Xbox and PlayStation have been locked in a conflict known as a console war for two decades. Since the launch of the original Xbox in 2001, the war has raged through four console generations. Today I declare the war over. It ended over the weekend during the 2022 Xbox Bethesda showcase not with some climactic battle, but more of a nail in the coffin situation. Todd Howard did not strike the killing blow with Starfield, and neither did Atlus with the announcement of Persona coming to Xbox. Instead, it died with the utterance of one phrase:
“Play it day one with Xbox Game Pass.”
The art of war
I have owned every PlayStation console since the PlayStation 2. I kept coming back to Sony because I just couldn’t pass up the chance to play their first-party titles. Yet I still haven’t purchased a PlayStation 5 (in part because I still can’t find one in stock). When it comes to the experiences I want to play, every time I see a new game that interests me: It is already on Game Pass.
Since the announcement of Game Pass in 2017, the project has often been referred to as the “Netflix” of video games. The analogy works well enough. Like Netflix, Game Pass charges customers a monthly fee to receive access to a catalog of titles that they can experience. The catalog is ever-changing, and you might lose a game every once and a while, but more titles are always coming.
A perfect storm over the past two years has made Microsoft’s gamble on Game Pass wildly successful, leaving Sony stuck in a past focused on single platforms for play. The Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent chip shortage that led to supply issues for both the new Xbox Series consoles and the PS5 exposed Sony’s tendency to invest all its eggs in one basket.
Perouse a handful of “Best Video Games Ever” lists, and you’ll see a fair number of first-party Sony games. Developer Naughty Dog created the Uncharted and Last of Us franchises, both of which are lauded as industry-changing events. On top of that are the likes of Horizon Zero Dawn, Infamous, and God of War. Sony effectively won the last generation’s console war by selling an outrageous number of PS4s and by publishing some of the greatest games of all time on it. The PS4 was the definitive gaming platform, but what happens when PlayStation doesn’t have the games to back up its console anymore?
The PS5 launched with a low supply of exclusives and no killer software. For a company that has always marketed its consoles with a killer game you simply have to play, this current state of things is unfortunate.
The question at the heart of the console wars has always been, “Where is the best place to play video games?”
With the launch of the Xbox Series consoles, Xbox had the same supply issues but also a more diverse ecosystem. Game Pass allowed players to access content on PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S or X, and even through cloud gaming. Microsoft’s mentality with Game Pass is that the new question for gamers isn’t about which gaming console is better to put in their living room, but rather who can offer the best way to play the games they want in as many places as possible. Ease of access trumps quality of content delivered, it would seem.
This year’s Xbox Bethesda showcase featured plenty of games for fans to be excited about. Todd Howard showed off much-anticipated footage of Starfield, Hollow Knight: Silksong made an appearance and is set to be released within the year, and fans of JRPGs can look forward to playing Persona 3, 4, and 5 on Xbox and PC. All these titles are also coming to Game Pass on day one. Of the over 30 games at the showcase, it is easier to count the titles that won’t be coming to Game Pass on day one.
Game Pass is the killer software Xbox never had before. The catalog of over 400+ games contains every genre under the sun. It has also put a spotlight on smaller developers and indie titles. With the announcement of a new initiative for adding demos to Game Pass, Xbox is reaffirming its commitment to bringing the work of smaller developers to larger audiences. In creating a better ecosystem for gamers, Xbox is also fostering a better ecosystem for developers.
As gaming moves past the confines of consoles, the new war between Xbox and Sony is a battle of service. Xbox’s bet on Game Pass has turned into a multifaceted ecosystem that soon won't even require players to have a console. Sony hoped the PS5 would be just as successful as the PS4, and if not for a global pandemic, maybe it would have been. Now Sony has been left to catch up with Xbox, scrambling to create a competitive service in the form of a middling PS Plus refresh. Impressions of the current rollout show that new PS Plus needs a lot of changes if it truly wants to compete with Game Pass.
As Sony has begun to come around to bringing exclusives to PC, I feel less and less motivated to buy a PlayStation. I find myself more willing to wait a year or more for Sony to bring their newest titles to PC. Perhaps best of all?
I don't need to worry about not having any games to play while I wait, because I have Xbox Game Pass.