A Different Kind of “Console War”

The Console War of 2020 hasn’t quite shaped up to be what I, or many others were expecting, but less than two months away from launch it seems things are finally starting to spice up.

The Console War could easily wag its finger at COVID-19 for its seeming lack of fire, but it’s suffice to say that Sony and Microsoft have taken a more reserved approach to hype management of their upcoming PS5 and Xbox Series X compared with last-gen.

A different kind of Console War.

Flashback to 2013 and I spent the best part of my Summer and Autumn hyped out of my mind, as the PS4, my first console launch, was steadily approaching its release date. Through conferences, marketing, and ridiculously cheesy UI infomercials, Sony managed to capture the gimmicky-yet-technology-advancing joy that sent me over the moon as I imagined playing a host of new games on my shiny new console.

Much of the same was expected in 2020 by myself, but instead of glittery adverts, and an overabundance of information that utterly convinced me that going for the PS5 was the choice I wanted to make, Sony have veritably treated their fans with the silent treatment. Now this hurts as a self-professed Sony loyalist this past generation, but as the months rolled on, and I still didn’t know when I was getting this console, how much for, what I would be playing on it, or what was different about it, I couldn’t help but get a little irritated.

Swapping out blue for green, Xbox were better but only marginally, as they drip-fed us trailers, interviews, and information on what their console could and would do. Their presence was at least something, but what it highlighted was the one thing that was undeniably missing from this Console War, and that was hype.

No, those aren’t cardboard cut-outs. Yes it took me almost the entire conference to realise.

Examining the PS5, as I have spent the past year being an Xbox denier, it was initially revealed in an interview with Mark Cerny on Wired. Not quite the bombastic way we would expect, but ok. However, then we whip forward to the first official PS5 conference. Instead of lights, loud music, and a man smugly holding a replica model of the console, we were treated to an absolute snooze-fest of a conference that while full of interesting tech info, was more aligned for investors than fans. Even when the PS5 was revealed in all its WIFI-router glory, we got no date, price, features, or even UI.

Was the plan to conjure gamers up into a feverish mania as they demanded to know anything about their console? Was it an lack of confidence in delivery as Coronavirus permeated its way through every facet of life? Who knows, but to appropriately place a play on a fart joke in the middle of this article since nowhere else will let me type it: the silence could have been deadly.

Speculation could leave wandering minds in the offices of Sony and Microsoft, with corporate high-ups afraid to reveal anything, in case of being one upped by the other. There were times I did begin to wonder if Sony had underestimated what was required of their next-gen offering, and many more pessimistic thoughts as I theorised that the silence had to mean something. But with Xbox urged into the limelight with the Series S and pricing leak, and Sony following suit a week later, we are now in the midst of a console war that feels like it should have started six months ago.

As Xbox embraced the leaks, their packages with Series S and X, along with some excellent finance options, it resulted in the briefest of moments that my Sony loyalty wavered. With some reasonable pricing and at least some kind of idea what their consoles were offering, I did feel intrigued to go green.

A week later however, Sony came out swinging with their showcase, and what followed was a reignition of that child-like sense of excitement that left me eager to play any and every video game under the sun. No title specifically wowed me, but Miles Morales, Demon’s Souls and a tease of God of War were more than enough to remind me why I love video games.

God of War Ragnarök will likely be the most anticipated game of 2021.

While Sony have claimed exclusive superiority over the last seven years, as we approach the new generation Xbox’s brainchild Game Pass is steadily becoming a very real threat. With over a hundred games available for a simple monthly price, Game Pass was proving itself to be excellent value for money. However, after this week’s bombshell, that value just went up a whole load more. In one of the most ultimate alpha moves, Microsoft acquired Bethesda’s parent company ZeniMax Media. This means that franchises such as Doom, Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Dishonoured and Wolfenstein will be heading to Game Pass, with all future instalment arriving on the service on their respective launch days. This magnanimous move, which set Microsoft back $7.5 billion, is one of the largest in gaming history with a price tag that nearly doubles that of Disney’s purchasing of Star Wars.

An unprecedented move from Microsoft.

While the immediate effects of these games arriving on Game Pass is superb, their potential exclusivity is a plate-shifting game changer. I know something like an exclusive sequel to 2017’s Prey would certainly have me saving up for a Series X, but for many others a Fallout 5, Elder Scrolls 6, Dishonored 3 would make Xbox a no brainer – especially when those games come included in a Game Pass package, instead of having to shell out £70 a pop. It is particularly impressive considering that Sony’s counter was its PS Plus Collection, which while welcome, pales in comparison to Game Pass.

Which of the Bethesda titles will be claimed as exclusives is yet to be seen, but Microsoft have a fine balancing act to manage as picking too big a game will likely anger more than it will please. Their announcement stated that exclusivity would be reviewed on a case-by-case nature, so only the future will tell on how big a move this will be, but I expect Microsoft to of course take full advantage of their acquisition.

We are still a rough two months away from the new console launches, and with lockdown restrictions tightening in the UK, they cannot come fast enough. There is still time for either team to reveal another hand, but Xbox seems to have played their ace, which has for the first time in nearly a decade levelled the playing field. While I have remained with Sony as I secured my PS5 pre-order, they no longer have my unequivocal commitment, and the “winner” of this console war seems less black and white.

Published by Aaron Bayne

I’m a film and video games journalist based in Scotland. I write stuff about them on my website, talk about them on my podcasts and film videos about them for BBC The Social.

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