game, but Arkane is a developer that seems to be losing some of its identity in the quest for its first commercial success and it is telling that their first post-Xbox release is a co-op, possibly live service . shooter, while they have been a single player studio since their inception. [It’s not a live service game, they’ve said it’s more like Far Cry – GC]
The jury is out on it, and I suspect it will be well received critically, but may suffer from a dwindling player base shortly after launch; I hope I’m wrong. Then there’s Starfield. As if Todd Howard didn’t have enough galaxy brains already, he had to go make Skyrim in space. This is as close as Xbox is sure to be to The Elder Scrolls 6. It’s worth noting that Forza Motorsport will probably also make it to Game Pass this year, which I’ll play once and immediately fall in favor of Sony’s Gran Turismo 7 in VR.
During a barren 2022, Xbox’s rallying cry, and journalists favorable to Xbox, was that 2023 was the year of Xbox. Four months into Xbox’s announced year, it’s PlayStation that continues to differentiate itself as the premier destination for high-end console gaming. Continuing to land exclusive deals on third-party releases, their new PlayStation VR2 headset is an exciting prospect if adopted by the public and properly supported.
If you’re on budget constraints and own an Xbox and not a PlayStation, you’re getting more bang for your buck as a consumer, but what you’re missing out on has been accumulating for some time. Games like God Of War, The Last Of Us, Returnal, Spider-Man, The Ghost of Tsushima, and the list goes on. These are games developed by studios at the pinnacle of their power working together under the Sony umbrella, pooling resources and developing the most polished and breathtaking games the medium has to offer.
If VR is something you’re interested in, I’m afraid it’s bad luck, as Xbox doesn’t yet see the need to offer a product like this. And if they did, there would be complications, as the Xbox Series S might not have the raw power to support such a product this generation given Microsoft’s commitment to system parity.
Xbox feels like they’re still a long way from the same kind of development structure that currently exists within Sony. Sony recently acquired Bungie, which will continue to operate autonomously for the most part, but can provide Sony studios with a unique perspective and significant know-how in the upcoming live-service battle.
In fact, PlayStation is currently in somewhat of a cultural moment, with The Last Of Us being the first video game adaptation to receive critical acclaim, let alone acclaim. And the rest of the year, while it could potentially be a strong year for Microsoft, will not be a complete blowout contrary to forecasts. PlayStation has the sequel to an established mega hit in Spider-Man 2, going up against Starfield for the Christmas system seller. The Activision Blizzard acquisition may change the landscape further, but right now that’s a distant consumer concern.
Despite all the unanswered questions about their management and strategy, Xbox has made commendable progress since the Xbox One era and for now they are not going anywhere. They’re still a contender for PlayStation dominance, even if they’re a flawed underdog. Perhaps an emotional speech from a love interest or a few words from a weathered and world-wise trainer can inspire Xbox to actually make amends with the reigning champ. As for 2023, I suspect that Phil and the team will peel themselves off the floor to go at it again next year.
By reader Anon
The reader post does not necessarily represent the views of GameCentral or Metro.
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