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Console War VII (Part 2) January 31, 2023

Posted by Maniac in Console War, Histories.

Welcome back to the Console War where we are quickly headed into the present. As we start this story, Microsoft had announced their next console and Google’s Stadia was essentially dead on arrival. Pokemania’s second wave had started to cool, but the Switch platform was still going strong. Even the Switch Lite had fantastic ongoing sales, as the lower price point was a big incentive for players who had no interest in owning a modern HDTV. What was going to happen next? Sony was about to announce their next console, the PlayStation 5.

In due time, Sony announced their next console would be the PlayStation 5. The first talk about it was mostly technical details, and some of it focused on 3D special audio capabilities. Eventually, two PS5 consoles were revealed, and the only difference between them was that one would include a disc drive and the other would not. Otherwise they’d still be able to play the same games at exactly the same visual standard and performance.

Like the Xbox Series could support Xbox One titles, Sony announced users would be able to play PS4 games on the PS5 through backwards compatibility. Unfortunately, unless the user was engaging in backwards compatibility, PS4 accessories would not work on the PS5 with the exception of the PlayStation VR. However, the PS5’s camera was incompatible with the PSVR, so VR owners would need to obtain an adapter to get their old PS4’s camera working on the PS5. This adapter could be gotten for free on Sony’s website and would be sent out if a user provided Sony Support their PSVR’s serial number.

When Microsoft announced they would be releasing games for both the Xbox One and Xbox Series moving forward, Sony did as well. Major titles including Spider-Man: Miles Morales would get released on both the PS4 and PS5. When Microsoft announced any Xbox cross platform game would only need to ship on a single game package, Sony refused to go this route. Instead of releasing multiplatform games in a single package or offering one-purchase-both-platform digital sales for PS4 and PS5 games, Sony would continue to publish separate PS4 and PS5 disc packages to retail and charge a premium upgrade fee for several titles that shipped on both consoles. PS4 games would typically play on a PS5 using backwards compatibility, but PS5 discs would not work on the PS4. Some PS4 games (such as Control: Ultimate Edition) would offer the ability to play the PS5 native version of the game natively, but it wasn’t always certain if your game would actually launch as a PS4 or PS5 game even if you inserted a PS5 disc into your PS5. Also, saves from PS4 games would not be compatible with their PS5 version, and developers would need to create a conversion tool inside their PS4 games if they wished their users to carry over their progress to the PS5.

Despite these issues, expectations were high for the PS5. As the PS4 was declared the winner of the previous generation of the console war, Sony was walking into the PS5’s generation as the clear frontrunner. Both the PS5 and Xbox Series consoles launched in Fall 2020, but even if you were a hardcore gamer it would be difficult for you to even know it. As I mentioned before, most major titles for the new consoles would have previous generation releases. Unlike the PS4/Xbox One generation that completely cut new releases for the PS3 and Xbox 360 on day one of the PS4/Xbox One launches, games are still coming to the older Sony and MS platforms to this day. Sadly, multi-generational releases weren’t the only reason most people didn’t realize the new consoles were out and I think now is the time for us to address the elephant in the room.

Most people didn’t realize the Xbox Series X or the PS5 released was because you couldn’t find any of them in any store for years after they officially released. In 2020, one of the worst pandemics humanity had ever seen was running wild, forcing most people to stay home. Since the most common activity for people to do while staying home was to play video games, for several months most people did exactly that. Knowing this, several “opportunistic” individuals focused on buying up as much of the stock of game consoles as they could. I believe their intention was to hoard their purchases with the intention to resell at exorbitant price increases. Since there was no difference in the minds of most people, ALL game consoles, be it a Nintendo Switch, a PlayStation or an Xbox, would be bought up almost as soon as they made it to retail for the purpose of a quick resell.

For two years, new consoles were nearly impossible to find at retail. This was a major problem for gamers interested in upgrading their equipment, or people with existing consoles that failed on them and needed to be replaced. This also makes it difficult to keep track of the console war’s pacing, as due to the resale market, it was literally meaningless to track sales during this time. Since none could be found on shelves, all a sales figure would tell you was how many consoles were MADE as of the time it was recorded.

