This week, we celebrated two important anniversaries: the PS5 and Xbox series X have both been away for two years. Generally speaking, the consoles launched in a solid state and only got better in the meantime. With excellent performance and robust game libraries, both Sony and Microsoft have produced some interesting current-gen consoles. What’s interesting, however, is that in doing so, the two companies used radically different strategies.
With the PS5, Sony took a more conservative approach to console gaming. In most cases, if you want to play a PS5 game, you’ll need to buy it for full price and play it exclusively on your console. The downside to this approach is that buying PS5 games essentially ties you to one system for the duration of your game. But the upside is that Sony has built a nice lineup of hardware to complement the PS5, as IT writer Tony Polanco explains.
Meanwhile, the Xbox Series X is an entirely optional part of the larger Xbox experience. If you buy a game, you can often play it on the Xbox Series X, Xbox series S, Xbox One or one gaming computer – but you don’t have to buy any games at all. If you subscribe to Xbox Game Pass, you can download or stream hundreds of games to a console, PC or smartphone, effortlessly syncing save files as you go. On the other hand, however, the Xbox Series X didn’t deliver the same kind of must-have exclusives as the PS5, as editor Marshall Honorof points out.
Essentially, Sony built a hardware-based PS5 ecosystem, while Microsoft built a software-based Xbox Series X ecosystem. And while neither approach is strictly better or worse, each offers enticing advantages and unfortunate disadvantages.
The PS5 hardware ecosystem
Sony has always been a hardware company. For that reason, it’s no surprise that it’s taken a hardware-centric approach to gaming. Where Microsoft wants you to play its titles on various devices through Xbox Game Pass, Sony wants you to get a PlayStation to play its games. Yes, PlayStation titles are coming to PC, but years after their initial console release. New PlayStation games are unlikely to come to console and PC the way they do to Xbox. Again, Sony’s main focus seems to be selling consoles.
Sony’s approach is interesting considering how rapidly gaming has moved digitally over the past decade. According to PlayStation head Jim Ryan, 80% of PlayStation game spending is digital. Either way, if you want to play PlayStation exclusives, you’ll need a PlayStation console. Given how the The PS5 has currently sold 25 million units despite the supply chain issues, Sony’s strategy is obviously working.
And as far as we know, Sony will continue to put its gaming hardware first. We say “gaming hardware” instead of console because Sony has released many devices that complement the PlayStation experience. If you buy an official PlayStation peripheral such as Sony Inzone H9 headset or Sony Inzone M9 gaming monitor, you don’t have to worry about compatibility. It will just work. TVs like the Sony Bravia XR A80J OLED also pair well with the PS5. You can think of it as the Sony version of the Apple ecosystem.
Outside of games, PlayStation consoles have served as secondary or, in some cases, primary media centers. One of the main reasons for the success of the PS2 is that it was, at the time, the most affordable DVD player on the market. The PS3 was a fantastic Blu-Ray player and still is today. Likewise, the PS5 doubles as a solid UHD player for 4K movies. Yes, Xbox consoles also let you play BD and UHD discs, but that aspect has always been a selling point for PlayStation systems, even outside of gamers. It’s one of the strongest aspects of PlayStation.
It’s unclear how long Sony’s hardware orientation will remain viable. Again, it’s obvious that the game is going (or has gone) almost entirely digital. That said, it’s hard to deny the comfort one feels when purchasing a game physically. If a publisher decides to discontinue a title, the physical owners will still have it. There’s also something to be said for owning an actual console instead of a small streaming device like a Google Chromecast.
Unless the gaming landscape changes so much that Sony is forced to adapt, the Tokyo-based tech giant will likely continue its traditional approach to gaming. The PS5 is unlikely to be the last PlayStation console released. — Tony Polanco
The Xbox Series X software ecosystem
Even before Xbox Series X launched, I wrote about how Microsoft was building an ecosystem rather than tying players to a specific console. The last two years have confirmed my observations. Microsoft’s latest console doesn’t have any real exclusive games, as every Xbox Series X title is also available for gaming PCs, and most are still available on Xbox One. Even when Microsoft begins phasing out its older hardware, gamers will still be able to stream Xbox Series X titles to Xbox One consoles — or smartphones and web browsers.
The link that holds Microsoft’s robust ecosystem together is the Xbox Game Pass. When it debuted in 2017, Xbox Game Pass let you download around 100 titles to an Xbox One console, but the service has grown significantly since then. If you pay $15 a month for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you can download around 400 games to an Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, or gaming PC — but that’s just basic functionality. Xbox Game Pass also lets you stream games to consoles, smartphones, smart TVs, and web browsers, and sync your save files wherever you go.
In other words, Microsoft has significantly lowered the entry bar for big-budget mainstream games. You don’t have to buy a $1,000 gaming PC; you don’t have to buy a $500 Xbox Series X; you don’t have to buy a $300 Xbox Series S. You don’t even have to buy standalone $70 games. If you have just about any modern device with a screen, you can be an Xbox gamer for $15 a month.
This arrangement is beneficial for both newcomers to console gaming and hardcore Xbox gamers. Long-time console gamers might not need an out-of-the-box library of games, but the syncing of saves alone makes Microsoft’s approach quite appealing. Without Xbox Game Pass, players can sync saves across Xbox consoles and gaming PCs; with Xbox Game Pass, they can also sync saves across streaming platforms. The ability to take your progress with you on any screen in your home – or on a variety of other screens while you move or travel – avoids one of the traditional pain points associated with console gaming.
However, Microsoft’s focus on building an ecosystem rather than a single console comes at a cost. While the PS5 can boast a dozen best-in-class exclusives, including Demon’s Souls and Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apartthe Xbox only has threeand none of them take advantage of dedicated hardware features, such as DualSense controller haptics, or the Sony PlayStation Pulse Tempest 3D audio from the headset. There’s certainly something more immersive about tying yourself to a single console with a full suite of bespoke hardware, rather than moving your game – and yourself – across half a dozen screens.
Personally, I think the convenience of Microsoft’s ecosystem, and Xbox Game Pass in particular, is a worthwhile trade-off. Even so, the Xbox Series X could use a few more high-quality exclusive titles – and even Xbox chief Phil Spencer said so. — Marshal Honorof
There’s no denying that the PS5 and Xbox Series X represent the pinnacle of console gaming. Each is capable of delivering high-resolution graphics and lightning-fast performance. The fact that each is nearly as powerful as a mid-range PC says a lot. If you buy either system, you probably won’t be disappointed.
That said, the two respective console companies have taken drastically different approaches to delivering games to their customers. As such, you will need to decide which methodology works best for you.
If you prefer the traditional gaming experience of buying a console with games that can only be played on that system, then the PS5 should be a no-brainer. However, if you don’t care about owning a console and just want to access your games no matter what device you’re on, then Xbox with its software-centric approach will seem more appealing.