This upcoming year is set to be eventful to say the very least as both Sony and Microsoft are set to release their next gen consoles come the end of 2020. Though this is far from a two horse race given that the Nintendo Switch just had an unbelievable 2019 and this will be the first full year living in a world where Google Stadia exists. So who will come out on top? And what does each company need to do in order to snatch up your hard earn money ahead of their competitors? Let’s dive into it.
Taking a look back to when the PS4 and Xbox One both launched in 2013, it’s clear that marketing will play a huge role in the upcoming console war. The way the Xbox One was marketed to consumers compared to the PS4’s infamous ‘For the players’ campaign was nothing short of a disaster for Microsoft. We all know the story by now about how Sony not only undercut Microsoft but also went in the complete opposite direction of Xbox’s all in one system in favour of being a games console before anything else. It made going team blue a very straight forward decision for the majority of players and has left Xbox playing catch up ever since. Though let’s not forget when the shoe was on the other foot back in 2005/6. The Xbox 360 was able to launch an entire year earlier than the PS3 at nearly half the price, meaning unless you were either made of money or a complete Playstation loyalist, the smart move was to go with Xbox. Sony’s arrogance after the domination of the PS2 turned out to be their downfall with a disastrous PS3 launch which took them an entire generation (and some game changing exclusives) to recover from. This all goes to show how important a successful launch can be, it proves that a lot of customers aren’t necessarily dedicated to one brand and will often go with what they see as the best deal. So what happens this time? Well history would dictate that it’s Sonys turn to execute a horrible launch but the truth is probably that both companies have learnt from previous mistakes and this console war could potentially be the tightest yet.
Let’s start with Microsoft. The Xbox Series X has been announced for Holiday 2020 and they’ve already started showing off a few decent titles such as Hellblade 2 as well as promising instant load times and more. I can’t help but feel though that their attention when marketing this beast should be aimed at one place and one place only – Xbox Game Pass. I just spoke about Xbox playing catch up for the majority of this generation and the way they’ve been most successful in doing that is massively down to the popular Game Pass service. Acting as the Netflix of video games, Game Pass has been a huge success for Microsoft and serves as a brilliant way for players to get their hands on a multitude of titles for a bargain price, including newly released big Xbox exclusives. Although the Xbox One originally priced out many players at launch, there’s now an argument to be made that a new Xbox (particularly the cheaper discless Xbox One S) with a Game Pass subscription is the cheapest and easiest way for a new player to get started. Hell, even a lot of veteran players including many here at Respawning have taken advantage of Game Pass in order to catch up on games they’ve missed out on in the past. This surely must be Microsoft’s path back to the top… I don’t have a clue at what price point both consoles will launch at but throwing in a month or more of free Game Pass would be a major selling point for players, especially given the service is bound to feature brand new next gen games, saving us the hassle of having to buy expensive new games on top of a brand new console. Remember how PlayStation took a direct shot at Xbox with their video on how to trade and borrow games over the PS4? Well imagine if Xbox do something similar, they could easily do an advert where one customer is buying a PS5 as well as struggling to pick one game they can barely afford to go with it, whilst at the same time the cheery Xbox buyer takes his console home and gets instant access to hundreds of games. Now that would be some serious shots fired!
