The ninth generation of consoles will be released next month. The previous eighth generation is gradually disappearing into the past, and it is a good time, to sum up the results of this era. How did the PS4 and Xbox One launch, and how did their rivalry go? Let’s go over it together.
Sixth and seventh console generation competition.
First of all, let’s go back to the seventh generation because PS4 and Xbox One predecessors’ success and failure directly influenced how they came out. In the sixth generation, Sony came out on top with the PS1 and PS2, eliminating all competitors and achieving incredible sales in the global market. Microsoft buried the first Xbox without a second thought to quickly jump into the HD era and released the Xbox 360 in 2005. Sony did not see it as a serious competitor, proudly claiming,
“The next generation doesn’t start until we say it does,”
Sony’s pride peaked at E3 2006 when PS3 games were presented to the public, and the price was announced.
“We’re not interested in gimmicks, clever rhetoric, or conventional thinking.”
Kaz Hirai, head of SCE’s US division, announced, showing the Sixaxis controller, whose main feature was the introduction of ridiculous motion control. For its sake, Sony argued, they had to give up vibration.
For the console, Sony asked for a considerable amount – $ 599. PlayStation creator Ken said it’s still cheap and added,
“…is it not nonsense to compare the charge for dinner at the company cafeteria with dinner at a fine restaurant?”
In another interview, he went further:
“for consumers to think to themselves ‘I will work more hours to buy one’. We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else.”
Such statements could not but turn the audience against Sony.
The launch of the PS3 was naturally a failure. Motion-sensing games were terrible. The promised backward compatibility with PS1 and PS2 quickly disappeared from the console. The graphics in the games were much worse than what the fake pre-release trailers and screenshots promised. Sony’s initiatives like PlayStation Home were stillborn. The players missed the vibration. The developers struggled: programming for the Cell processor was tricky, Sony was not particularly eager to help them, it was incredibly hard for foreign studios.
Meanwhile, the Xbox 360, built on a much more accessible architecture, enjoyed the love of developers, both Western and Japanese, formerly loyal to Sony. While the PS3 stumbled at launch, the Xbox 360 already boasted successful, spectacular, high-tech games, a user-friendly interface, great online features, and achievements. The face of the Xbox at the time was Peter Moore, a lively Englishman with Halo 2 and GTA IV tattoos, in stark contrast to the Japanese suit-wearing executives.
Both Kutaragi and Moore left their posts in 2007. But the deed was already done: the Xbox 360 was firmly in the lead in the HD console race in the USA market as 2010, while Sony, the former market leader, was behind, losing both Microsoft and Nintendo, which gathered a record audience on the “gimmicks” that Sony so proudly disowned.
The Wii’s success prompted both of its competitors to start looking for their own gimmick that could be sold to the general public. In 2009-2010, Sony struggled to sell the PS Move, it is equivalent of the Wii remote, to everyone. In 2012, it was the PlayStation Mobile service. All of these initiatives have ended in failure – and perhaps for the better.
The Xbox 360 gimmick suddenly took off: the Kinect sensor in 2010 sold 8 million copies in a couple of months, got into the Guinness Book of Records – and thereby determined what the next Microsoft console will be.
PlayStation 4 and Xbox One Concept and announcement.
During the design of the PS4 and Xbox One, the roles of Sony and Microsoft changed: the first was playing catch-up, while the second was leading (especially in the critical American market). The approach has also changed: this time Microsoft became snobby and turned away from the gamers. Indeed the success of the Kinect, which made the centerpiece of the new console, played an essential role in this.
The Xbox One was not conceived as just a gaming console, but as an “ultimate home entertainment system”, all-in-one (hence the name). Moreover, it was created by a different team than the previous two Microsoft consoles, and this was noticeable. After the departure of Peter Moore, the gaming division of the company was headed by Don Mattrick – a man who did not believe in Xbox so much that he almost blocked the presentation of the first Microsoft console at EA, where he worked then. Mattrick had not been in development since the ’90s and did not seem to care much about games.
It was obvious from the first Xbox One presentation. Call of Duty was briefly shown there, but much more attention was paid to Kinect, Skype, and the fact that the console is ready to replace a digital TV receiver.
Sport. A television. A must-have Kinect that always ear drops even when turned off. The need to be online all the time (“Fortunately, we have a product for people who can’t connect to the network, it’s called the Xbox 360,” Mattrick said at the time). Inability to resell and share games. Lack of backward compatibility. A stupid title that suggests the first Xbox. The high price of $ 499. Delayed by a year in most countries around the world … The number of blunders Microsoft made long before the Xbox One launched was staggering.
And the reaction of gamers did not take long. Despite the fact that most of the above problems were fixed in one way or another (some before release, some after), the damage had already been done. And the Xbox One never recovered from it.
Don Mattrick left Microsoft a couple of months after the disastrous Xbox One announcement. He went to Zynga, which suffered huge losses under his management, and then disappeared somewhere.
In contrast, Sony has done an indicative work on PS3 bugs. The leading designer of the PS4 is Mark Cerny, a veteran developer. He created some engines for PS3 games and knew firsthand about all the problems of the complex architecture of Cell – so the PS4 was originally created simpler, more accessible, similar to modern computers. And in this process, both Western and Eastern developers participated. It was a pure game console – practically devoid of unnecessary gadgets, working exactly the same as the previous ones. Sony gave gamers exactly what they wanted and capitalized on the Microsoft fiasco. The successful launch was in their pocket.
