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The console wars as we've known them are over

With Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony all shooting for different goals, there is no war.

11

In sixth grade, my best friendship built on a solid foundation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and kickball at recess fell apart. We weren't the only casualties. The playground divided as everyone picked sides in the 16-bit war, and Danny and I found ourselves on opposite sides of the line. I rode Yoshi into battle and carried the latest issue of Nintendo Power; he flew the banner of Blast Processing and Madden.

Back then, the console war mattered. Both Nintendo and Sega touted exclusives the other side couldn't play. Multiplatform releases like Mortal Kombat looked and played differently on Super NES and Genesis. Plus, we were kids. We couldn't afford to buy these systems. We had to cajole or badger our parents for video games and a video game console. That's console, singular. If your parents were like mine, they would not buy you more than one brain-rotting box. You lived by your choice, and you died on that hill.

Sony's reveal of the PS5's release date and price point drove home the industry's new reality: The console wars as we knew them are over. Done. Finished. Dead.

Don't get me wrong. Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony would still prefer you support their platform over their competitor's. But the days of investing your (parents') money--and sometimes, your identity--in your console of choice are gone, and have been gone for a while, if we're being honest.

The landscape of game development has changed. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft share some priorities, but their primary goal is no longer to sell more of their game-playing boxes than the competition. In July, Xbox boss Phil Spencer admitted to GamesIndustry.biz that coaxing or bullying consumers into buying his console rather than someone else's was "completely counter to what gaming is about to say that part of that is to lock people away from being able to experience those games. Or to force someone to buy my specific device on the day that I want them to go buy it."

Game Pass backs up Spencer's words. Over 10 million subscribers pay for Game Pass. Some of those subscribers play Xbox games on Xbox One. Some will play on the Xbox Series X/S when they launch in November. Others, including yours truly, will play them on their Windows 10 PCs.

"Our device is not the center of our strategy, our game is not the center of the strategy," Spencer continued with GamesIndustry.biz. "We want to enable you to play the games you want to play, with the friends you want to play with, on any device. On TV, the Xbox console is going to be the best way to play console games. Xbox Series X is the most powerful console out there and it will have absolutely the best versions of our console games. But that's not to exclude other people from being able to play."

When PS4 and Xbox One launched within a week of one another in November 2013, the idea that I'd be able to play either company's exclusives on any other platform was absurd. Over the last few years, Microsoft has made it a reality, and Sony is moving in the same direction. Following strong sales of Death Stranding and Horizon: Zero Dawn on PC, games previously only playable on PS4, Sony revealed in its Corporate 2020 report that it will consider bringing more first-party games to the PC.

"Targeted outcomes include growth in active users, stronger retention and a shorter cash conversion cycle, from which expanded cash flow can be expected," per the report. "We will explore expanding our 1st party titles to the PC platform, in order to promote further growth in our profitability."

Unlike Microsoft, Sony hasn't gone all-in on transferring first-party games to other devices. A trailer that teased Bluepoint's remake of Demon's Souls on PC appeared at the end of a trailer that has since been taken down, chalking up the text to "human error." However, rumors have circulated that Bloodborne, another crown jewel in the PS4 library and the fan-favorite "Soulsborne" franchise created by FromSoftware, may be coming to PC. The port will be a remaster boasting updates such as 60 fps, and will undoubtedly appear on PS5 as well.

And there's strike two. Aside from minor disparities such as 900p resolution on Xbox One's launch and "S" consoles compared to 1080p on PS4 and PS4 Slim, this gen's hardware from Sony and Microsoft was comparable. More comparable, at any rate, than previous systems. Back in the 16-bit console war, when we walked uphill to school both ways--in snow that was grainier on Sega Genesis but with slowdown on Super NES--your choice of platform mattered, because multiplatform releases might look better, play better, sound better on your box or your friend's.

Unlike in the 16-bit era, the differences between games running on different platforms are negligible.
Unlike in the 16-bit era, the differences between games running on different platforms are negligible.

In 2013, and in November 2020, the differences between Xbox Series X/S and PS5 will be negligible. Teraflops, system RAM, processing speeds, internal storage, loading time--no system has a huge, make-or-break advantage over the other. That may change once millions of consumers get their hands on one box or the other, but only the pickiest (those who insist on making the case for their side winning a war from the past) will perceive discrepancies. What's more, cross-play is becoming a bigger priority for many publishers. Destiny 2, Fortnite, and a few others will bridge the gap between PlayStation, Xbox, and PC, while other titles such as Rocket League have already invited those crowds and players on Switch to play together.

Back in the day (snow, uphill both ways, etc.), many players talked with their friends to make sure everyone bought the same console so they could all play together. That's still a concern, but less so now.

Then there's Nintendo, who, in the words of late-president Satoru Iwata, pulled out of the console wars nearly 20 years ago by doing its own thing to varying degrees of success. "We have not changed our strategy," Iwata told Gamasutra in the summer of 2012, months before the Wii U launched and over a year before PS4 and Xbox One. "In other words, we just do not care what kind of 'more beef' console Microsoft and Sony might produce in 2013. Our focus is on how we can make our new console different than [others]."

Wii U cratered, but before it, the Wii was an enormous success. Now, Nintendo is selling millions of Switches, and Switch isn't really a console. Several months after the Switch launched in 2017, data gathered by Nintendo showed that more players treated the Switch as a handheld than they do a console connected to their TV. That number evened out a year or so later. But Nintendo isn't really in direct competition with Xbox or PlayStation. It is in the sense that some consumers may have to choose between it or another platform, but Nintendo never meant for Switch to be pitted against Xbox Series X/S or PS5, or even this generation's hardware. The novelty of Switch lies in its functionality as a device on which you can play thousands of the best AAA and indie games from the past 10+ years on your TV, or in bed, or on public transportation (which I hope you're avoiding as much as is possible these days), or anywhere. PS5 and Xbox X/S can't do that.

