If there’s one thing Microsoft perfected last generation, it was the Xbox Game Pass service. For a small fee each month, players can download games from an online library to play on their consoles. No streaming involved. It’s a fantastic concept that opens video games up to a wider audience of paying customers who may not be able to keep up with the barrage of £49.99 releases.
It’s fair to say, Xbox started the last generation off poorly because of some questionable marketing. This faux pas set the Xbox One off on the wrong foot, and not long after it was down on sales compared to Sony - a trend that would continue throughout the entire generation. History looks set to repeat itself once more, as the PS5 has outsold the Xbox Series X by just over two million units so far. Honestly though, I don’t think Microsoft cares.
A change in focus
Obviously Microsoft does care about selling consoles, otherwise it wouldn’t have released one. But Microsoft isn’t trying to go head to head with Sony anymore. Both businesses have clearly got different models. Microsoft tried to go toe-to-toe with Sony on selling first-party games last generation, and it couldn’t keep up. This is why Microsoft is instead building its own niche within the market, providing a service that Nintendo and Sony don’t.
Whether you buy an Xbox Series S or X, or if you own a PC, Microsoft is betting on you taking an interest in Game Pass. The growing library is available across last-gen, current-gen, PC and even mobile. There’s a startling number of ways to use the service, and it all plays into Microsoft’s ambition to build its own ecosystem of consumers. By building a network of consumers the way it has, Microsoft has a customer base that spans numerous generations of consoles.
There’s a great quote in an interview with Phil Spencer by the team at Eurogamer, which I feel perfectly summarises the way Microsoft is treating Xbox.
“We're building an Xbox business for the long run. I'll tell you, Game Pass today is a strong part of that, and it continues to get stronger, and it supports the building of great IP.”
The business Microsoft is building is an accessible one. This is an organisation that wants to make gaming more accessible to all. Whether it’s triple a day-one releases or the vast back catalogue of last-gen and previous generation games, Microsoft is trying to reduce the barriers to gaming and move the industry towards a future where everyone can pick up and play with only a minimum investment up front. In some ways, it’s similar to the pitch of Google Stadia, but without the need to pay full price for games you are streaming.
Sony on the other hand is focused on building its library of first-party exclusives for the PS5. There were some utterly captivating games last gen, with the likes of Spider-Man, God Of War and Ghost Of Tsushima providing enthralling experiences. It’s commitment to first-party development ultimately proved the safer bet over Xbox’s multimedia approach but it’s not a mistake the company seems to want to make this time around.
Sony and Microsoft are focusing on different experiences this generation, and it is great. It creates an industry with more options and choices for customers. Want a console dedicated to pushing the limits of gaming with stellar first-party experiences? Buy a PS5. Want a console that lets you play the latest games alongside an expansive backlog of older titles through Game Pass, go for the Xbox One.
This split in focus ultimately shows the console wars are meaningless, as neither business is trying to directly compete with one another. Both are focusing on very different parts of the market, and neither are trying to do exactly the same thing.
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