by Paul Tassi via Forbes As we head into the fall, the console wars are heating up. Just kidding, they’re really not. Instead, the PS4 and Xbox One march more or less lockstep into the season sharing nearly all the biggest games. What will undoubtedly be the top three sellers of the holiday season, Black Ops 3, Fallout 4 and […]
by Paul Tassi via Forbes
As we head into the fall, the console wars are heating up.
Just kidding, they’re really not. Instead, the PS4 and Xbox One march more or less lockstep into the season sharing nearly all the biggest games. What will undoubtedly be the top three sellers of the holiday season, Black Ops 3, Fallout 4 and Metal Gear Solid 5 are out on both systems. The same goes for Mad Max, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Just Cause 3, FIFA, Star Wars: Battlefront and Rainbow Six Siege.
I’ve previously credited Xbox One has having a slight window to catch up to the PS4 with two powerful exclusives, Halo 5 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, on the horizon, but though both will sell well, in the grand scheme of things, it’s possible (probable) there is no catching PS4 at this point.
The systems have become functionally identical over time, Microsoft having to dramatically rework the Xbox One after E3 2013 to mirror its rival. So now we have two boxes that perform roughly the same with a catalog of games that are 90% of the same as one another.
And yet, I’m asked this all the time. Rather “accused” of it all the time. If I write that this year is Microsoft’s best bet to gain ground on PS4, I’m a shill for the Xbox. If I concede that in all likelihood, Sony has already won this generation’s console war with a massive lead, I’m a sellout for PS4.
Of course the truth is neither of these, as I own both systems, plus a Wii U and gaming PC for good measure. I have no financial stake in either company, and after owning every PlayStation and Xbox and Nintendo console before this trio, I don’t have some sort of deep seeded nostalgia bias either that will cause me to choose one brand over another every time.
And yet, there are smaller biases. Ones I will freely admit. But these biases show just how petty the PS4 and Xbox One console war has become. These are not two dramatically different visions for the future of gaming. They are instead small tweaks and personal preferences that cause me to choose one system over another in a given situation.
So, in the interest of full disclosure for fanboys to reference at any time in the future, here are my full list of console biases.
1. I will almost always choose to buy an FPS game (or request a review copy) for Xbox One over PS4. My first experiences with FPS games were obviously on PC, but the first series I really dove into was Halo on the original Xbox, which sort of defined my formative years with the genre. As such, the Xbox One controller simply feels more natural for shooters. It’s half the reason I left a high level Destiny character behind on PS4, and completely converted to Xbox One for that game, once I realized I was going to be in it for the next ten years.
2. In contrast, most other genres I will play on PS4, as I like the diversity of switching back and forth between two systems. And maybe because it was growing up with Tomb Raider, but nearly all third person action games I play on PS4. For some like Uncharted, I have to, obviously, but I’ll also play Arkham games, Shadow of Mordor, Assassin’s Creed, etc, etc, there as well. And it just felt blasphemous to buy Metal Gear Solid 5 for Xbox One given its history with PlayStation, so I own the PS4 copy of that as well. In terms of the great graphics debate? I never once have thought that a game looks better on one console than the other, and my platform picks for wide-released series have to do with genre alone as I say. The technical differences just aren’t there, and if they are, I simply can’t notice them, try as I might.
3. Generally speaking, I don’t like the PS4 controller compared to the Xbox One’s. The thumbstick issue really is horrible, as the rubber shreds and forces you to either get a new one, or these gaudy, uncomfortable caps to put on them. And for some reason, the battery life feels a lot shorter as well, as I feel like my DualShock is always on the verge of death while the XB1 controller can truck for a lot more miles.
4. I hate the Xbox One UI. I don’t really know anyone who doesn’t hate the Xbox One UI. It was based on Windows 8 (ugh) and designed to work with Kinect gesturing (double ugh), and now that Windows 10 is here, it remains painfully outdated. I don’t even have my Kinect hooked up, so I can’t shout at my screen to display menu options that remain otherwise hidden. It’s impossible to find half of what you’re looking for in those tiles, and I cannot wait for the pending redesign that’s coming soon. As such, the terrible UI makes me use PS4 for all non-gaming related functions like watching Netflix or Amazon or Hulu. I do only watch HBO Go on Xbox One, but I think I got in that habit because it was available first on Xbox for some reason, and I just haven’t bothered to download it on PS4 yet.
