The next generation of video game consoles is here now.
Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and Sony’s Playstation 5 hit stores this week, the latest chapter in an ongoing showdown between Microsoft and Sony.
By the turn of the 21st century, Sony was in control of the video game market, with fans lining up in crowded stores to buy the Playstation 2. But less than a year later, Microsoft released its first video game console. already. The Xbox was big, ugly, and powerful; the ads heralded a new dimension of console gaming: an emphasis on online multiplayer and connectivity.
None of this was enough to overthrow Sony’s reign at the time, but Xbox heralded the arrival of a new competitor. And since then, the battle between Microsoft and Sony has been hotly contested.
This year, the two titanic companies are releasing their new consoles at a strange time: during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The game has really reached a lot of new audiences,” says Carter Rogers, analyst at Nielsen’s SuperData. He adds that despite all the economic insecurity caused by the pandemic, video games are still as popular as ever and face less competition from other entertainment, such as movies and live sports. Earlier this year, the Nintendo Switch console experienced a hardware shortage as games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons achieved record sales numbers.
“For the next few months at least, it’s mainly a question of how many devices can be shipped. Demand certainly won’t be an issue in the near future,” says Rogers.
Chris Plante reviewed Microsoft’s new Xbox Series X for the Polygon website. He says that in the last generation of consoles, Microsoft has done everything on Xbox as an all-in-one entertainment device: “Unfortunately, during their big reveal event, they spent almost an hour in talk about everything except video games. ”
But Microsoft’s music has now changed. At the heart of the plan this time around are plenty of games, presented at an affordable price.
“I think the most important thing on Xbox right now is Game Pass. It’s their version of Netflix for video games, actually, ”says Plante.
For around ten dollars a month, Xbox offers access to a constantly updated library of over 100 games, including renowned franchises like Halo and Gears of War.
However, there aren’t many new games to play, which may change as the generation progresses. Microsoft recently acquired Bethesda Softworks, the creators of the Fallout series. They also acquired Double Fine Productions, Tim Schafer’s iconic development studio.
“They just devour their studies,” says Plante. “People who like games like Fallout or Elder Scrolls, these games will be part of Game Pass in the future.”
So while Microsoft’s strategy may seem less ambitious this time around, Sony is turning heads with the Playstation 5.
It starts with the look of the console itself – it has a predominantly white exterior and is one of the heaviest gaming consoles of all time, making it the subject of many memes.
“There have been some funny comparisons online,” says Elise Favis, who reviewed the new Playstation for the Washington Post. “I think my favorite is to compare him to a Storm Soldier.”
Favis calls the console a “sensory experience”. This experience begins with its new innovative controller. “It has tactile 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 hear the crackle of raindrops.”
The system also features an impressive lineup of new games, including Spider-Man: Miles Morales and a Demon Souls remake.
But Chris Plante reminds us that if you can’t get your hands on a new console, you won’t get lost just yet.
“I think the video game marketing machine has broken our brains out. There are some great games coming this fall that will look great on new consoles. But you can also play them on your old console.”