After four-to-five surprisingly short years, it appears that once again we are at the end of a console generation. Even though not all of us own or play on a console, the systems themselves and the brands they represent are often good indicators of the gaming industry itself. With one console cycle finished, a bookmark is left in the pages of video game history, which brings us to where we are now.
Both Nintendo and Microsoft have already played their cards, debuting the Switch and Xbox One X, respectively. Sony meanwhile, is yet to have announced any new hardware but are surely working on the next iteration of the PlayStation brand. Initially, this may all seem as usual and expected as ever; the ninth generation should play out the same as the previous eight. However, we’re at a point in time where the big three (Nintendo, Xbox, PlayStation) are becoming more and more different from each other, almost to the point where direct competition might be futile.
Of course, businesses in the same market will always be in some kind of ‘war’ for customers and consumer value. The heads at PlayStation would certainly be happy if Nintendo and Microsoft both went bankrupt along with the entire PC industry. But seeing things as they are now, the supposed ‘console war’ appears to be waning. Rather than converging on a handful of ideas and goals, these companies are more likely to diverge and separate based on their particular aspirations.
Nintendo has always held a special position in the video game industry. Ever since the Wii, Nintendo and its consoles have become unique enough to no longer be strongly influenced by the actions of other gaming giants, taking a more isolationist approach to how it operates and what technology it pursues. This is what we are currently witnessing with Sony and Microsoft. Microsoft is using its clout in the PC market to unify their console and computer divisions, while Sony seems to be sticking with the gaming aspect of their systems, attempting to improve on what they have. Basically, Xbox is openly embracing the concept of becoming PC-like, whereas the folks at PlayStation see that as a threat.
This is exemplified in how both of these companies have reacted to the growing demand and opportunity for cross-platform play. Microsoft would like to act as a parent to all gamers playing together (whether for nefarious reasons or not), and Sony is content with keeping its users on their little island, alone from the rest of the world.
The idea of exclusives is also becoming different between these companies. Microsoft’s Play Anywhere program allows the sharing of games between Windows and Xbox, effectively removing a reason to buy an Xbox over a gaming PC. But on Sony’s side, exclusives are still their biggest selling point for the PS4 and future PlayStation hardware.
These individual changes and differences are indicative of how Microsft and Sony both see the future of gaming. The former would like to banish the idea of definitive ‘console generations,’ while the latter is currently keeping things largely the same.
Who is right in their predictions for the industry is currently unknowable, but as of now, there’s no reason why they both can’t be correct. It’s almost as if they’re competing on an ideological level, with neither side necessarily having the answer. For now, we can only guess what the future of gaming will be.