All over the internet you will find conflicting headlines. “There is no console war because Xbox left PlayStation in the dust years ago” or “The arms race is over because Sony left Microsoft behind from the start“. It’s all heavily biased and highly speculative.
In the wider gaming community, you have terms like ‘fanboys’, and ‘elitists’ being thrown around like burnt toast. Yet it all comes down to one simple factor, which console you played first. Much like skiing vs snowboarding, or soccer vs rugby, whatever you picked up as a child will almost always take the crown. It’s tough to beat nostalgia.
Yet as we cautiously edge through 2020 and the eventuation of another console clash, we can’t help but reassess the terms. In November, PS5 and Xbox Series X will battle it out to win new fans and ultimately topple the other company in a combat… to the death.
So let’s go back to the beginning of the rivalry between the flagship consoles of Sony and Microsoft.
The console wars between Xbox and PlayStation play out like a modern Cold War. With a new generation on the horizon, it’s time to reassess.
In the beginning, there was PlayStation
In the mid-’90s, the gaming community was a far cry from what it has become today. However, they were no less rabid. While there were plenty of arcade games still enjoying mammoth popularity, the gaming world was about to witness a massive upheaval.
Nintendo invented the Gameboy in 1989, with the SNES following in 1991. DOOM was created on the PC in 1993 along with a plethora of other games on the new Windows platform. Then, in 1996 Sony said, “Let there be light” and the PlayStation 1 was born.
Labelled as the first ‘computer entertainer platform’ the PlayStation went on to sell 100 million units and reigned supreme for four years. In 2000, Sony released the infamous PlayStation 2 which is the best selling gaming console of all time with a whopping 155 million units sold.
It wasn’t until 2002 that, in true capitalist fashion, Microsoft invented the Xbox and the arms race began. This head-to-head, cyclical clash has led to some of the best games and consoles of all time being born.
The first next-gen
When you look at it chronologically, Sony certainly had a head start, so it makes sense that Microsoft had a bit of catching up to do. The original Xbox had some incredible exclusive titles, that’s no lie. Halo, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Fable, Ninja Gaiden, and Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, are some of the greatest games ever released and whose franchises still exist today.
However, the massively oversized controller and clunky controls couldn’t compete with the sleekness of the PS2 and its already religious fanbase.
In November 2005, Microsoft corrected many errors and made a truly iconic console, the Xbox 360. With this new platform, Microsoft really brought the fight to Sony, racking up massive sales with countless incredible games.
In November of the following year, Sony retaliated with the PlayStation 3 and settled the score. At this point in time, the two giants were on equal footing and the console wars were in a stalemate. The true winners here were the gamers, who saw the fruits of this unceasing competition.
However, it wasn’t until the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One that the prevailing victor was revealed and the direction of the giants had changed.
The stats and the cloud
Let’s take a quick step back from the trenches to see what the console wars has actually looked like over the years.
Here are the top-ten best-selling consoles of all time:
PlayStation 2 — 155 million units sold
Nintendo DS — 154 million units sold
Game Boy / Game Boy Color — 118.6 million units sold
PlayStation 4 — 108.9 million units sold
PlayStation 1 — 102.4 million units sold
Nintendo Wii — 101.6 million units sold
PlayStation 3 — 87.4 million units sold
Xbox 360 — 84 million units sold
Game Boy Advance — 81.5 million units sold
PlayStation Portable — 80 – 82 million units sold
Evidently, the true console war has never been between Sony and Microsoft, but between Sony and Nintendo, and even those companies have wildly different console philosophies. Nintendo focuses on portable devices and interactive consoles, while Sony is purely hardware, creating a middle ground for consumers who can’t afford high-tech computers.
Microsoft has consistently sold fewer systems than both Sony and Nintendo. All the way down at 15th place, you have the Xbox One with roughly 46 million units sold. The original Xbox console lands at 19th place with 24 million sold.
In fact, the Nintendo DS is almost the best selling gaming system of all time, followed by the Gameboy, proving that handheld devices are still a huge competitor in the gaming world, a sphere almost entirely dominated by Nintendo.
Commanding 1st, 4th, 5th, 7th, and 10th place is Sony with a collective 533.7 consoles sold. Microsoft has only been playing catch-up rather than duelling with Sony.
Nintendo controls the other four places in the Top 10 leaving us to question, what are Microsoft’s goals with the Xbox? The PS4 has commanded so many exceptionally well-received exclusives that the Xbox One had little hope, and perhaps wasn’t even trying.
So, if Microsoft wasn’t focused on exclusives what were they putting all their resources into?
“When you talk about Nintendo and Sony, we have a ton of respect for them, but we see Amazon and Google as the main competitors going forward,” says executive vice-president of Gaming at Microsoft, Phil Spencer. “That’s not to disrespect Nintendo and Sony, but the traditional gaming companies are somewhat out of position. I guess they could try to re-create Azure, but we’ve invested tens of billions of dollars in cloud over the years.”
“I don’t want to be in a fight over format wars with those guys while Amazon and Google are focusing on how to get gaming to 7 billion people around the world. Ultimately, that’s the goal.”
Microsoft believes that cloud is the future of gaming, and indeed all interactive technology. Microsoft believes that with their muscular cloud framework they have beaten Sony to the punch.
While many have labelled it as technical optimism, Microsoft may have a point. Cloud-based gaming may very well be the future. The reality is, they have also beaten themselves to the punch. Right now cloud gaming and game-streaming still have a lot of developments to make before it reaches seven billion people. Right now, consumers still want hardware at their fingertips and in their homes.
That being said, the console clash that’s occurring later this year has revealed that both Sony and Microsoft are still very invested in creating peak hardware for the wider gaming world and the competition is hotter than ever. The specs of both consoles have been revealed and the Xbox Series X will be a significantly more powerful console than the PS5. The question is, what is the price tag?
Yet still, we ask ourselves, will consumers side with a company focused on hardware, or streaming? And more importantly, will Microsoft survive to see the age of cloud-based gaming reign.
With the gaming industry projected to reach over $300 billion by 2025, only time will tell.