PS5 Versus Xbox: How to Win a Console War

Having observed console wars with near-religious fervor since fighting a childhood friend over my PS2 being vastly superior to his oversized Xbox, I can say that there are really only two factors in determining who will win a console war: opening price point and who has the best games. 

Specs do not matter as much as the marketing from both Sony and Microsoft will try to convince us they do. The Xbox Series X and Playstation 5 are going to be faster and more powerful than the previous generation. Higher resolution and frame rates will not be unique to either console.

That 8K support that is being touted is cute but it’s not going to matter for another few years. We’re still just getting to widespread adoption of 4K content, so while the future-proofing is appreciated, but meaningless at the moment. If you want to win me over, give me a console that is not super expensive and that has great games, okay?

The Playstation’s collection of exclusive titles gave it major advantage over rival Microsoft in the last console war
The Playstation’s collection of exclusive titles gave it major advantage over rival Microsoft in the last console war

Sony lost the battle between its PS3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 by charging $600 out of the gate. Microsoft then turned around and lost the next console war to Sony by charging an extra $100 for the Xbox One with Kinect, pushing the price up to $500 vs. the PS4’s $400.  $400-$450 is still the sweet spot for this next generation but both companies might be able to get creative.

It is possible that the rise of financing services like Klarna and Afterpay will mitigate a high price tag. Yes, there will be sticker shock if a Sony executive announces a $700 PS5 at E3, but if they bundle it with other services (PSN + Playstation Now), maybe it’s more compelling for a lot of gamers? 

Microsoft already offers Surface bundles that allow you to buy the device, an accessory, Office 365, and support in case your device is eaten by a giant computer eating squid or it falls off of your desk and the screen is shattered.

They could bundle the Series X, Game Pass, Xbox Live, Project XCloud (MSFT’s cloud gaming play) and a special warranty and support for something like $45 a month over several years to make that $650 launch price a little more palatable. Nothing has been announced yet of course, but I think there are ways around a high price point that make it less detrimental to a successful launch. 

Microsoft’s Project xCloud will allow gamers to stream games wherever, whenever (as long as the Wifi is good)
Microsoft’s Project xCloud will allow gamers to stream games wherever, whenever (as long as the Wifi is good)

So while pricing is important, the winner of the next console war is going to be who gives us the best games. Launch titles will matter. Both Sony and Microsoft will support backwards compatibility (you can play your old games on the new console) but they will need to come out of the gate with some good new games.

The rivals can take a page out of Nintendo’s book and look at the success of the Switch. It’s not the most powerful console by any stretch. Many of its first-year titles were ports of old Wii U games and whacky party games like Arms. They did not even drop a new Mario game until later that fall. But they gave us Zelda: Breath of the Wild, probably the best game of the last generation. Breath of the Wild (BOTW) was exceptional and won a handful of awards and critical acclaim. Without it, the Switch probably staggers into the Fall launch of Super Mario.

Sony and Microsoft should already have games in the pipeline that can have the same wow factor as BOTW. Both consoles will have probably have similar 3P support for their consoles at launch (I’m guessing 2K, FIFA, a COD game, and maybe CD Projekt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077), but Sony may also be able to launch the highly anticipated Last of Us 2, giving it a huge leg up on Microsoft (unless they have some unannounced game that can one-up it).

To Microsoft’s credit, they’ve purchased five studios in the last two years in an effort to build their own stable of first-party titles. The trailer for Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 showed us an in-engine render of the game that looks stunning. We don’t know if these games will rival what Sony has managed to build over the last 25 years, but it is encouraging to see them continue to invest in the space and keep the pressure on Sony. 

So now we sit back and wait for incremental leaks about the capabilities of these two consoles prior to launch. Both will more than likely be announced in June at E3 and then we’ll see what this generation of consoles has to offer in terms of specs, pricing, and launch titles. This past generation was supposedly the end of the line for console gaming but we should be excited that we’ll get at least one more to play with.