More importantly, Nintendo is no longer just a video game company in the same way WWE is no longer just a wrestling company. Amiibo, action figures, LEGO sets, amusement parks, video games, clothing, movies… Buy any of these, and you're buying into the Brand with a capital B.

This December, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo will crow about how many units they've sold and how much money they've made. And there are bound to be consumers who brag about how their side is winning. But how can anyone win a war when the "teams" aren't fighting over the same thing? Sony, whose console outsold Microsoft's this generation, wants PS5 to take the lead early as it continues to experiment with expanding its IPs. Microsoft wants to move consoles, too, but it's as focused on selling Game Pass, if not more focused. Nintendo will move Switches in the tens of thousands thanks to the huge popularity of Animal Crossing: New Horizons and this week's Super Mario 3D All-Stars.

Three unique sets of priorities. Three manufacturers no longer fighting over one thing. That's not a war. That's progress, and it's bound to benefit everyone.

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at davidlcraddock.com and @davidlcraddock.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    September 17, 2020 7:04 AM

    David Craddock posted a new article, The console wars as we've known them are over

    • reply
      September 17, 2020 7:13 AM

      I think both MS and Sony are going to be more interested in selling us games directly more than selling us boxes.

      For all Sony's talk of for the players they've swung pretty hard to a digital only future and their business model seems to be more focused on selling expensive software through their digital storefront and not making profit on hardware.

      MS is similar again focusing on selling us software but more through an ongoing service subscription, but still through their own digital storefront. Brick and motor stores have taken two big blows from both Sony and MS these last few months.

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        September 17, 2020 7:56 AM

        Its been long established that the console market is a razorblade model. It wasn't as clear around the Atari 2600 times, but when Tom Kalinske was brought into run Sega of America on their push to make the Genesis the big console, he was coming from the toy side where he had learned the razorblade model and knew that was what they had to use to push the Genesis. One of his first big thing was to drastically cut the Genesis price to bare-bones profit levels so that consumers would buy it (and Sonic) and get them to buy the games which were the profit centers for the company, because you can make games after games.

        That's been the model ever since.

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          September 17, 2020 8:02 AM

          But the model is now that you'll be buying direct from Sony or MS. You also might be spending more on games either per game or through yearly subscription.

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            September 17, 2020 8:09 AM

            Which interestingly brings up the question if games should cost that much.

            Part of the past $60 game price included a firm cost that used to go to the retailer ($15ish) and I'd have to dig up the articles, but because both retailers and game companies were happy at the take at $60, this is why game prices remained there for this long.
            But now if you are buying direct and there's no retailer, then the price *should* go down, or at least stay the same so that $15/game goes to higher dev costs , which are logically going up.

            IGnoring that, the sub model is *always* better for those running the sub, as when it is priced right (and here I'm assuming MS has priced it right), you rarely have people using the "full value" of the sub and most of the subs under utilizing it in terms of cost to maintain it, so its always profit on their end.

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              September 17, 2020 8:14 AM

              Price is dictated by what people will pay

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                September 17, 2020 8:21 AM

                You'd think (most other markets work like that), but I've seen that the VG market is very inflexible. Yes, you have cases like with Katamari Damacy as a $20 release "experience" that helped it to sell well. But if you try to underprice a AAA game for its regular price , that makes it look like a poor quality game and it will scare away consumers. Overprice it, and that will also scare away from being over-cost.

                (Sub-AAA and indie game space is different and closer to normal supply/demand)

                The fact that with $70 games now coming that those pricing them (like Sony) are carefully managing the message of why they cost more shows how much inflexibility it is in this.

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                  September 17, 2020 8:22 AM

                  er "Experiment" not "experience" :P

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                  September 17, 2020 8:26 AM

                  Its price sensitive for sure, prices drop faster than ever, but the initial selling price of $60 hasn't adjusted down just because physical retailers are out of the equation. That $60 price tag, even if the game is purely a download, is that way because it is worth that much to the customer.

                  A normie buying isn't really taking different distribution method into the equation, they're just thinking of what a game is worth to them

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                    September 17, 2020 8:35 AM

                    That's partially what I mean. If I showed you a new AAA game from EA or Activision from one of their key studios and told you it was only $40, you'd like ask "what's the catch?" , whether its a bad game, a short game, a game with only an online component, etc.

                    Wisely, EA's done the "pre-loading" of why they are pricing SW Squadrons this way (as a primarily multiplayer game) to get people to think "okay this is a *good* $40 game". They probably could have sold this at $60, but they probably believed that doing the extra work to stress what this game is would help beat the perception problem and draw more sales as expected at the lower price point.

                    I felt there were other games this generation that were launched sub-$60 but failed to set expectations of why they were cheaper, and did miserable (I want to say Homefront, but that wasn't it).

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              September 17, 2020 8:15 AM


              Sony seem to have managed to turn it that you're paying for your console after purchase with a tax on all your games, it seems they want that tax right away as well as you're right you'd think they could've delayed the price hikes with the fact that they will be getting a larger cut through the digital storefront. Pretty big increase in the UK as well 140% hike on games here.

              But yes I think the sub model works best when you get moments of fantastic value but then you're happy keeping it running even if you're not using it for a few months at a time.

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              September 17, 2020 8:16 AM

              Are the licensing fees as high to release a game on the Xbox/Playstation/Switch as they used to be? If you're paying less licensing fee now, but the console maker gets a cut through the store, it might just end up being a wash in terms of overall % for Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo.

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                September 17, 2020 8:22 AM

                Yes, IGN recently did a survey, and it remains at 30% for all 3 (as of .. Oct 2019 I think?)

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