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Next-gen console launches are about more than (a lack of) exclusive games

I am very excited to get my excessively sanitised hands on an Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 this November, despite the prevailing notion there are no games, making either a foolish purchase, at least according to furious tweeters. In 2020, the Xbox Series X/S and PS5 are something to look forward to; it’s something positive on the horizon, and I cannot be more appreciative that both are forging ahead despite the obvious challenges.

Most of us have no idea when we will be able to cross state borders, let alone dust off our passports.

Many of us look forward to reconnecting with family and friends over the Christmas and new year period, but in 2020 that is far from assured; I dare not mention Zoom. Some of us are quarantined in bubbles around our suburbs and banned from the liberation that only after work drinks can provide, while others no longer have work to be liberated from. I am living with relative freedom compared to other parts of Australia (and the world), yet I have struggled this year without an aspiration — a holiday, concert, party, movie or even quick catch-up to look forward to. I have found myself reaching for something that isn’t there; until now.

This week Xbox circled the 10th of November on my barren 2020 calendar. It has given me excitement and motivation to surge forward, and a reason to use some of that banked leave seeking a purpose. There is now one day in 2020 that I genuinely want to arrive — Sony, please give me another one.

Xbox finally announcing its worst kept secret, the entry level Xbox Series S, with a meme on Twitter was not how this was supposed to go. Marketing departments the world over, who aren’t confined in lockdown, swarmed bottle shops as months of overtime were leaked ahead of next week’s official announcement.

But that is how things go in 2020, and a sense of relief swept social media, from gamers and employees of a global mega-corporation alike, that the console stalemate had been broken, as Xbox fully committed and announced a price and date for the Series X. It actually worked out really well for Xbox, and was the push it needed to generate its strongest marketing in years.

Before this unconventional sign of the times reveal, excitement for the looming new console generation was comatose.

Microsoft’s initially successful long-tail approach drip-feeding information started to unravel when its first gameplay reveal contained little actual gameplay. The momentum ground to a halt when backlash to an unpolished Halo Infinite saw the only killer launch title delayed.

PlayStation, meanwhile, kept its lips sealed until Xbox started to wobble. It struck in one fell swoop with a funky console reveal and some actual PS5 gameplay that skyrocketed its appeal. Executives followed up with confused messaging as to whether its big launch title, Spider-Man Miles Morales, is a proper sequel, a quick spin-off or DLC with a remaster; at the time, it appeared they didn’t know. Seemingly content that it had another 100 million seller in the bag, Sony shut-up shop and we’ve barely heard a whisper since.

The launch roadmaps have clearly been restricted for both platforms, but I don’t share the sentiment that this is a lacklustre launch. In 2020, it’s exactly what we need, but even had the world not imploded, this would have been a very different launch for both platforms.

New consoles often launch with a scarce games line-up that is quickly forgotten. Historically it has been a single amazing game that can’t be played elsewhere, and wouldn’t have been possible on crumby old hardware, that has garnered praise and broken sales records. The PS5 couldn’t muster more than a spin-off, clearly reduced in scope to make the tight deadline. Xbox hasn’t even bothered to do that, and won’t have a single generational exclusive for at least a year (probably).

This generation is different, and both platforms are reading from different playbooks.

Xbox doesn’t care where you play, it just wants you to subscribe to Game Pass. That’s why it can offer the most powerful console and the cheapest console, and offer the choice to play on PC or stream to mobile. The platform is no longer the focus.

PlayStation wants to win the console war, and to do that it needs you to abandon old hardware. That’s done with exclusive games and is a proven model that has seen it definitively win three of the last four generations. But even without heavily disrupted development, those games took time to materialise on the PS3 and PS4. That’s never really been a major factor on launch day.

There isn’t a Super Mario 64 equivalent on either platform, but a launch title of that pedigree is rare, and we are always quick to forget there was only one other launch game in the US. Had SM64 not smashed it out of the park, the Nintendo 64 would have been a disaster.

Instead, both the PS5 and XSXS (is that what we’re going with?) are employing the Game Boy trick and launching with thousands of games… thousands of old games. But unlike the vintage handheld, and even the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii, it isn’t a minor feature. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S will provide a considerably better experience for the hundreds of games we already own.

While Xbox is supporting four generations of backwards compatibility, the ones that matter are those you have missed over the past couple of years and those still getting a regular run. I’d wager every adult reading this has joked about their gaming backlog over the past few years, knowing the likelihood of ever ticking them off is slim. With free improvements to many of those games — primarily on Xbox, as the specifics of backwards compatibility is part of Sony’s radio silence — now is the time.

Like many people, I used lockdown 1.0 to revitalise my home entertainment, and now I want a console worthy of that setup.

It doesn’t matter that I could play these games on Xbox One, PS4 or PC. It doesn’t even matter that some of them I could have played a year or two ago — I want the best way to play this massive library of games on my new 4K HDMI 2.1 TV. There is a lot of value in getting a new console at launch if you have embraced new TVs or even a new monitor — skewed in Xbox’s favour with its vast Game Pass library now including EA games.

Sony wants to sell consoles and Microsoft wants to sell Game Pass subscription. Long term, it is exclusive games that will do that. But at launch, the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S bring something we haven’t seen before. They provide a significantly better way to play the games you already own on the new TV a global pandemic prompted you to buy, but it’s more than that: it’s something to be genuinely excited about in a year that owes us some joy. Treat yourself.

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About the author

Ben Salter

Ben has been writing about games in a professional capacity since 2008. He even did it full-time for a while, but his mum never really understood what that meant. He's been part of the Stevivor team since 2016. You will find his work across all sections of the site (if you look hard enough). Gamertag / PSN ID: Gryllis.