COMMENT: Have the console wars ended?

·Contributor
·4-min read

The launch of Sony PlayStation 5 and the Microsoft Xbox Series X and S marks a new beginning and a possible end to the long talked about console wars. The battle for market share started way back between Sega and Nintendo in the 1990s, with the modern era a showdown between Microsoft and Sony.

Now, Sony appears to have won the last generation war handily -- the PlayStation 4 sold almost 113 million units, with Xbox One a less than half that at 48 million. In case you're wondering, the Nintendo Switch pulled in a steady 63 million.

But a new-generation of consoles means a very different landscape for gamers. Microsoft has taken a new approach to its newest console, and appears to be avoiding the big fight with Sony for its launch. Nintendo is doing its own thing as usual, so it appears an unofficial truce has been called.

The hardware game

The newer consoles share very similar hardware performance, both powered by the eight-core AMD Zen 2 and RDNA 2 GPU. They sport the same amount of RAM (16GB) and feature NVMe SSD. They support up to 8K resolution, ray tracing tech for immersive graphics and Blu-ray drives depending on the model.

Technically, the Xbox is faster, able to do 12 teraflops of GPU performance vs the PS5's 10.28 TFLOP.

Honestly? It doesn't matter as much.

What sets both consoles apart are the features that they come with. Microsoft's betting big on its subscription service and using the new Xbox console as a gateway, giving gamers unlimited access to games via its Xbox Game Pass.

Microsoft's Xbox Series X (black) and series S (white) gaming consoles are displayed at a flagship store of SK Telecom in Seoul on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)
Microsoft's Xbox Series X (black) and series S (white) gaming consoles are displayed at a flagship store of SK Telecom in Seoul on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (Photo by JUNG YEON-JE/AFP via Getty Images)

It's a pretty good deal, as it also lets you play on Windows 10 PCs and Android phones via xCloud. Launched in 2017, the service already has over 15 million subscribers. The Xbox also lets you play backward-compatible games from an external USB storage as well.

Sony's PlayStation 5 conversely doesn't have an external storage solution, but still has a leg up against Microsoft despite its lack of gaming subscription plans. Sure, the PlayStation Plus gives you free games every month, but it's no buffet.

Instead, Sony's betting that exclusives, such as Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales, offer gamers a better draw. There are also more upcoming exclusive titles, such as a sequel to God of War 5 and Gran Turismo 7 (both due 2021), that will hook gamers deeper into the PS5 ecosystem.

Numbers, numbers, numbers

Microsoft has so far declined to reveal numbers for its console sales, with Xbox boss Phil Spencer stating he didn't want his team focused on console sales figures, a sign that Microsoft knows how it will pan out in the media.

Sony, on the other hand, isn't afraid to toot its own trumpet, claiming it as the "largest launch in PlayStation history". In Japan, Sony outsold Microsoft five to one, though it has to be said Japan is not a market Microsoft has been strong in since the early console days.

For now, demand appears to be high. Both consoles have been in short supply, with scalpers snapping up stocks to resell.

WILKES-BARRE, UNITED STATES - 2020/11/27: A man wearing a face masks leaves Game Stop with the new Play Station 5 gaming console on Black Friday. (Photo by Aimee Dilger/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
WILKES-BARRE, UNITED STATES - 2020/11/27: A man wearing a face masks leaves Game Stop with the new Play Station 5 gaming console on Black Friday. (Photo by Aimee Dilger/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

With both Sony and Microsoft playing nice on social media, it seems the two are avoiding the rivalry rhetoric. Fans already know what they want, and trying to stir up fervour may not pay off for either company.

Microsoft does have a trump card in hand -- its purchase of Bethesda Softworks, the game developer behind hits such as Fallout and the Elder Scrolls series could mean potentially exclusive games to draw customers to its console. Spencer has been cagey on whether it will be an exclusive.

For now, with Sony so far ahead, and Nintendo and Microsoft choosing to play their own strategies, the console wars may be over. Sony was the previous winner, and is alone at the top now.

Consumers have benefitted as well, with cross-platform play slowly becoming a thing this year. Microsoft's buffet of games makes wallet-friendly sense, while exclusives will continue to be a thing for Sony and Nintendo for the foreseeable future.

If it's not the end of the console wars, then we're pretty close to the finish line now.

Aloysius Low is an ex-CNET editor with more than 15 years of experience. He's really into cats and is currently reviewing products at canbuyornot.com

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