God of War’s press reception has made it clear once again the different approach Microsoft and Sony have had to the gaming matter since the beginning of the generation. It’s a high-quality action adventure that is crafted to be played once and leave video gamers with specific emotions and feelings, not an iterative product that demands you to return more and more time to it and possibly with a group of friends to share the fun with. It’s most probably the closest thing to the definition of video game which is closer to the one which one could’ve given around the 2000s, built after the launch and huge popularity of the PlayStation 2. An era where consoles’ power started to allow makers to deliver the first cinematic blockbusters, that made it just ok to play alone and live these amazing journeys capable of standing on their own “only” with their around 20 – 50 hours playtime. It’s a path Sony has quite tried and left behind during the last generation, where it began offer multiplayer and persistent experiences in the effort to kind of give its response to the rise of Microsoft. Back in the days, that determined the failure of PS3: it wasn’t only lacking identity, it was lacking PlayStation’s identity, which is something definitely relevant when you’re bearing a name that makes people expect certain things out of the box.
On the other hand, Microsoft is admittedly lacking the quality in terms of first-party developers, and this is the main reason why they can’t build high budget singleplayer experiences in the first place. They don’t have the authorial strength to do something like God of War or Detroit: Become Human, because they don’t have experienced and talented creatives to pitch them with the necessary authority. And they don’t because they fired them way too sudden and shut their studios down to make a different bet. The different bet is on persistent and iterative efforts, a party where they arrive pretty late but definitely, have what it takes to join and have a voice. Xbox Live is without any possible doubt the best online platform on consoles, supported by an improving operating system with lots of features and attractive services like Xbox Game Pass, which have the potential to become system sellers on their own and determine, in the future, the way games are not only offered, but even made.
So, said of these two different approaches, let’s discuss more in depth what led them where they are now, and their pros and cons as of 2018.
Microsoft has undoubtedly gone through a change of vision across the generation, due to the shift in their executives and the promotion of Phil Spencer, who’s trying to make coexist the service and platform-based philosophy of the company and the tastes of core gamers. If we were to split GEN 8 into two portions, we’d say that the first half was beyond confuse and confusing for the Redmond console maker. The idea behind the entire Xbox One operation was to mix classic games making (Forza Motorsport 5, Quantum Break, Halo 5: Guardians, Sunset Overdrive) with the TV and Kinect twist which was ultimately of no interest for Xbox 360 users – without mentioning all the chaos on the Always Online DRM and the bad pricing. In shaping its newest approach, Microsoft wasn’t able to retain what they did good in the earlier stage, which was all those titles that had a sense for the Xbox core consumers.
Indeed, under Spencer, the approach was more focused on what the platform holder can and knows how to do, to make the games division not something of its own anymore, but part of a bigger company which it shares value and philosophy with. The result was (thus far, at least) much less internal studios, the farewell bid to the second party and external cooperations, the necessity to craft games we can spend a lot of time on, the focus on cloud services both coming from their own engineers and acquired companies. Last year Xbox head’s statement about singleplayer games not having the same impact in the past is not part necessarily part of his vision or his own idea as a gamer, so. It was, and it is, functional in defining what Microsoft does and is willing to offer its consumers in this “season.” It’s clear, especially because he spends a lot of time on social networks, that he knows what people want, but that statement is the reflection of what we should expect from the platform until more teams have the time to be built and offer their creative visions for the years to come. Only then, in that other season which is going to be in the middle between this and the ninth generation, we’ll see the Xbox we know and the Xbox we want collide into something completely new.
After the PS3 debacle, Sony knew from the very first moment what it wanted to do in this generation. It wanted to be recognized as the company of the great, cinematic singleplayer experiences, and that was part of a process that took a while to be completed. The platform holder was lucky enough to have the best price on the market, and that alone had a huge role in making the PlayStation 4 the most sold console around. On top of that, the Japanese console maker was also smart enough – thanks to the vision they had clear in mind – to promote what it was doing during the process. And what it was doing, its showcase was pivotal in making people believe that PS4 really was the best place where they could be playing in a number of years. Consider that for ages the platform only had The Order: 1886, Until Dawn, Bloodborne and inFamous Second Son as games that could’ve had a strong impact on sales, and in that timeframe it was more important the idea of the console that was sold to consumers rather than the console itself.
So yes, it took time and a fair share of skills to build a success out of very few concrete things, and that’s something Microsoft has never been good at. Pros of Sony’s approach clearly include a second half of this gen of absolute value, with titles on their ways such as God of War, Detroit: Become Human, SpiderMan, Concrete Genie, Days Gone, Death Stranding, Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us Part II, and experiments such as PlayStation VR and heartfelt operations like The Last Guardian that were only made possible by the amazing amount of sold consoles it was going into. Interestingly, a similar process should kick off for Xbox as well at E3 2018 and, as said before, if started, that process might take several years and lead into the next generation something Microsoft is, of course, looking at, based on the sales during the current gen).