5. Despite the massive sales lead of PS4, the few friends I have who do own gaming consoles mostly have Xbox Ones. I think there is some nostalgia at play there, as the vast majority of our gaming time in college and high school was on Xboxes, the original, but mainly 360. And mainly Halo 3, which we sunk literally thousands of hours into. I rarely play games online with most of my career-and-family-having friends these days, but when I do, it’s on Xbox One. But when I have people actually over to play games? Quite literally the only option 95% of the time is Wii U, as both PS4 and Xbox One have all but abandoned splitscreen. Needless to say it breaks all of our hearts that somehow with the release of Halo 5, we will have no way to play together in the same room like we used to.
6. The battle of the “exclusives” seems a lot less intense than it used to. We’re lucky if each console gets what, one big-name exclusive a year, with a smattering of smaller ones? So far, I think it’s been a pretty even split in terms of quality of exclusives, though until Halo 5 and Tomb Raider make their debut, I think PS4 has been slightly ahead. Bloodborne remains the best console exclusive between the Xbox One and PS4 in my eyes, and I think Xbox One is still searching for something to match it. I am very hopeful for Halo 5, however, split-screen issues aside, based on what I’ve played in early testing so far. Still though, every year there are so many huge multiplatform games that the exclusives feel more and more like afterthoughts, instead of the titles that used to completely define the console. Overall, I think Sony has an edge here, but both systems have lacked all that many high quality exclusives so far this generation.
7. Console exclusive content makes me hate both brands equally. Sony’s newfound snuggling session with Activision giving away early Call of Duty Beta and DLC access and loads of PS-only Destiny content is just maddening. Though Microsoft has certainly secured those kinds of deals in the past as well, Sony is just doing more of them lately because of their massive market position. First Xbox was the “home of Call of Duty” and now PlayStation is, but both claims for a multiplatform game are fundamentally stupid. You do not “own” the game, you are simply making it slightly worse for players who use your competition’s console. This has been by far the dumbest part of the console wars this generation, yet given how similar the systems are, this is what it’s regressed to.
8. I think Sony has been a little cocky since launch, but I suppose they’ve earned the right to be. Their sales lead is just something to behold, though I can’t shake the feeling that they haven’t quite earned it. Given how similar the Xbox One and PS4 are in the end, to have Sony selling close to double the amount of systems seems excessive, and this literally all stems from a few early decisions Microsoft made with the Xbox One. The elimination of discs makes sense in the long run, but it was the wrong time to do so with the used games economy still in full swing. An always online console is alright for security, but will do more harm than good if a failed “check-in” prevents someone from playing a game they legally own because of a spotty internet connection. But Microsoft has no excuse for pushing the Kinect so hard when it soon became clear they had no actual idea what to do with it, and despite a 2.0 version, the tech itself was never ready for prime time. I honestly credit the Kinect alone and the $100 price increase it forced upon the console as the majority of the reason the Xbox One is trailing the PS4 to this day. That bundling decision is one of the worst in industry history.
So, am I biased? Can you go through the list and tally up which console had more pros or cons? I don’t know, I didn’t count. I know I use them both pretty equally. Both have their strengths, and both have their weaknesses which I am always quick to point out. But fundamentally, I can’t shake the feeling that they’re just so damn similar, and that has made for the blandest console wars in years.
We all have biases like these, but they’re minor and don’t make us “beholden” to one company or another. And for those who have staked their claim with one side or another, why? I get that most budgets will only allow the purchase of one console, but to create this artificial brand war where you become a free recruit to do PR for a corporation seems downright weird. I get that these differences are fun to debate, but it can escalate far beyond that sometimes, and it doesn’t need to.
Anyway, those are my console “biases.” And I have some about the Wii U and PC I could expand on later too probably, but this is the main conflict this generation, and will be for the rest of the decade, it seems.