(Illustration by J. Spencer Jr)
A new generation of video game consoles is upon us. Players everywhere are experiencing the latest advances in home gaming tech.
Well, we would be, if either of the new systems were actually available for sale anywhere. More than two months after being released, it's still nigh impossible to find the next-gen consoles from Sony and Microsoft on shelves or online. (Lest you're willing to pay an exorbitant premium.)
Still, they've found their ways into plenty of hands. We've got enough information to draw some early conclusions and benchmarks from the developing battle between PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S.
So let's get to it.
Quick plug: You can learn about the backstory of Sony vs. Microsoft and how it helped change the course of gaming history by grabbing your copy of our book, VERSUS: 25 Head-to-Head Battles that Shaped the Evolution of Video Games in either paperback or ebook. Okay, onward.
PlayStation 5 vs. Xbox Series X/S
Most Sales So Far
Sales data is not made public and so the information we get, especially in real-time, is spotty and unreliable. Clearly both consoles have been pretty successful, as they're in high demand and difficult to obtain.
However, we do know that PlayStation 5 had the best global launch month in history (per VGchartz) and was outselling Xbox Series X by a healthy margin through four weeks. While sales were closer in the U.S., Sony was outpacing Microsoft on all fronts.
(Images via VGchartz)
The website GamingSmart pegs PS5 with nearly two-thirds of the market share. Data shows that Sony's new console has outsold Microsoft's 4.48M to 2.4M.
(Image via GamingSmart)
While none of these numbers are verified or official, it seems clear that PlayStation 5 has a strong sales lead on Xbox Series X. This runs contrary to expectations from analysts in October based on perceived consumer interest.
After firmly conquering the previous generation, when its PlayStation 4 outsold Xbox One by a more than two-to-one margin, Sony appears to be off to a rather dominant start in Generation No. 9.
The new PlayStation and Xbox systems both bring two-tiered offerings. The higher-grade versions each share the same price point:
PlayStation 5 (Standard Edition): $499
Xbox Series X: $499
The lower-rung version of PS5 is essentially the same console, except that it's fully digital and doesn't have a disc drive. Meanwhile, the Xbox Series S is not only also full-digital, but scaled down from the Series X in terms of specs. Here, a key pricing difference emerges:
PlayStation 5 (Digital Edition): $399
Xbox Series S: $299
The value trade-off here is debatable. But the bottom line is that Microsoft's new offering is more accessible to the price-conscious consumer.
With the black-and-white sales and pricing data out of the way, it's time to start conjecturing and editorializing! Which new system has a better name? The more pertinent question might be: which new system has a less annoying name? I guess Sony is basically stuck now in the dull convention of enumerating each new console release. PlayStation 5 as a name is boring and predictable, but in some ways reaffirming: the latest in a long line of renowned machines from a hardware titan.
As for Microsoft's naming conventions for its fourth-generation console? I hate 'em.
Xbox Series X is just a confusing repetition of letters. So is Series S. Two versions with two different names, neither of which are actually descriptive. This comes on the heels of Xbox One, which was in reality Xbox Three.
Maybe Sony's got the right idea sticking to basic, bland enumeration.
(Illustration by J. Spencer Jr)
I know some people seem to enjoy the design of Sony's new console. Not me. PlayStation 5 looks like Donald Duck's mouth with a hockey puck shoved into it. It looks like a rejected spaceship sketch from Star Trek. Last year Mark Serrels of CNET called it "the weirdest thing I've ever seen in my life," and I'm with him. "The PlayStation 5's design is so confounding," Serrels wrote, "I can't decide whether it's a deliberate Lynchian parody of our basest nostalgic impulses or -- way more likely -- the dumbest fucking thing I've ever seen."
I'm not going to rain any great acclaim onto the new Xbox systems, but I kinda like how the Series X and Series S look totally distinct from one another. Each is unoffensive if unimaginative: sleek, boxy, monolithic.
