As the current generation of consoles winds down in preparation for the transition to new hardware in 2020, it’s safe to say that Sony has come out on top through the past six years. While we don’t have Xbox sales numbers since Microsoft stopped releasing them earlier this generation, right from the console reveals the going has been rough for Xbox, and while the Xbox One family is by no means a failure it certainly isn’t on par with the PS4 in terms of success.
But the winds may be changing. Sony hasn’t made any major missteps à la Xbox’s showing at E3 2013, but Microsoft has been taking recent steps to make the choice between the two console manufacturers more and more difficult. Without further ado, let’s look at what might give Xbox the edge in 2020 and beyond.
Xbox Game Pass and Project xCloud
Arguably the most enticing reason to own an Xbox today, particularly if you don’t own a gaming PC, is Xbox Game Pass. The subscription service gives users access to a catalogue of over 200 titles with games ranging from the first Xbox to the One with more being added regularly. Microsoft has even stated that every one of their first-party releases going forward will be available on Game Pass on release day, with the upcoming Gear 5 even releasing 3 days early for subscribers. At E3, Microsoft released Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, bundling together Game Pass for Xbox, Game Pass for PC, and Xbox Live Gold, and with it, there’s no question that it is the best-value games subscription service available today.
With such a large library of titles available for download, the subscription service completely outclasses Sony’s own, PS Now. Sony’s service touts streaming as its way to play (though recently has started allowing its PS4 games to be downloaded). But in case of streaming catches the mainstream quicker than expected, Microsoft is prepping their own streaming service, the mysterious Project xCloud. For now, much of the world (in particular, its bandwidth) isn’t quite up to the task to make streaming games, but Microsoft isn’t taking any chances on keeping up for the next generation.
Games with Gold reaches parity with PS Plus
For years, Sony’s PlayStation Plus appeared to consistently beat out Microsoft’s Games with Gold month-to-month, especially considering PS Plus offered more titles every month. Since the launch of the PS4, Sony’s online service had included not only two free PS4 games every month, but also PS3 and PS Vita titles. But last March, Sony announced a sizeable shake-up to the service by way of axing the monthly PS3 and Vita offerings, and this March they followed through, with only two PS4 titles now available each month.
Many had hoped Sony would quickly up the number of PS4 games given monthly, or that the reduction in the number of games would mean a large increase in the quality of the two PS4 games each month. Sadly, neither of these seem to have come to pass. Games with Gold, on the other hand, still releases two Xbox One games and an Xbox 360 title every month.
The release of the next consoles will likely see some changes to the makeup of the monthly PS Plus and Xbox Live Gold lineups, but for now, Microsoft holds at least a slight advantage after PS Plus having the edge for most of the generation.
Recent Studio Acquisitions
In this day and age, it shouldn’t be controversial to say that the PS4 has better exclusives than the Xbox One. Unless you’re a diehard Halo or Gears fan, it’s difficult to resist brilliant Sony exclusives like Uncharted, God of War, Spider-Man, and Bloodborne, to name just a few.
Microsoft seems to have recognized this and have been reacting by purchasing some major studios. Double Fine, Ninja Theory, Obsidian, and more have been acquired by Microsoft over the past few years. Sony still appears to have more and better-announced exclusives for the near future (The Last of Us Part 2, Ghost of Tsushima, etc.), but in the next year or two, we should expect a pretty massive explosion of announcements and releases from Microsoft as their new studios kick into gear.
The Xbox Play Anywhere program launched in 2016, allowing players to purchase participating games for either Xbox One or Window 10 and to receive copies for both platforms. Play Anywhere titles share progress and achievements and often support cross-play. The program is part of Microsoft’s hope to more closely integrate Xbox with PC, and could reasonably result in PC players to purchase an Xbox by easing them in with a preexisting library of their own games.
Also in their bid for more PC players, Microsoft has begun moving away from the oft-maligned Microsoft Store. Rather than attempting to salvage the store and turn it into something more welcoming for gamers, they launched a totally new Xbox app at E3 2019 alongside Xbox Game Pass PC. The app lets players access their games library, Game Pass, and a store for games, thankfully cutting out the need for the unwieldy Microsoft Store when it comes to buying and playing.
Just because Sony is on top right now, doesn’t mean they will continue to be in the era of the PS5 and Project Scarlett. We’ve seen the big dog fall before, with the Xbox 360 holding the upper hand over the PS3 throughout last gen. And Microsoft has been doing a number of things right over the past few years, to the point where it looks as if they really could have a shot at being the dominant player in the next generation of consoles.