The PlayStation 5 has similarly impressive horse power, with 10.28 teraflops, instant-loading and partial backward compatibility with PlayStation 4.
These are big and impressive specs, and leaps in graphical fidelity are coming with the rise of ray tracing. But these numbers only mean so much to gamers, and are more geared toward getting developers on board. That’s important, but in terms of enticing consumers, focusing so much on hardware and teraflops at this stage might be missing the mark. A machine with behemoth levels of power is nice, but it doesn’t impress me as much as a quality catalogue of games would.
On Wednesday, PlayStation live-streamed an extensive, hour-long presentation from lead engineering architect Mark Cerny, who spoke about PlayStation 5. It wasn’t what people expected. After Sony teased the reveal on its social media channels, fans were baffled to find a complicated, jargon-filled video detailing the idiosyncrasies of the upcoming console’s tech. Poor messaging led to players awaiting consumer-centric news, rather than a developer-focused talk that would normally be found at the Game Developers Conference (GDC). (GDC was canceled and tentatively rescheduled for the summer, so it’s possible this is a leftover talk that was meant for the San Francisco-based event.)
In lieu of a dry technical presentation, PlayStation would have been better served by a blog post outlining hardware specifics, similar to Microsoft’s approach from two days prior. However, Microsoft is having issues of its own with its marketing.
In the past few months, Microsoft has released a steady drip of information about the Xbox Series X. The focus has been on the company’s vision for an accessible, cross-gen and cross-platform ecosystem, favoring a consumer-friendly business model. With the Smart Delivery feature, for example, Microsoft promises to provide the “best version” of a game whether you’re playing on Xbox One or Series X. If you decide to upgrade, you won’t have to repurchase the title. This vision is further supported with Game Pass and the Play Anywhere program, where Microsoft has closed the gaps on exclusives, unifying its Xbox and PC platforms.
An “evergreen” console is an inspiring idea, but it may miss the major lesson of the past console generation — especially since Microsoft hasn’t teased enough about upcoming exclusives. The Game Awards saw Series X’s worldwide reveal and a handful of first-party games were announced for next-gen, but exclusives were a no-show. In fact, Microsoft stated in an interview with MCV this past January that it could be years before exclusives come to the platform. With a slim amount of launch titles, including Halo Infinite and Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 (which is also slated for Switch, PS4 and PC), that could prove problematic.
This past generation, Sony emerged as the clear market leader, and looking ahead, Microsoft needs to make smart decisions to catch up. As of January, PlayStation 4 sales stood at a remarkable 106 million units worldwide. Microsoft no longer releases sales reports, but Business Insider estimated in late 2019, Xbox One sales were roughly between 30 and 70 million.
The PS4 triumphed, bolstered by a strong and consistent set of exclusives throughout the PS4′s seven-year life span, including God of War, Bloodborne, Horizon: Zero Dawn and the upcoming Last of Us Part II.
Though Microsoft exclusives may not come until 2022, it may be smart for the publisher to start teasing what those games are. After a slew of studio acquisitions like Double Fine and Compulsion Games, it’s likely these games are currently in development. We already know about Hellblade 2, but a better idea of what games are coming, and why they’d be best enjoyed on Series X — outside of just performance — could help Microsoft articulate its vision.
It’s possible this recent information dump from both Sony and Microsoft is a launchpad for game announcements on the horizon. We’re still months away from the holiday releases of Series X and PlayStation but better communication on that front would help.
To put it bluntly, I want to know more about the games that come with the product — not just the product.
PlayStation has already announced exclusives, such as Godfall, will be part of the PlayStation 5′s launch slate, and the company has an edge in the next-gen race thanks to its impressive history with exclusives. With their recent studio acquisitions, like Insomniac, we know they’re coming. Still, PlayStation has been tight-lipped on how many or which games will be exclusive.
And looking back at the Xbox One, many of its first-party exclusives (that are playable on PC too) didn’t garner enough love. Sea of Thieves and ReCore, for example, were met with mixed receptions upon launch. And PlatinumGames’s Scalebound had strong buzz after its thrilling E3 2014 reveal, but was subsequently canceled in 2017. Without enough first-party gems in Xbox One’s library, Microsoft needs to work twice as hard to entice consumers to its next outing. Specs and Smart Delivery are not enough to sell me on Series X.
In some ways, the hardware-heavy marketing approach is reminiscent of Xbox One’s prelaunch approach, with Microsoft touting the system as an entertainment powerhouse instead of solely a games console. That strategy similarly had a focus on hardware, and it didn’t pan out well — not even for its big, first-party release of Quantum Break that gamified television. At the time, Quantum Break was poised to be a big player in Microsoft’s vision for the console, but the game faced poor sales and a mixed reception.
Game Pass and Smart delivery at least have more substance. They’re consumer-friendly options for Series X. But a lot of power lies in the realm of exclusivity and IPs. People have an affinity toward their consoles, but passion often comes from strong game offerings. With PlayStation’s solid exclusive history, I already know which way I’m leaning, but both publishers would benefit from pivoting from a barrage of hardware reveals to game reveals.
An earlier version of this article stated that the Xbox Series X would release on Thanksgiving 2020 after that information was published on the Series X website. Microsoft has subsequently stated that the date posted on their site was incorrect.