Forgive me. I’ve been rewatching the entire Fast and Furious series after finally convincing my wife to watch the whole thing, so there are incoming analogies to street racing tactics, ridiculous stunts, and dead favorite characters returning to life. Am I stretching somewhat? Yes. Am I stretching a lot? Ok, yeah. But somewhere in the rubble of a city that just had a ten-ton vault dragged through it is something insightful about Microsoft and Sony and their next-gen consoles.
Today, Microsoft unceremoniously released a blog from Phil Spencer detailing the Xbox Series X. It’s the next salvo in the long lead up to next-gen release. While Sony popped up out of the foxhole early last year to announce some details, and then again in October to confirm the name and release window, we still don’t know anything all that significant or concrete about the console. Even the previously reported backwards compatibility has come into question as Sony is apparently still ironing out the wrinkles. Microsoft, meanwhile, is already talking about the extraordinary power of the Series X and just what the console will do to improve on this gen.
The lead up to next-gen is a huge game of chicken between companies. As much as Microsoft wants to say it isn’t competing with Sony, that’s just not the way the fans see it. There’s a common “finish” line: Holiday 2020. (Yes, I am aware that release is, in fact, only the beginning, but for the sake of my Fast and Furious analogies, we’re looking at the “quarter-mile” to release, as it were.) The battle for information share and dominating the conversation space is one that relies on a multitude of variables and factors. Sure, Microsoft is all everyone is talking about today (with PS5 only coming up to lament Sony’s silence), but if I’ve learned something from every Fast and Furious street race, it’s that all Sony has to do is look over smugly, say “too soon,” and then hammer the button on its own nitrous boost to cross the finish line ahead of Microsoft.
Okay, it’s not that simple. But timing is important. Sony admitted as much in talking about determining a price point for the PS5. The company is effectively waiting to see if it can undercut, or at least compete with, Microsoft. Who’s going to blink first? Who will swerve out of the way to make room for the other? Microsoft knows Sony is waiting on them to announce price. How long does each company wait to finalize their own price points? In this game of chicken, who blinks first? Will Sony adjust strategy based on Microsoft’s announcements?
It’s Not the Car, It’s the Driver
Thing is, as a nice a car as you can have, it’s all about who’s behind the wheel and customizations that have been made to your ride. Like Tej says, customization is that special bond between a driver and their car. Similarly, while Xbox Series X and PS5 are expected to be roughly comparable in power, specs, and even many of the features, it’s all about how the console manufacturers are making their next-gen consoles unique to them. In this case, we know that Xbox Series X is getting features like SSD storage (something Sony is also doing for the PS5), quick resume from a suspended stat on multiple games (not just the current application), full backwards compatibility with all Xbox titles, Smart Delivery (effectively cross-buy that gives you the game across the entire Xbox ecosystem), and the continued evolution of Xbox Game Pass. Next-gen Xbox is so much more than the Series X console, even if that stands tall at the center as its flagship.
Right now, roughly nine or ten months ahead of next-gen console releases, Sony is starting to fall behind, but if Xbox empties the tanks too soon, it will allow Sony to come in and boost past them in the final moments of the race. There are apparently a bunch of “unique elements” of the PS5 that we don’t yet know. Those are Sony’s nitrous reserves that it can use to take over the conversation itself, whenever it chooses to disclose them.
It’s telling, however, that Microsoft opted for a feature dump via written blog post as opposed to hosting some kind of live stream or event. Sony’s already shown that the strategy for next-gen marketing and release is changing, and Microsoft is continuing to show that seven years makes just as much of a difference for console release strategies as it does for Fast and Furious movies. This is the sequel now, and we’ve gone from simple street racing to jumping cars out of 100-story buildings in Dubai. It’s insane, it’s different than people will remember, but as much friction as there might be, have faith that it’s going to safely land a few stories down in the building next door.
Content Over Power
In Fast and Furious 6, the war between the two crews comes down to the villainous Owen Shaw, a merciless cutthroat who is about precision and perfection, even at the expense of his own crew, and Dominic Toretto, who values family and loyalty above all else. To Shaw, his crew is just a replaceable means to an end, but for Toretto, the family is his reason for ultimately doing anything. How does this relate to next-gen consoles? Content over power. Sure, we want them to be as powerful as they can be, but content is king. Even the best games that don’t max out the power spectacle of the device are going to have a far greater impact than the number of teraflops or any other batch of numbers that a first-party can pump out.
If the power of the console is the skill of your crew, then the ways devs are utilizing that power is the family. “Let’s do what we do best: improvise!” Brian O’Connor says when suddenly faced with a massive airplane that wasn’t part of the plan. Game devs are improvising every day to bring us incredible experiences. Look at the difference between Xbox One X and PS4. One X boasted the power, yet Microsoft couldn’t quite keep up this generation in terms of the games. It’s not a mistake they’ll make again. Though the recent blog post may speak to the crew who wants numbers, Microsoft’s built a family of trusted and beloved developers that are going to help the Xbox ecosystem be the best its ever been. That heart is where its really going to matter. Not the 12 teraflops or the 12ofps, but the games that may or may not make use of the full extent of that power.
Sony’s silence is starting to raise a lot of eyebrows. The company has been notoriously silent as eager fans await more news, and recent cancellations of appearances at PAX East and GDC are leaving some concerned But just as Letty or Han didn’t stay dead for long (here’s hoping for a Gisele return in the all-female Fast and Furious movie), Sony isn’t in the ground. Far from it. In fact, I’m willing to bet that a longer silence will lead to the PS5 being an even more massive talking point when Sony does break that silence. Go back and watch the fan reactions to Han’s appearance in the F9 trailer. No living character gets that kind of a thunderous and emotive response. Sony will be welcomed with open arms.
Sony’s living a quarter-mile at a time. Instead of looking to the end of the year, focus is on this year’s events and releases. We just got Dreams, The Last of Us Part II is coming soon, and Ghost of Tsushima sometime after that. There will be a time to talk about next-gen, but for now, Sony needs to close the chapter on the PS4 before it leans into what’s coming. That’s the next race. We’ll get there, but we need to cross the finish line on this one first.
At the end of the day (and hopefully, the end of the year), the competition between Sony and Microsoft isn’t like the Fast and Furious series’ main family up against its variety of villains. It’s the friendly rivalry between the likes of Brian and Dom or Hobbs and Shaw. There’s a competitive nature there, but one that ultimately pushes everyone to be better than they already are. It’s not “I need to take this evil-doer down.” It’s a pride in themselves and a desire to find a worthy competitor in the space. Sony and Microsoft both know that there are made better and stronger by each other. Video games as a whole need both of them and their unique talents, so that no matter which driver is your favorite, we all get to have an awesome time watching fast cars do impossible stunts. Is this analogy beginning to fall apart? Nah, it was in pieces a long time ago when I rolled it in Tokyo, but if you rearrange things and put Tokyo Drift after the part where I talked about teraflops, I promise it will all make sense.
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