So what can Sony do to counter this? Of course they have their PlayStation Now service which is clearly intended to challenge Xbox Game Pass but hasn’t had much luck so far! Trying to take on Microsoft head to head with what they do best has bad idea written all over it. For me Sony need to stick to what they do best and that’s exclusive games. The majority of PS4 owners I speak to seem to have one reason why they wouldn’t turn to the green side and that’s the games. Game Pass may have access to hundreds of titles but it will never be able to boast the likes of God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Bloodborne, the Uncharted series, The Last of Us and so much more. The list of successful PlayStation exclusives over the last decade plus is absolutely incredible and is the reason I’m a proud PS4 owner and haven’t even been tempted by an Xbox since the 360 launched. So it’s simple right? The PS5 launches with Uncharted 5… well it’s not that simple. Naughty Dog have clearly been tied up with The Last Of Us: Part 2 which although should be available on PS5, is clearly intended to be the PS4’s swan song. There’s been little word on when we’ll see the highly anticipated God of War sequel and Spider-Man 2 is rumoured for a 2021 release. In fact most big PlayStation exclusive sequels seem quite far away. The only big exclusive that appears to be ready to go for next gen is the sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn (I’m basing this purely off rumours). As amazing as this would be for fans of the first one it may not be enough to prize people away from the temptation of Game Pass, especially when that is likely to include something like Halo Infinite. Maybe Sony have something else up their sleeve for launch, maybe even a new IP, but if they’re smart they’ll push the fact that these massive exclusives are coming and the PS5 is the only way to get them. Do that and they’ll have my money again.
So what about Nintendo? The Japanese giants of course won’t have any major hardware out in 2020, at least as far as we’re aware anyway, there’s a chance we might see some sort of Switch Pro but that’s just a rumour at this point. Well this is the simplest one out the lot, they just carry on doing what they do. It’s hard to actually include Nintendo in these console wars as they seem to exist within their own little bubble, carrying on as if the other rival companies don’t exist. They won’t be releasing a console to compete at the same time, they won’t be running their own Game Pass like system and don’t expect a PS plus/Games with Gold like service anytime either. And why should they? They’re doing perfectly well as they are! The Nintendo Switch is just coming off the back of an incredibly successful 2019 in which it seems everyone and their mother invested in a Switch or it’s little brother – the Switch Lite. Nintendo have placed themselves in a perfect position where people aren’t picking between their console and something similar as there is nothing similar to the Switch. It’s so unique with an amazing library of exclusive titles that it’s hard for players not to buckle and buy a Switch. I will say though that I don’t know many people who play the Switch as their main console, especially given the power it lacks in comparison to the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. Though that hasn’t stopped people from making this their secondary gaming device, especially for people who are desperate for something to play on the go. Having just purchased a Switch Lite myself to fill those train journeys to work and to make going for a poo a lot more exciting, I can see exactly why it’s sold so well and why it will continue to do so despite PlayStation and Xbox going to war once again. Nintendo will compete just fine by choosing not to compete at all.
Let’s wrap this up by talking about the new boys in town. Google Stadia already launched at the tail end of 2019 and despite having no competitors launching at the same time, still managed to balls it up! Is there anyway back for the streaming only service? Of course there is, it’s Google and in case you didn’t know, they have a little bit of cash to spend. The question is – do they want to? Google have a bit of a history of pulling out of big projects when the going gets tough and this could prove to be one of those occasions. Let’s play along though and assume they do want to compete, how do they do it? Well I think it’s pretty straight forward, they need to offer next gen titles to players with the USP being that you don’t need to fork out for an expensive console. Sure most “hardcore gamers” will always opt for a super powerful console but what about your casuals? People who just want to play GTA and FIFA and not hear about how damn good The Witcher 3 is, these are who Stadia should be targeting if they’re smart. Chances are that most of you reading this have already decided against Stadia so why fight a loosing battle? Go for the people who are happy to sacrifice quality to be able to play the latest games for the cost price alone and just pray they cut costs on their broadband package…
So there we have it, Microsoft and Sony must both learn from the past and concentrate on what they do best. If that happens then I predict the tightest console war we’ve ever seen. Nintendo will casually drop Breath of the Wild 2 in the middle of these major console launches and it will perform incredibly well, proving once again that they live independently to what’s going on around them. And as for Google Stadia, well it comes down to how bad Google want it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the service gone before 2021 but who knows, maybe they’re the dark horse in this war. Whatever happens I’m excited! Here’s to an exciting 2020 which will undoubtedly leave us all quite a bit poorer than we were in 2019.Become a Patron!