We have just welcomed the turn of a decade and that provides a great opportunity to reflect upon the past 10 years in the video gaming sector. Microsoft began the 2010s in the ascendancy after the Xbox 360 won over legions of gamers, while Sony was in the doldrums after the PS3 underperformed.
What a difference a decade makes. Sony ended the 2010s as the clear victor after the PS4 – released to great fanfare in November 2013 – wiped the floor with the Xbox One. Sales surged past the 100 million mark in the summer of 2019, while the Xbox One has only managed to shift around 41 million units.
Yet that is all in the past and both firms are now gearing up for the launch of their next-gen consoles. This could be the last ever generation of console wars, as cloud gaming is becoming increasingly ubiquitous and hardware is being phased out in most industries, and could also prove to be the definitive battle of the next decade, so who will triumph?
A Decade of Dominance
Sony started on the front foot in terms of the marketing battle. Lead architect Marc Cerny invited Wired to its Californian HQ for an exclusive interview in April and proceeded to unveil all manner of tantalising details about the PS5.
He promised rapid loading times, 8K resolution, ray tracing technology, an SSD with a raw bandwidth that can outgun any gaming PC currently on the market and a CPU based on the third generation of AMD’s Ryzen series, featuring 7nm Zen 2 microarchitecture.
That whipped up a great deal of excitement among fans and knocked the ball into Microsoft’s court. At E3 2019 in June, Microsoft unveiled Project Scarlett, the codename for its next-gen console. It revealed that its device will also support 8K gaming and boast ray tracing, while offering 120fps. The firm also announced a xCloud, its cloud gaming service, which launched in October.
Microsoft continued to ramp up the PR battle when Xbox head Phil Spencer took to the stage at The Game Awards in December. He revealed that it will be called the Xbox Series X and offered guests a glimpse of the physical console.
A New Bar for Performance
It is an absolute monolith, but it can be rested on its side, and gamers have largely been impressed with the bold and refined design. Microsoft immediately issued a press release designed to build up the hype. “Xbox Series X will be our fastest, most powerful console ever and set a new bar for performance, speed and compatibility, allowing you to bring your gaming legacy, thousands of games from three generations and more forward with you,” it said.
From a technical standpoint it will manifest as a custom designed processor leveraging the latest Zen 2 and next generation RDNA architecture. “Its industrial design enables us to deliver four times the processing power of Xbox One X in the most quiet and efficient way, something that is critically important in delivering truly immersive gameplay,” said Spencer.
A PC for the Living Room
Spencer certainly talks a good game, and it is interesting to see the new Xbox shaping up to be a potent machine even by gaming PC standards. In many ways, the Xbox Series X can be viewed as a simple gaming PC designed for the living room.
Consoles have largely been excluded from the phenomenal rise of esports over the past decade, as the gaming PC dominates this exciting space. If you take a look at the latest esports betting odds, you will see the top games dominated by PC gamers. The new Xbox could help redress the balance.
However, Cerny has been singing from a similar hymn sheet as Spencer and it appears that the new PS5 will be built around the same sort of principles. PS4 gamers have also built up vast digital libraries over the past six years and they may be reluctant to part with them and defect to the new Xbox.
A Close Battle
There is every reason to think that Sony will extend its period of dominance over Microsoft. It has a strong track record of securing exclusive games that allow it to stand out, while owning the narrative-driven, open world genre.
However, Microsoft looks well placed to turn the tables on its great rival. It will have learned from its mistakes with the Xbox One, just as Sony did following the PS3’s struggles. It will not price itself out of the market, it will surely not repeat the PR debacles of the Xbox One launch and it will be determined to secure better exclusives this time around.
The Xbox everywhere strategy is a great initiative, as it gives customers instant access to a vast gaming ecosystem that can be enjoyed across various screens. You could argue that it is better prepared for the impending death of consoles with xCloud. It will also have the new Halo as a launch title.
Both consoles will arrive in time for the holiday season of 2020 and you would expect the price to be similar, teeing up a thrilling head-to-head battle. The PS5 would be the favorite to triumph thanks to the dominance of its predecessor, but both machines appear to be similar in terms of architecture and power, so it really could go either way.