Sales from Xbox One and PS4 to Xbox One X and PS4 Pro.
PS4 and Xbox One sales started at the end of 2013. Although Microsoft reported then about record results for the console of the Xbox family, PS4 was far ahead – one and a half times more sales. Sony instantly broke into the lead, and soon Microsoft began to shyly hide the sale of Xbox One, citing the fact that the results of Xbox Live are most important to hear, not the console.
And it’s not like Microsoft was sitting idly by. In 2014, the company’s gaming division was headed to Phil Spencer – he instantly “untied” the Kinect from the console, reduced its price, and emphasized that Xbox One will be exclusively about from now on games. It tripled sales, but this still did not help to catch up to the PS4. Xbox ONE not only lost the initiative at the start but, in general, was a weaker console than the PS4. Games that ran at 1080p on the PlayStation 4 ran at 900p or 720p on the Xbox One. This significantly hit the platform’s prestige. In the middle of the eighth generation, Microsoft had a chance to fix the gap in numbers. Sony has unveiled the PS4 Pro, an improved version of its console capable of 4K resolution. Six months later, Microsoft gave its answer in the Xbox One X form, a heavyweight that significantly surpassed the PS4 Pro and had a better 4K. In the high-end segment, Microsoft has won back the technology leadership.
But that did not help Xbox One X much. The main thing for the console was missing exclusive games. Nine of the top ten best-selling Xbox One games are multiplatform, with the only exception, Halo 5, at the very bottom of the list. Of the 50 most highly rated Xbox One games to Switch. Halo from 343 Industries and Gears from The Coalition has received noticeably less hype than previous Bungie and Epic titles. Quantum Break did not become a cult hit like Alan Wake. Scalebound did not come out at all. Sony had God of War and Bloodborne, Microsoft had Sunset Overdrive and Sea of Thieves: the games might be good, but much less of a hit and important. At the end of the Xbox One’s life cycle, the stream of high-profile exclusives has completely dried up. There is a lot of debate about the quality of Death Stranding and The Last of Us: Part II, but Microsoft did not have anything comparable – and will not in the foreseeable future.
That being said, it cannot be said that Xbox management does not understand the importance of exclusives. Under Phil Spencer, Xbox Game Studios has acquired more game studios than in its entire history: Mojang, Compulsion Games, inXile, Ninja Theory, Obsidian, Playground, Undead Labs, Double Fine – and more recently, Bethesda and all of its studios and IP. Other than Mojang, all of these developers have joined Microsoft in the last couple of years, so we do not see any results yet, and the launch lineup for the Xbox Series is not impressive. But in the future, the Xbox Series X will clearly no longer have the same shortage of exclusives as the Xbox One.
On the other hand, Sony steadily continued to release hits, but the abundance of PS4 exclusives came at a high price: the PlayStation Vita portable console’s support was sacrificed.
Online service battle: PSN VS Xbox Live
At the dawn of the eighth generation, Sony and Microsoft revised their services somewhat. Xbox Live traditionally required a Gold subscription for online multiplayer, PSN did not. But the PlayStation Plus subscription offered two free games per month for each of the Sony consoles. In 2013, both companies equalized their offerings: PS4 began requiring PS Plus to play online, and an Xbox Live Gold subscription gave several games every month.
Over time, PS Plus’s offerings have dwindled: in 2013, it gave away six games, and in 2020, after the end of the life cycle of the PS3 and PS Vita, only two. The price is the same, which does not make sense.
Streaming video gameplay ten years ago was seen as something very promising, but both companies have failed at it. Microsoft acquired Beam, renamed it Mixer, bought the top streamers to promote the service, and quickly shut it down. Sony bought Gaikai and OnLive and launched the little-demanded PlayStation Now service.
In the middle of a generation, Microsoft revealed to the world its trump card – Xbox Game Pass. Instead of a pitiful handout from a couple of monthly rotation games, there is a huge collection of hits available anytime for just $10.00 a month. The Xbox One, which started out as a TV box, ended up offering its users a kind of Netflix gaming buffet at a ridiculous price. While Game Pass failed to save the Xbox One, in the next generation it will surely be the strongest case for the Microsoft platform.
Sony has responded with the PS Now expansion, which includes the ability to not only play through the cloud, but also freely download a wide range of PS4 games. This did not help it very much: the number of PS Now subscribers is extremely minimal, and the service has never gone beyond a very small number of countries.
Sony dominated the entire eighth generation of consoles. Under Don Mattrick, Microsoft lost its exclusives, lost its leadership in the console race with the PS3, and actually buried the Xbox One at the announcement stage. As much as Phil Spencer tried to save the console, it was doomed.
However, in the next generation, things may be different. Microsoft is gearing up to offer exclusives from top studios for a penny subscription. Sony has successfully retired the PS4, but it has lost the key executives behind its launch in the process. Kaz Hirai, Atsushi Morita, Adam Boyes, Joe Corsi, Andrew House, and Sean Leiden left Sony between 2017-2019. And now, the PlayStation 5 Console raises many more questions than the PS4 did in its day. Will Sony Kill Overconfidence? Will Xbox Series X be able to do it on an equal footing again? What do you think?