Battle of the Business Model.
Sony have revealed the PS5. Let's face it, it's about time we saw something other than that controller ("sticks are STILL in the wrong place" was my first impression, and it hasn't changed). In a lengthy livestream, they showed off exactly what we can expect from the next generation of games with the notable exception of what the cost of entry is. It was certainly an interesting showing on some levels; with Microsoft fumbling the ball over the use of the term "gameplay" in their Series X reveal back in May, Sony went on the offensive - the vast majority of games that we saw specifically and almost gleefully showed off actual gameplay. The games were numerous, and they were pretty... and it seemed to me that they were also inadvertently highlighting the lack of depth of PlayStation studios.
I first wrote about this all the way back in November 2018 - following the announcement of yet more studio acquisitions by Xbox Game Studios. Even back then, the acknowledgement that the Xbox One had "lost" the generational race had become less tacit and more explicit. Microsoft were buying up studios left and right, all with the single aim of bolstering their list of exclusive games going in to next gen. In that article, I compared and contrasted the past output of Sony's and Microsoft's different game development houses and concluded that when it came to a "ticking off the genres" exercise, Microsoft were going to be better placed than Sony going into the next gen.
The words of that article persistently surfaced in my mind while watching the reveal. We saw a lot of platform games. We saw a token driving game in Gran Turismo (looks pretty as hell, but then... so does Forza Motorsport) and some gritty-narrative violent third person adventure games that have become the bread and butter of Sony's exclusivity. Some of the platformers felt as though they were trying to invoke a nostalgia that I couldn't relate to - Ratchet and Clank and Oddworld were games that came out when I was in my late teens/early 20's, so aren't the callback to a rose-tinted childhood for me that they are for a lot of people. They all looked very cool, but they all fit within the tight confines of those three gaming niches. First person shooters, RPG's, Service games were all conspicuous by their absence. And while the third party games were very impressive, the majority of them will likely be launched on other platforms. The end reveal of the actual physical machine did nothing for me personally - I thought it looked like a router on steroids, but also know from long experience that I don't buy games machines because of how they look, but purely for what they can do and the games that they can run. Overall though, I thought it felt like a solid show. Lots of nice new things coming along, topped off by Horizon: Forbidden West melting my eyeballs with its beauty.
In the days since though, I've come to realise that compared to where we are with the state of the games industry and the changing way in which they're consumed, the PS5 reveal left out a lot of critical things and reveals a way in which Sony might have become outdated. Their emphasis was on showing games and showing a plastic casing - all well and good, but with nothing said on delivery methods of those games, we have to assume that Sony are putting their money on the status quo of How People Play Games persisting. Their expectation is that people will buy console, buy games, play games, trade games, buy games... rinse and repeat.
Personally, I'm not entirely convinced that this status quo will last. Quite simply, this doesn't sound like the same war that Microsoft are gearing up to fight. Their approach this coming generation is very different to what the "normal" way of doing things has been before, with their emphasis clearly on Xbox Live and Gamepass as essential delivery mechanisms. Their overall stance seems to be that so long as you're playing your games using those platforms, the hardware that you're using is... if not exactly a secondary consideration, then at least not the absolute over-riding number one priority. Their Gamepass offering stands to offer players a lot of games for a very reasonable price. Their stance on backward-compatibility is consumer friendly, and more far-reaching than that of Sony. Going on my own personal experience, I know a lot of people who have signed up for Gamepass and now cannot really imagine a gaming life without it - as it regularly serves up new things to play, and offers a platform that allows players to try out games that they wouldn't normally look at. There's definitely an argument that Microsoft have the delivery platform and mechanism sewn up - and that all they need to dominate the next generation is the games... and with the sheer number of studios they now own and the variety of output that those studios are capable of, in this coming generation they might just have them.
So with all that in mind, which console will I pick up? In past generations (up to and including the current one), I've ended up owning both consoles. I generally pick up the Microsoft one first - my friends are in that ecosystem for the most part, I prefer the controllers, and it's where most of my history is. I think the next generation will probably go the same way for me, unless I see something at the Microsoft first party games event in July that will sway that. Honestly though, for me a lot of it now is about Gamepass... and that's something that Sony still don't seem to have a clue about how to compete with.