Both Sony and Microsoft have confirmed a handful of details about their next-generation consoles, effectively laying the groundwork for the upcoming console war. Team Xbox has revealed the release date, specs, and games coming to the Project Scarlett consoles at E3 2019; while Sony unveiled its plans for the PlayStation 5 in April.
There are still some important questions that need to be answered — how games will run when they’re being streamed from the cloud is arguably the main one — but gamers now have a clearer idea of the tradeoffs they will face when the devices go on sale, likely toward the end of next year. Moments before Microsoft execs took the stage for Xbox’s E3 presentation, a trusted source tweeted that about the PS5’s likeliest strengths.
Though a lot could change between now and 2020, right now it seems that Sony plans to emphasize the PS5’s computing and graphics punch, according to Andrew Reiner, the executive editor of Game Informer. While both consoles will have custom CPU and GPUs by chipmaker AMD, it is possible that one architecture will still wind up working better than the other. The problem for Sony? Even if Xbox Scarlett gets the short end of the stick, its Game Pass and xCloud plans will still give it a key point of differentiation.
By relying solely on specs, PS5 risks putting all its eggs into one basket.
Why Sony’s PS5 Plans Seem Risky
During E3, Microsoft announced that its catalog of Game Pass titles will now be playable on PC for $9.99 per month, and it also revealed that trials for its cloud gaming service, xCloud, would begin in October. Both of these services will bring games that were once only available for Xbox users to anyone who wants to play them.
This strategy gives Microsoft a way to target diehard PS5 fanatics. In this scenario, Sony fans would opt to buy a PS5, but then subscribe to Game Pass or xCloud so they can access exclusives like Halo Infinite and Gears 5 from their computers or smartphones.
In other words, to give Microsoft their money, gamers won’t need to commit to either side, a factor which Tom Wijman — a senior market analyst at the gaming market analytics firm Newzoo — told Inverse could lead to more people playing Microsoft games overall.
“Microsoft’s games will be available with or without an Xbox console,” he said. “It will be easier than ever for players to play both PlayStation and Microsoft games.”
The advent of cloud gaming and subscription services will prevent consumers from being locked into a certain ecosystem because of the hardware they own. In turn, this will make winning the console war less about sheer computing and graphics power and more about enticing customers with heavy-hitting titles. Microsoft seems to understand just that.
It dedicated a majority of its E3 2019 conference to teasing the massive roster of upcoming games that will be available on Game Pass and eventually xCloud. These include iconic console exclusive titles like Halo Infinite and Gears 5 that PS5 lovers will still be able to enjoy, with or without an Xbox.
You buy a console once, or you can pay a subscription fee forever. That’s why Microsoft could still win the impending console war even if, paradoxically, they sell fewer consoles in the short term. Its secret will be giving gamers the freedom to play the games they want when they want. Without a similar strategy for Sony, the PS5 will run the risk of becoming irrelevant.