History repeats itself.
This is a story we’ve all heard before- a console manufacturer was coming off of their second console in the market, which had been incredibly successful, and the standard of all third party game development during that generation. The console manufacturer felt like they were on top of the world, and that they could do no wrong- in the process, they completely misread the market. They put out an overpriced system, with mixed messaging largely focusing on media functionality for some reason, to the market. That, as well as the fact that their system’s architecture was challenging, leading either to poorer ports or outright loss of third party support, led to dismally low sales, and the system becoming punchline in media and the gaming community, causing the competition to surge ahead.
Now on the backfoot, the console manufacturer took multiple measures to course correct- rapid price drops, aggressive bundles, consumer friendly policies and services, shoring up their first party to ensure a steady stream of exclusives for their system, and finally, a mid cycle refresh that completely rejuvenated sales, leading to the system becoming competitive with the competition again.
The question here is- which system am I talking about? Because the interesting thing is, that description could apply to the PlayStation 3 and to the Xbox One- the parallels between both of the systems are actually a fair bit eerie in their specificity.
"The Xbox One essentially seems to be channeling the PlayStation 3 this generation."
The Xbox One essentially seems to be channeling the PlayStation 3 this generation. The parallels are interesting and immediate- both the PS3 and Xbox One are third consoles, both of them had terrible reveals, fraught with mixed messaging focusing on media, and misreading the market leading to the console being priced too high, both of them lost the kind of favor with third parties that their predecessors had known, leading to Sony and Microsoft to work extra hard to shore up their first party lineup, both saw multiple bundles and rapid fire price cuts, before a mid cycle refresh of the console came along, and revitalized sales.
The Xbox One and the PS3 were bought hindered by complicated architecture, leading to poorer versions of multiplatform games, and in some cases outright loss of third party support. Both systems began to leverage openness somewhere down their life cycles, even touting similar functionality, such as cross platform play and interactivity with the PC.
Sony deserves mad credit for how they managed to pull back with the PS3- the horrid launch of the system is now a distant memory, and the PS3, over the course of the generation, became a far more desirable system than it had been at launch, and indeed, far more desirable than the competition too. Sony’s persistent efforts at securing a steady stream of desirable content for their system, as well as their consistent consumer friendly policies and initiatives, all led to the PS3 ending the generation in style, and in a position of strength, momentum that they then leveraged smartly going into the launch of the PS4.
And yet, as much credit as Sony deserves for how they managed to pull the PS3 around, Microsoft certainly deserves credit for how they have so far managed to revive the Xbox One, too. A year ago, no one would have believed that the Xbox One would actually be the more appealing system, that its exclusive lineup would actually trump Sony’s, that Microsoft would be seen as a more consumer friendly, and open company, of all things.
"A year ago, no one would have believed that the Xbox One would actually be the more appealing system, that its exclusive lineup would actually trump Sony’s, that Microsoft would be seen as a more consumer friendly, and open company, of all things."
And yet, that’s exactly what Microsoft have done. Led by Phil Spencer, they’ve maneuvered the Xbox One into being an extremely appealing proposition, indeed- starting with the introduction of compatibility for Xbox 36o games last year, to the introduction of cross platform multiplayer, to Xbox Anywhere, which is the most ambitious cross purchase program in history, to a string of great exclusives, to smart price drops, to the Xbox One S, which will probably go down as the standard of mid cycle revisions for consoles going forward, to openness in the kinds of content they allow on their system with no restrictions, to delivering extreme value at very low prices (such as with the inclusion of the UHD Blu Ray player on the Xbox One S), Microsoft have truly managed to turn the ship around, and they’ve managed to salvage their perception with the masses, too.
Hammering the point home for Microsoft is the contrast that they implicitly and passively draw against Sony. Sony won’t allow cross platform play. Sony won’t allow backwards compatibility on their system. Sony won’t even honor your previous PS Classics purchases on the PS4. Sony have constantly delayed their major exclusives, with Uncharted 4 being the only highlight of the PS4 lineup this year. The PS4 Slim is a rather cheap and underwhelming revision. Sony won’t allow mods on their systems without significant restrictions placed on the kinds of content they allow. Sony don’t have a UHD Blu Ray player on their systems, not even the high end PS4 Pro. Everything that Microsoft have done right over the last year or so, Sony have fumbled, making Microsoft look that much better by comparison.
Of course, Microsoft can’t afford to get complacent here- Sony still have the more powerful system (though the Scorpio is coming, and it may change that), and a truly formidable lineup of first and third party exclusives waiting in the wings next year (assuming they don’t get delayed… again). Microsoft still rely greatly on their core tentpole franchises, and PS4 still commands more third party support. But where the Xbox One is now, versus where it was a year ago, is a study in contrasts- and if Microsoft keep this up, if they don’t relent, then they could pull of a stunning long term recovery.
Ultimately that’s what it comes down to- the Xbox One will almost certainly never manage to pull ahead of the PS4, like the PS3 did with Xbox 360. Microsoft don’t have the brand appeal or presence in global markets that Sony do. But that’s okay- because if Microsoft continue to do things right like they have been with the Xbox One, then they could be in a position of power going forwards. And who knows, when the PS5 and the Xbox One successors are launching, the tables may be flipped, and Microsoft may have the momentum on their side.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.