After almost seven years, the gaming industry finds itself divided again over which console will be better than the other — will it be Sony’s PlayStation 5 and its impressive library of exclusives or will it be a new and improved Xbox Series X which already boasts of processing power impressive enough to make even the PC gaming ‘elitists’ sit up and notice? I’d say both, because Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, want totally different things from the next generation of video game consoles. And, of course, the rise of cloud gaming.
Ever since they became a thing, console wars have been crucial in deciding the possible direction of the industry — the Sega and Nintendo rivalry of the early 90s gave way to faster consoles with 16-bit graphics and dynamic sounds, the N64 and PlayStation (and Sega’s Saturn) rivalry in the late 90s resulted in disks becoming a preferred choice of storage and made beautiful three-dimensional graphics a norm, Xbox 360 was a game-changer in online multiplayer gaming and the most recent PlayStation 4 and Xbox One dissension that showed everyone that the future belongs to the console with better exclusives and online services.
The console wars are almost as old as mass-produced consoles themselves and most of us can relate to having debated and argued over what we believed (or believe) is the superior gaming console — there is something inherently purposeful about picking a side and religiously compare, debate and deliberate while pretending to be vastly intellectual, especially when you’re a teenager. I still remember swearing by the good old Xbox 360 and mocking all my (unfortunate) friends who got a PlayStation 3 for their birthday.
We are transitioning to the ninth generation of video game consoles and are on the cusp of a complete overhaul of the way we look at and play video games. On one hand, we have powerful than ever video game consoles with processing speeds clocking tens of teraflops and on the other hand, we see the onset of cloud gaming that, even though isn’t absolutely perfect, has produced consistent results and generated a lot of buzz. And, of course, we also see the ever-growing importance of services over hardware — a trend that is rapidly gaining momentum in the tech industry as a whole.
Reiterating my point, the current generation clearly showed us two things — services matter more than hardware, and that all the three major players have completely different plans for their next generation. For example, Sony’s key interest lies in converting as many PlayStation 4 players to PlayStation 5 as possible in a short time, which explains why no PlayStation 5 exclusives will be available on previous generations and why many PS4 exclusives are being re-launched for PS5. Microsoft doesn’t largely care about hardware sales any more and instead focuses on onboarding more PC and Xbox One gamers on their Xbox Game Pass and xCloud platforms (which already has 10 million players) and Nintendo is employing its usual strategy of refraining from going head-to-head with the other two players and instead focusing on its brands and IPs including Animal Crossing, Zelda, Pokemon and Super Mario Bros, which turned 35 this year.
So how does cloud gaming factor in? Ever since Google made the concept of game-streaming and cloud game processing mainstream with Stadia, every tech giant has plans to jump on the bandwagon, gaming or not. Therefore, it is obvious that cloud and the way it is harnessed will be a major factor in the next-gen consoles and looking at just the two console giants, Microsoft seems to have a better grip on this phenomenon given its in-house Azure cloud backend and an optimistic and idealist vision of a digital-first ecosystem.
Sony, however, cannot just be written off completely, as the company seems to be treating its cloud subscription service, PlayStation Now, as an answer to backwards compatibility and currently has over 700 titles to choose from, including ones from PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3. It is also likely that both the companies will be carrying out massive overhauls and major developments like building architecture and expanding data centres and keeping them under wraps as streaming becomes more and more viable and streamlined — quite like the web streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. This is further supported by the fact that PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series both will have separate disk-free, digital-only models. It won’t be surprising to see Microsoft or Sony pulling an Apple and abruptly remove a legacy component altogether, in this case, the disk drive, though it seems unlikely.
It is interesting to note, however, that even companies that have never been associated with gaming in the past are foraying into this new avenue — Google and Amazon with Stadia and Luna, respectively (although Amazon does own Twitch). Google and Amazon’s pre-existing logistics in place have hugely supported their entry to this space — Google’s huge library of data centres means that the company has no dearth of cloud infrastructure and Amazon’s AWS has been powering the Internet for a long time. So, while technically the cloud gaming scene does feel crowded with everyone from Sony to Nvidia and even many smaller companies jumping in the race to get a market share, in the end, giant corporations with pre-existing infrastructure will be reigning supreme.
Being an ardent Xbox fanboy before shifting towards PlayStation after PS4, I’ll naturally be inclined towards PlayStation 5, even though on paper the Xbox Series seems like a superior machine. But this generation of consoles won’t be about having better exclusives or more sales, it will be about adapting to cloud gaming and blurring the divide between devices either through cross-playing, game streaming or game subscriptions. Not to mention the decreasing importance of exclusive titles as ports are becoming more and more commonplace.
So, while Sony and Microsoft will see fanboys and fangirls fighting over which one is a better console, the console war as we know it is on its decline, mainly due to the differing objectives and priorities of the companies. But just like everything nowadays, the console wars will shift to the cloud and pretty soon it won’t even matter which console you’re playing with. As long as you are on the cloud too.
Jatin Varma is the founder of Comic Con India Sourced by the Telegraph
‘Time to start saving up as much as possible’ — Jatin Varma
Console war in the era of cloud gaming
Unlike my comics avatar, I am relatively a noob when it comes to gaming, the time I spend on gaming is slightly less than my comics. However, I grew up on PC games and then the consoles. And for me, all of it has always been on the cloud, because even with the console, you log on online and play against gamers across the world. And like me, get beaten down in a game quite a bit by people way younger than me. I think I have had my own NoobMaster69 moment many times in the past few years.
Xbox series vs Playstation 5
It’s always been the PlayStation; I was never an Xbox fan. I think it happened by default as my brother and I were able to buy a PS more easily when we were younger. It was quite an investment and I am sure PS5 will be the same. I have played on Xbox with friends who own them, but once you are invested in one particular platform, I guess shifting to another is not the easiest. I know of many friends who are a lot more into gaming than me, who own both consoles. But I guess my default setting ended up being the PlayStation and that’s where I still am.
Games to look forward to
I am hoping to try out the new God Of War (Ragnarok). Also, Batman: Arkham Knight and Mortal Kombat X are there. Might also try out the new Call Of Duty. But I am not sure when I’ll actually be able to do any of this, because it will take some time before PS5 is readily available in India and I am expecting it to be an expensive investment for sure. Time to start saving up as much as possible.