I'm probably going to end up buying a PS5 but I'm not excited to have it on display in my living room.
Best Game Lineup
This is a tricky topic to tackle, in part because most big games are available on both systems, and also their predecessors. Alas, there isn't a ton of differentiation yet. It's so early.
Titles like Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Cyberpunk 2077, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, NBA 2K1, Immortals Fenyx Rising, and Hitman 3 can be played on both PS5 and Xbox Series X. Generally speaking, there are no clear-cut performance advantages on either console.
In terms of exclusives, Sony has Demon's Souls, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and others. It also has the surprisingly clever and entertaining Astro's Playroom, which comes with the PS5.
Microsoft, meanwhile, had no exclusive titles at launch and doesn't offer much uniqueness in its library. As such, the PlayStation 5 has a pretty clear edge up to this point.
Best Upcoming Exclusive Title
As we established above, the current lineup of exclusive titles doesn't stand out that much for either console. But as we look ahead to announced releases coming down the pike, excitement begins to build. Here are some confirmed exclusive titles on the way for each console. (Note that some of these titles may be cross-generation, but are all Sony/Microsoft exclusives.)
Destruction AllStars (ETA February 2021)
Gran Turismo 7 (ETA 2021)
Horizon Forbidden West (ETA 2021)
God of War: Ragnarok (ETA 2021)
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart (ETA 2021)
Xbox Series X/S:
Halo Infinite (ETA Late 2021)
State of Decay 3 (ETA Unknown)
Phantasy Star Online 2: New Genesis (ETA 2021)
Forza Motorsport 8 (ETA Unknown)
Everwild (ETA Unknown)
Senua's Saga: Hellblade II (ETA Unknown)
Now I should say that I personally am very partial to PlayStation 4's Horizon Zero Dawn and God of War (the latter of which made my all-time top 10 GOAT list at the end of VERSUS). Still, it's hard for me to deny that Halo Infinite, featuring the return of Master Chief and promising a more story-driven experience than ever before, is the biggest and most exciting title on this list.
Best Game Subscription Service
As we laid out in our book's final chapter, streaming game subscription services are likely to be a key frontier in the future of gaming – a trend fueled by both the decline of physical games and by the Netflix-ization of content consumption. Both Sony and Microsoft offer game-streaming services.
PS5 has PlayStation Now, which includes a huge number of games from current and past generations that players can download and stream freely with a subscription.
Xbox Series X/S has Xbox Game Pass, which is similar in many ways, but all games are downloaded to be played instead of streamed.
Both services cost $9.99/month. The key difference is that Xbox Game Pass tends to have brand-new releases added immediately to its library, so players can access hot new titles without having to pay the retail cost. PlayStation Now has plenty of vaunted heavy-hitters in its lineup, and more variety overall, but games aren't typically added until long after they're released. For this reason, and because of some additional features and functionalities, Xbox Game Pass is considered the superior streaming service.
Each console has shown strength during its early months in the wild, and as we've established, there are plenty of exciting things on the way for both.
Although Xbox Series X has edges in a couple of key areas (Best Upcoming Exclusive, Best Game Subscription Service), the PlayStation 5 is in a position of extreme strength, riding in the wake of Sony's dominant eighth-generation victory and enjoying a huge early advantage in sales. While Microsoft may have the biggest upcoming exclusive title in Halo Infinite, I think Sony has a much more robust lineup of games in the pipeline, powered by phenomenal first-party franchises like Horizon and God of War. Microsoft's big-money acquisition of Bethesda could be a game-changing factor here, but we'll see.
At this point I give Sony a slightly brighter outlook, but it's close, and it's gonna be an awful lot of fun to watch this battle play out.
If you liked reading our breakdown of this battle, we promise you'll love reading our full chapter on Sony vs. Microsoft, plus 24 other pivotal showdowns in gaming history. Grab a copy of VERSUS in paperback or ebook. And sign up for our mailing list so you don't miss the next blog!