Three years into a console generation that launched at the height of a crippling pandemic, a number of astonishing and unprecedented things are happening. Firstly Sony, the platform holder with the most acute supply issues during COVID-19 and the related chip shortage, is winning. This is not up for debate. It’s selling a lot more machines and, according to the best metrics we have, it’s releasing better games. It certainly has the biggest exclusives.
Xbox – despite having made some extremely good decisions at the start of this generation, having spent tens of billions acquiring studios and talent to leverage its IPs, and having had its machines be readily available in stores earlier than either model of PS5 – looks like it’s floundering. And it pains me to say this, because I genuinely think it started Generation Nine with a very solid offering and, it seemed, much promise for the years ahead.
But PlayStation is, insurmountably it seems, the more respected brand. That’s a tough kraken to slay from a neutral position, but considering everything that has dented the reputation of Xbox – from RROD to the litany of stupid decisions fronted by Don Mattrick that I won’t bother recounting – it’s hardly surprising that the USS Redmond has been circling the harbour for twenty years. Sony’s biggest sin over the same span of time can be summed up as hubris, rather than incompetence. Phil Spencer, Microsoft’s super chill head of gaming and jackets, has made a valiant effort to steady the ship (a ship he found less than seaworthy, because it was a smouldering pile of ash halfway up the side of a volcano), but a string of setbacks has seen Xbox, until recently perceived as being poised for a huge comeback, drift back into choppy nautical metaphors.