For many different reasons, this upcoming console generation feels unlike any other.
It’s not just because we’re in the midst of a pandemic and nobody has got hands-on with the new systems yet, save for Geoff Keighley and that random controller hands-on.
It’s not just because marketing messaging is absolutely all over the place and event scheduling seems to change from one week to the next.
It’s not even because we’re still waiting for the date and pricing at the end of August for systems supposed to launch by the end of 2020.
It’s because both main platform holders seem to have very different focuses. For Microsoft, it’s about selling the incredible value of GamePass and focusing on the preservation of all their legacy content.
Xbox Series X will be able to play OG Xbox Games – which is a staggering prospect – and the console has access to the world’s best gaming subscription service which has been growing from strength to strength the past few years.
The announcement of Ultimate last year, combining PC games with Xbox titles was a paradigm shift in the way we consume content and next month, when xCloud finally leaves beta, the industry is set to be revolutionised yet again.
Some consider this a deathblow to Google’s Stadia. Being able to play the hottest games, as well as the entirety of Microsoft’s first party catalogue, streamed to your mobile phone or tablet, is mindblowing. How is that even possible?
Some have even been bold enough to say this could have serious ramifications for Nintendo and the Switch, but I happen to think they’ll keep doing just fine.
And with Halo Infinite no longer making the launch of Xbox Series X, the importance of GamePass Ultimate and xCloud have never been more vital. Phil Spencer and co have to keep increasing the value of the GamePass and rumours suggest they’ve got some big announcements to come before launch.
Sony, on the other hand, are doing things differently. Yes, they have their own subscription network with PlayStation Now, though it doesn’t get the same headlines as GamePass. They also offer streaming of their own, extending to their older titles, though the backwards compatibility prospects of PS5 still remain a bit of a mystery.
Where PS5 is making the headlines is in its exclusives, its unique, custom made architecture, and the DualSense controller.
Let’s be blunt about it, PS5 is already boasting bigger name exclusives over its main rival. Spider-Man Miles Morales. Demon’s Souls. Horizon 2, Ratchet & Clank. Then it has some really great looking third party bangers like Deathloop and Godfall.
Out of the gate, Sony are coming swinging, and that alone would probably be enough to sell a console to people. But then we’ve heard stories about developers calling PS5 ‘revolutionary’ and it will change the way games are developed forever due to its custom SSD and architecture.
And then there’s the DualSense controller, Sony’s evolution of the much beloved Dualshock. By the sounds of things, this isn’t just a series of fancy gimmicks, but there could actually be some accessibility benefits to its features and some smart ways to get gamers to change how they play.
A new PS blog post highlighted some of the creative possibilities of the controller. In Spider-Man Miles Morales, for example, players will get hints as to ‘which direction attacks are coming from’ through ‘haptic feedback from the appropriate direction on the DualSense wireless controller’
Another cool feature is that if you ‘hold down Square to do a Venom Punch, you feel Spider-Man’s bio-electricity crackle across from the left side of the controller, culminating in the right side on impact.’ Wow!
Deathloop sounds the most intriguing, though, as the game will start ‘blocking the triggers when your weapon jams, to give to the player an immediate feedback even before the animation plays out’ which possibly impacts the way they play the game.
It goes further still, as the Godfall developers indicate you will be able to tell what weapon you’re holding based on how the DualSense feels in your hands – nullifying the need to look at your UI – and Japan Studio say you’ll be able to feel Astro Bot’s steps on different surfaces.
It’s hard to tell without trying yourself, but this does sound like more than just a simple rumbling controller. It actually makes the DualSense a core feature of the game and enhances the experience in untold ways, which might make it difficult to convert those experiences to other systems.
There are a lot of whispers about how each console will be able to handle third party games, with some giving the edge to Sony and others to Microsoft. No one will really know until we’re playing the games ourselves, but what is definitively obvious is that this generation feels different because the manufacturers have both adopted very different stances.
Both Sony and Microsoft clearly see the games industry going in very different directions. Amongst everything else, Sony are apparently doubling down on their VR support – with news still forthcoming on that – and Microsoft how sought to create the most powerful console ever made, but also be more consumer friendly in creating low barriers of entry to access their content – old and new.
So low, in fact, some argue you don’t even need to buy the console itself right away because your Xbox One or PC can handle everything just fine for the foreseeable future.
Because of that, early indications suggest Sony’s PS5 will get the brighter start – not a surprise considering its strong userbase at present – but Phil Spencer has also indicated that, for him, this isn’t about who can sell the most consoles. And that strategy could see Xbox in more homes than a PS5 by Christmas because of the emphasis on digital streaming. In a roundabout way.
For now, I think this generation is too difficult to predict. While it seems easy to say Sony will run away with things, the metrics are so different this time, and the argument about ‘who ends up on top’ will likely have more to do with how trends in the entertainment industry evolve over the next five years.
Does VR fade into obscurity or continue to build momentum as a force in entertainment? Do people want to keep paying for even more subscription services and do developers decide that they’re not making enough money so stop supporting them? Does xCloud ever appear on iOS devices or remain an Android exclusive – will it actually be something people use? Will DualSense actually change the way people play or be something we turn off our controllers in six months time when its novelty wears off?
Perhaps most importantly, which console will see third party games playing the best – is Sony’s custom architecture going to present development problems or will it be right on the cutting edge? It’s a real roll of the dice.
The complex story of the marketing of this generation will be the stuff of legend for years to come, but it’s only a very small part of a much more dynamic puzzle. Once those consoles launch, the way we play video games will change forever – one way or another.