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November is all about the Microsoft Xbox Series X|S and the Sony PlayStation 5. The new consoles from these two major manufacturers are extremely exciting for many reasons – and not only for gamers. They both set the direction in which the future of gaming might develop, whilst offering quite different approaches. Consumers will decide where their own preferences lie as the business community eagerly awaits the progress of the launches and feedback from their target groups.

Whilst Microsoft has already released the Xbox Series X|S on November 11 2020, the PlayStation 5 will be released in Europe on November 19, 2020. The design of the consoles already show that both manufacturers are entering a new era.

 

Two consoles, four options

What catches the eye first: Both consoles are available in two different versions. Microsoft’s flagship is the Xbox Series X for 499 €. The Xbox Series X offers a 4K gaming atmosphere and the technically slimmed down Xbox Series S delivers a native 1440 resolution. Both are advertised with smooth gameplay of up to 120 FPS (120 frames per second). All models of this new console generation offer maximum resolutions up to 8K-UHD. The biggest difference between the two Microsoft consoles, apart from their performance, is the choice of game genre and price. Only the Xbox Series X can play physical discs, the Series S remains dependent on downloads or streaming without a corresponding drive and costs 299 €.

Sony also releases the PlayStation 5 as a digital edition without a drive (399 €) and with a Bluray drive (499 €). Apart from the drive, the two versions are identical.

Both options show the future of gaming, also in terms of distribution, is digital. Some observers go even further and predict that this console generation could be the last of its kind. After all, ongoing digitization, streaming and digital subscription models are moving even further into focus. In principle, gamers no longer require increasingly powerful hardware at their own home due to games being rendered in the cloud.

 

The future as a new factor

For many gamers, exclusive titles and the startup lineup are decisive buying arguments for  one or the other console. Only very few buy both consoles right away, which always leads to particularly tough and polarizing discussions in trade magazines, forums and on social media during the launch phase. Microsoft is relying on Halo Infinite, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, Fable 4, Forza Motorsport and Microsoft Flight Simulator, amongst others. But none of these titles are available on day one. In addition, every Xbox Series X game from a first-party studio will be available for the PC and the predecessor console Xbox One – at least for the foreseeable future

Moreover, Microsoft has recently bought major development studios. First of all Bethesda and Obsidian Entertainment as well as others. This means that a number of eagerly awaited titles will be playable via Microsoft for the next two years – a real investment in the future. And in all its recent presentations, Microsoft has been pushing the ecosystem of the Xbox gaming universe as hard as the new console and its hardware. This would have been unthinkable in the past.

Microsoft has also promised that every Xbox One game will be compatible with the Xbox Series X|S and benefit from its improvements. And Microsoft’s Smart Delivery system ensures that when players purchase an Xbox One game that is also available on Xbox Series X, they automatically receive the version of Xbox Series X when they upgrade to the new console. A handful of select Xbox 360 and original Xbox games will also work with the system. The hardware itself is powerful, the specifications give little cause for criticism outside of theoretical discussions.

So there is another factor to consider at the start of this generation. Besides the hardware specs like teraflops, random access memory and refresh rate as well as the game lineup, which are mostly discussed by core gamers, that needs to be considered…the future. How do gamers want to maintain their games in the future, how (backward) compatible can further console generations become, are such hard hardware resets like those between the previous generations every seven years or so still necessary – or desirable?  One can already see from today’s most-played titles like PUBG, Fortnite, League of Legends or Minecraft that a certain continuity in hardware is absolutely necessary. Because these games do not, as they used to in the past, simply receive a completely new version on a regular basis but are constantly being developed further through updates over the years. No one can afford to simply exclude these titles on their platform by a new hardware generation. And this “Games as a Service” concept will strongly influence the development of future hardware including the connected ecosystems – and it’s already doing so.

 

Microsoft: The future is the “Console as a Service

Microsoft seems to be setting the course for a new way here. After they had clearly lost with the Xbox One against Sony’s PlayStation 4 and was recently overtaken even by Nintendo’s surprise success Nintendo Switch in terms of sales figures (which, by the way, is a nice example of the fact that attractive games). Service and usability will always beat pure technical specifications in the long run). Now Microsoft relies on the attractive subscription model of the cross-platform Xbox Game Pass, the prospect of exclusive titles of the most popular game series of the now in-house flagship studios and a service-oriented continuity with existing game series for the latest Xbox. From the beginning, with each new console generation, an improved form from the previous save game can simply be continued. It’s just like buying a new smartphone and transferring the cloud backup to the new device so that you can enjoy the new features and applications in familiar surroundings without having to go without the already familiar features.

 

Sony: Traditional strengths and attractive, permanently exclusive games

Sony relies on exclusive titles like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Horizon: Forbidden West and of course series like Gran Turismo, God of War or The Last of Us, which will only very rarely, if at all, see the light of another platform and – if so – only with a delay of years. Top games, in other words, for which you do need the latest Sony hardware permanently. On paper, the performance specifications of the Playstation 5 is as strong as an ox.

In addition, the PlayStation has gained a very strong starting position during the term of the last two console generations, partly through the smart exploitation of clumsy communication on the part of Microsoft, but also through attractive and exclusive titles and the reliability of the hardware. Today the brand is stronger than ever, although the in-house digital subscription service PlayStation Plus is not particularly innovative and so far shows no signs of ambitions to reshape the console world. It just about covers the basic needs of many gamers for the moment. Moreover, “the gamers” are, in absolute terms, rather conservative anyway, at least as far as radical changes in their hobby are concerned. In hardly any other sector are the “good old days” so glorified as it is with core gamers. From experience, these are the ones who are willing to pay the not inconsiderable sums for the latest consoles directly at launch without any discount action or the like.

The PlayStation 5 should be able to display just about any PS4 game, but no titles from the PS3 or even older consoles. Games optimized for the PS4 Pro, however, are said to keep their improvements on the new generation.

As far as virtual reality is concerned (until recently hyped as the future of gaming, today largely disappeared from the headlines) there is no big news either coming from Microsoft or Sony so far. However, the PlayStation 5 has the advantage of being completely compatible with Sony’s VR headset. 

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