For context in the above chart, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One were released a week apart, in November 2013, while the Nintendo Switch was released in March 2017. Xbox had a four-year head start over Nintendo and still ended the generation languishing in third place; the undisputed loser of this generation of the console wars. Not a good look, especially for a company that appeared to dominate the previous generation.
I say ‘appeared to’ because living in the UK or USA you’d have gotten that impression. Anecdotally, that’s what it looked like, and almost every developer targeted the Xbox 360 as the lead platform over the PlayStation 3 because that was where the sales were perceived to be (and also it was much less of a bastard to work with, architecturally speaking, but that’s a different article). But as the chart shows, global sales between the two were actually quite even. What’s interesting about that is that it shouldn’t have been the case, but Sony’s massive hubris coming off of the success of the PlayStation 2 led to them dropping the ball with the PlayStation 3, allowing Xbox to more than triple the sales of their previous generation entry, the Original Xbox. To be fair, XBox’s initial hubris/incompetence at the start of this generation played a significant role in Sony reclaiming their dominance. But from the looks of this thus (taking COVID-19 out of the equation) it doesn’t look as if PlayStation has any intention of repeating past mistakes and letting Xbox back into the lead in the upcoming generation – the ninth if you were wondering.
Now obviously PlayStation and Xbox are brands owned by massive corporations – Sony and Microsoft respectively – who are in the business of making money first and foremost, and coming last, more than just being embarrassing fuel for the fanboy forums, is bad for business in the long-term and not particularly sustainable. But what if wasn’t?
The Xbox Series S. The worst-kept secret in the history of product launches. It serves as a less powerful but lower-costing alternative to its sister console the Xbox Series X (which is expected to cost between £450 and £500). It’ll run all of the same new games as big sis, use all of the same accessories (including the ones from the previous generation), it’s (somewhat surprisingly) capable of running games at a ‘not 4K but good enough for most people’ version of Ultra High Definition and it will only cost £250 (probably the cheapest anything new is going to cost this Holiday). But did you see the actually exciting thing about it, from a long-term strategic perspective? fifty seven seconds into a ninety four second reveal?
As I mentioned before, the Xbox 360 was able to make up a lot of ground against the PlayStation 3. While PlayStation’s unforced errors did play a significant part in this, for Xbox’s part, one of its biggest strengths and its key disruptor was the quality of its online gaming service. Xbox Live quickly became the gold standard of consumer expectation, a tight experience of voice-chat, messaging and online play that was integrated into the hardware experience from the ground. And because it was so good, they were able to charge for it. Not just a one-off fee, but a regularly recurring subscription. Just like Xbox Game Pass.
Seeing the thumbnail again just reminded me how disappointing the Halo Infinite reveal was. I thought I’d healed, but I hadn’t. I’m so glad it got delayed.
Note the above Xbox Games Showcase from June of this year (it’s an hour long so just skim through it for now; I don’t mind waiting, but don’t take the piss), specifically noting two things:
- It’s not the Xbox Series X or Series S or even PC Games Showcase, its just “Xbox”. That’s because (at the time of announcement at least).
- Every single game they showed that day will be available on Game Pass, and they made sure you knew it!
I’ve written previously about how good a value proposition I think Game Pass is, and that was when I as someone who games on PC and PlayStation gamer didn’t even have access to it. Now I do, and I love it even more. Every Xbox exclusive is now interesting to me because there’s effectively cost-risk to me as a consumer to check it out. Okay, I don’t “own” these games as I would with a traditional purchase – if my subscription lapses then so does my access to the platform – but in most cases, paying up to £60 a pop was enough of a barrier that I ignored games I ended up liking. If Xbox can continue to educate the market about value Game Pass’ throughout this upcoming ninth-generation (which they’ve most likely already lost, two months before it’s even started), they might just be able to disrupt the market enough to regain a solid foothold in the tenth.