A reader considers Microsofts options for the next generation of consoles and how they might fare against both Google and Sony.
Has Microsoft already conceded the next gen console race in favour of broadening their audience? Although I dont believe Microsoft are necessarily resigned to losing, I certainly think theyre fully prepared for that scenario. Xbox has altered the metrics for a while now, avoiding hardware sales figures in favour of active users. Therefore, I cant help but think Microsofts strategy derives more from circumstance than by design. If the roles were reversed and Xbox was on top this generation, would they be so eager to get Xbox onto multiple devices? I suggest their situation has at least hastened their plans.
The counter to this theory is the threat Google Stadia now poses, which Microsoft obviously saw coming and gives validation to their shift in focus. Whether live streaming is a viable alternative to playing natively on a console is another debate, with too many questions unanswered at this stage. Until the service is out in the wild, contending with various Internet speeds, not to mention pricing, only then will we discover how much of a threat Google pose. Its the future, no doubt, but is the gaming industry equipped and ready? More importantly, are the gamers? Im not so sure, theres too many variables to consider.
Microsoft, meanwhile, whilst keen to promote xCloud, will continue to provide consoles for the foreseeable future. Its clear getting Xbox onto as many devices as possible is the long-term plan. It could be argued their latest philosophy is an admission they cant compete directly with Sony in the console space alone. When you consider the respective wealth of each company its almost absurd to suggest Xbox cant compete. Whatever their real motivation, its at least interesting to see both Microsoft and Sony differentiate themselves in their respective plans.
Not all Xbox fans are going to be pleased by their aspirations for growth however, which some will complain dilutes the brand. From a personal perspective somebody playing the same game on another platform is of no consequence, though it undoubtedly diminishes the need to purchase a console when theres alternatives available. Microsoft are perfectly fine with this situation, as long as you are invested into their ecosystem. I dont think they care whether its Xbox, PC, or other formats. Its the other formats aspect which has raised some eyebrows though, with Switch recently touted and dare I say almost inevitable.
Whilst I dont envisage a scenario remotely like the start of this generation, it seems obvious Sonys more traditional stance will again reap its rewards. It was a major factor back in 2013, and Im sure it will be in 2020. Sony are in the enviable position of being able to continue where they left off, with not a great deal to improve upon. The hardware will be more capable of course, along with a successor to PlayStation VR, but in terms of games, aside from a strong multiplayer offering, theyve most bases covered.
In my view this generation of consoles was a significant one to lose. Its safe to assume Sony will offer backwards compatibility for PlayStation 4 games: the x86 console architecture dictates it will be much easier to implement, and a no-brainer incentive. Couple this with the fact digital sales are considerably higher, having customers already invested into an ecosystem takes on greater significance. It also comes down to form, with a number of highly acclaimed exclusives on offer, you have a fanbase which is going to be extremely difficult to budge.
It becomes a situation not dissimilar from your phone, where changing brand becomes such an inconvenience; unconsciously you become the loyal customer they want. But then Im sure Microsoft are already well aware how customer investment works, hence why expanding becomes a necessity. The Sony formula can soon become stale of course, but whether Xbox are in a position to capitalise remains to be seen.
From a business perspective, getting games onto as many platforms as possible makes perfect sense, as it would obviously be more lucrative in the long run, but at what cost to console sales? Phil Spencer has made a lot of noise about going after 2 billion gamers by opening up their audience to iOS and Android devices, but the user who plays Candy Crush on a phone is vastly different from your average console gamer.
Microsoft has recognised content was their biggest failing in recent years, and to their credit theyve addressed this with several studio acquisitions. The problem is theres no shortcut to getting their first party portfolio in order. Introducing consumer friendly features like Game Pass is great in principle, but as Netflix – which Microsoft continually references – proves exclusive content is what defines the service. Xbox can still possess exclusive content without being tied to a console, which is clearly their mindset.
For Xbox to be successful globally, they will need a much stronger foundation – which has to stem from the console business. To suggest Halo Infinite is their most important release ever is an understatement. The gaming landscape is vastly different now, with free-to-play battle royale games grabbing most of the headlines. The younger generation of gamers wont even know what Halo is, but to stand any chance of redemption 343 must deliver a Halo game that is nothing short of a bona fide system seller. That is the pressure they face, and Im sure Microsoft has heavily invested the time and resources to ensure it stands every chance.
You only have to look at what Sony has potentially lined up with PlayStation 5, with The Last Of Us Part II possibly being a cross-gen title, along with Death Stranding, Ghosts Of Tsushima, and another Horizon Zero Read More