Opinion: The next generation is going to be one interesting battle

A look back at the short history in the games industry and there are a few battles that have stood out over the years. The most obvious one is most likely the one between SEGA and Nintendo when the Mega Drive took the mighty Super Nintendo head-on. It’s here where the fanbois came with pitchforks in hand to defend their beloved brand that they have vowed allegiance to. The years proceeding these saw many more classic battles. The next generation is now fast approaching and if history is anything to go by, the result might not head in the direction most pundits will expect. It’s a clean slate for all.

Let’s take a quick recap on the generation that has been. Now, I’m going to leave Nintendo out of this little squabble for now. They seem to be on their own little mission and it’s working for them. They won’t be too bothered about what Sony and Microsoft get up to… but I have a feeling they’ll have a very important part to play. More on that later. Microsoft headed into this generation with quite a bit of confidence after the successful Xbox 360 era. On the other hand, Sony had just returned from one of their worst eras. The PS3 ended up selling more than the Xbox 360 and was by no means a disaster, but when compared to the PS2 it just never met expectations. They had a point to prove. As is the case today still, they have the ‘For the Players’ slogan and that’s exactly what the PS4 went for. The PS4 was going to be a games console with an enormous number of exclusives and a much easier console to develop for with its X86 architecture. Microsoft instead went for the entertainment hub, which Sony tried to do with the PS3 in the early years. In fact, the online-only policy wouldn’t be out of place in 2019, it’s just that the concept was a few years ahead of its time. They both had strong points, but the Xbox One ended up being the weaker console (in terms of stats) and the price, thanks to Kinect, did not help their ambitions. The lead up to launch in 2013 got real ugly when Sony mocked them at E3, by showing off the ability to buy second-hand games without having to sign online to play your games, along with a much cheaper console. It’s all changed now, but that was the world back then and Microsoft had a real struggle. A struggle they’re still paying for to this day.

Those early days were tough for Microsoft. Meanwhile Sony wasn’t just winning the hardware battle, they were spitting out exclusive after exclusive, including brand new IPs. The PS4 exclusive library has no equal. Thank the gaming gods that Phil Spencer took over from Don Mattrick, because Xbox has quietly been on the up and up since. Unfortunately you won’t see most of those fruits in this generation. These things take time, but good timing is also very important… especially if you’re planning to release a new console.

By now I’m assuming that you’re well aware that Microsoft will be at E3 and that Sony won’t. It’s here where we’re expecting that Microsoft will take to the stage to show off their next generation first, in their efforts to get it out the door before Sony does – like it worked for them in the Xbox 360 era. This is all speculation, so don’t quote me on it being fact. Meanwhile, Sony has gone completely quiet. They cancelled all their shows, including their very own PlayStation Experience in 2018. Both these huge players know that the coming 12-15 months are of the utmost importance if they want to secure dominance in the market for the next generation.

Unfortunately, there’s this thing with these companies that when they gain success it goes to their head. They forget that in five years time they’ll have to re-establish everything that made them so popular in the present time. Sony thought they were the cure for hairy palms in the PlayStation 2 days and when the PS3 arrived their overconfidence backfired, claiming we should get a second job to afford consoles. Microsoft experienced this with the Xbox One, after the 360 success and Nintendo bumped their head twice with their arrogance in the N64 days and later with the Wii U, after the Wii steam-rolled the competition. These corporates just don’t seem to learn, or are they?

In recent times Microsoft and Nintendo have become quite close. Rumours are suggesting that Microsoft is jumping in bed with Nintendo to help them with their online offerings and a Game Pass service– something Nintendo desperately needs, because, let’s be honest, they just have no clue. It’s a beautiful thing to see and we’ve already seen their collaboration with Minecraft. I believe it’s all thanks to Phil Spencer’s ‘inclusive’ take on the industry. Just a look at the adaptive controller for the Xbox One is a great example where Microsoft is heading. Sony, on the other hand, is like an only child that does not want to share their expensive toys with others. It took most of the industry to force them to get crossplay to work in Fortnite and ultimately they let go. It makes sense that they’re holding back as they’re in a great position right now, so why share their success? Problem is that this stance could affect their future. With the dream team on their side (Shawn Layden, Shuhei Yoshida and Mark Cerny), these issues should be ironed out in the next generation.

Respecting their past could pave the way for the future.

Microsoft has also dabbled in the backwards compatible support arena and has walked away with a great infrastructure. Chances are good that most of your Xbox 360 and Xbox One games will be supported in the future, along with a few original Xbox titles. Playing older catalogues of games have become important to many and if you can have one console it speaks to most of us. In a world of ease to emulate this all makes good logical sense. Sony are rumoured to be doing the same, though we won’t know about it until they officially announce it. They have a huge heritage of games to pull from and, if done correctly, could be a massive addition to their line-up. After showing us what it could be like on the PS3 and PS Vita, it’s something that simply needs to materialise and become a reality in the next generation.

Of course it always comes down to games and this is where PlayStation has thumped Xbox in this generation. In terms of third-party, both consoles had great games and with the Xbox One X around Microsoft has often come out victorious, but it’s a small win. You just can’t compare the exclusives. Sony ran rings (the 360 type) around them and this year will do so once more. That’s where Microsoft’s studio acquisition comes into play. It’s not like they’re not aware of it, it’s just that they need the right developers working on games and that these things take time. Microsoft comes with deep pockets and with studios like Ninja Theory and Obsidian Entertainment on their payroll now, I think we can expect big new and exciting worlds to explore. One thing is for sure, in the next generation Microsoft can’t place all their faith in Forza, Gears and Halo. These are all great franchises and will continue to please fans, but the time has come for Microsoft to show that it’s more than just those big names.

The dominant force that is Reggie will be departing, but will the other two play nice, or is it war?

One area where Microsoft is well ahead of the competition is with their services and they plan to extend on it. I would personally not be surprised if this coming generation ends up being the last Xbox hardware launched. Instead of buying a box that plays Xbox games, Microsoft wants their games to be played on your format of choice. Phil Spencer said as much on numerous occasions. In other words, in time their focus will move to software only – Microsoft’s expertise. Sony head into the next generation with a lot of confidence, but Microsoft will be hellbent on eliminating the embarrassment that took place early in this generation, which means that at the end this is the best possible scenario for gamers everywhere. As long as there’s not a monopoly, we’ll always see these big players pushing each other for our gain.

The timing and message they deliver on the reveal is going to be key to securing their future fan base. Whoever launches first will most definitely get the head start, but it doesn’t secure a win – ask SEGA and their Dreamcast. There are many factors at play, but one thing is for sure –
the next generation is going to be very interesting.

Disclaimer: Opinion pieces are the viewpoint of the author and not necessarily shared by SA Gamer or its staff.

Married to a gamer and she kicks my ass at most shooters. If the game is enjoyable I'll play it, no matter the format.

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