At the height of this demand for new consoles, Nintendo made the announcement they would release a new Switch revision, a Switch with an OLED screen. This new Switch was capable of playing all existing Switch games on a beautiful OLED screen. However, other than including a built-in Ethernet port, everything else about the OLED Switch was the same as the original model and it still output in a 1080p while docked. Gamers everywhere had been clamoring for Nintendo to launch a Nintendo Switch capable of outputting in native 4K resolution and the Switch OLED just could not do that. However, the new screen was absolutely beautiful and the influx of new stock of consoles helped Nintendo have product on retail shelves in time for the Holidays.

Two years into the console war, the resale market would start to crater, and the new generation of consoles could finally be found on retail shelves for people to purchase. Not including Nintendo Switch, the first console to eventually be able to be found on the shelves of normal retailers was the Xbox Series X, several months later gamers could find PS5s. At the same time PS5s began showing up on retail shelves, Sony released several incredible PS5 exclusives, including God of War: Ragnarok and a remaster of the PS3 masterpiece The Last of Us. Sales for the PS5 and the new games coming for the platform pushed it ahead for this generation.

So why was the PS5 outselling the Xbox once again? It came down to the games. Most of the major games coming to the Xbox platform haven’t generated much interest, especially with Microsoft’s major focus on microtransaction-filled multiplayer arena titles. Halo: Infinite, a major poster child for the Xbox Series launch, was delayed several months past the console’s launch. When it eventually did release, it was a disappointment. Sony, on the other hand has been continuing their tradition of producing epic single-player adventures with a major focus on plot and story.

Why did Sony have the best exclusives? After getting burned badly in the initial launch period of the Xbox One, most third-party publishers ceased doing exclusive games for Microsoft. They knew Microsoft’s market share would not allow them to generate enough sales to warrant an exclusive game, regardless of how much Microsoft offered them up front. Microsoft’s only answer to solve the problem of all these companies refusing to produce exclusive games for them was to just outright buy their companies. Microsoft has purchased not just several independent game developers like Double Fine, they also bought several major publishers including Bethesda and as of this writing they’re trying to get approval to purchase Activision. However, while that may be a winning strategy for them in the long term, in the short term it hasn’t been working out.

Microsoft also devoted itself to making all of its major first-party releases multiplaform. That meant you didn’t need to play Halo: Infinite on the Xbox Series X or S, you could play it on the Xbox One or PC. While this was very consumer-friendly, it meant major titles were left unoptimized for the individual platforms. People who did play the game on the Series X, myself included, were disappointed with its graphics and performance on what was supposedly Microsoft’s high-end console. Meanwhile, Sony’s games took full advantage of the hardware capabilities of the PS5.

At the end of 2022, Google announced they would be shutting down the Stadia service. It turned out the expectations of literally every gamer aware of their history had come to pass, and Google realized they weren’t generating enough income with their individual game sales to justify continuing to operate the expensive service. With the shutdown, gamers who made Stadia purchases would be completely locked out of their games. To relieve the concerns (or possibly to avoid lawsuits) Google announced they would refund ALL Stadia hardware and software purchases made during the platform’s lifespan. They would not, however, refund gamers who paid for the monthly premium Stadia service. Gamers with existing Stadia hardware could continue to use their Chromecast Ultras without Stadia functionality (something I can attest most people were doing already) and Stadia Controllers worked fine on conventional PC games. As a last gesture to generate goodwill, Google released a hardware update for the controllers to enable wireless Bluetooth capabilities, but they also worked fine with their provided USB cable.

As we move into 2023, both Sony and Nintendo could argue their way into the frontrunner positions, and Microsoft was not counting themselves out of the game just yet. Stadia is dead, and will live on as a memory of failure in nearly every way conceivable. Sony has recently revealed their next generation PSVR, that they’re calling the PSVR2. Who’s to say what will happen next?



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