The New Console Wars: Xbox vs PlayStation


One of the main arguments gamers have had over the past 20 years has been over which console is better: Xbox or PlayStation?

Before Microsoft and Sony were the front runners, the gaming industry was obsessed with the rivalry between SEGA and Nintendo. Blake Harris famously dubbed this period as “The Console Wars” in his book Console Wars.

SEGA and Nintendo were behemoths in the industry and had created strong iconic 8-bit heroes; SEGA had Sonic, while Nintendo had Mario. The war eventually came to an end with the announcement of a new Nintendo console, the N64. The N64 was predicted to decimate SEGA, which was struggling with Saturn console sales.

SEGA was also fighting Sony, which had recently entered the market with the release of its first video game console, the PlayStation in 1994.

Despite a last-ditch attempt with the Dreamcast in 1998, SEGA conceded and stopped making consoles. Instead they switched their focus to game development rather than console production. This meant SEGA would eventually make games for their former competitors and even license out Sonic, allowing the hedgehog to appear in Nintendo games.

The demise of SEGA created a void in the market which led to a new console war in the 00’s.

The New Console Wars: Microsoft vs Sony

Xbox vs PlayStation Controller artwork

In 2000, Sony released a follow-up: PlayStation 2. Microsoft entered the console market with the Xbox shortly after in 2001.

Xbox was the technologically better standalone console. It had a higher GPU compared to the PS2 and more than double the PS2’s CPU. Both consoles were a similar price and both would have access to a similar library of game titles.

However, Sony had learned a valuable marketing ploy from the experience of selling the PS1 and from their competitor Nintendo: Releasing platform exclusive games in order to market and sell PS2 consoles.

The original PlayStation had managed to sell 102 million consoles. The best-selling game was a platform exclusive driving game, Gran Turismo (1997), which sold 10.8 million copies. This meant more than 1 in 10 of PlayStation gamers would also have had a copy of Gran Turismo. If you wanted to play the best driving game of the 90’s (excluding Super Mario Kart (1992)), you would need a PlayStation.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (2004) was the top selling console game of the 00’s and would eventually sell 17.33 million copies. While it wasn’t a platform exclusive, it had a timed release; it was only available on Xbox until a year after the PS2 release date.

image of ingame play of Halo

Microsoft started using platform exclusive games to market their consoles too. Classic games like Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003) and Fable (2004) would only be available on Xbox, with the most well-known Xbox-only game franchise being Halo.

Halo: Combat Evolved (2001) was first released alongside the original Xbox and was to act as the main selling point. Halo had received glowing reviews from gaming media, though it would be the follow-up, Halo 2 (2004) that became the best-selling Xbox game.

PlayStation’s Gaming Accessories vs Xbox’s Online Gaming

Platform exclusive games being used purely to market consoles was controversial and annoyed gamers and game developers alike, as game developing companies want to reach as many customers as possible. Eventually Microsoft and Sony would turn to controller accessories and additional hardware features to demonstrate the versatility of their consoles.

Both PS2 and Xbox released their own versions of novelty car steering wheels for racing games, or guitar controllers for Guitar Hero (2005) (though the first guitar hero game was not available on the original Xbox).

PlayStation would partner with Logitech to release the EyeToy – a webcam that allowed gamers to see themselves and use motion sensors as opposed to a traditional controller.

Although Xbox managed to release Xbox Live very early in 2002, it wouldn’t be until 2006 when the PlayStation Network would be released.

The rivalry between the two brands arguably forced each of them to innovate and develop their online capabilities. Without the added pressure, FPS games would look very different today. First-person-shooters combined with online multiplayer later became a cash cow genre of gaming according to Gamasutra analysts.

Xbox only sold 24 million consoles, less than 20% of PS2’s total sales, but this wasn’t terrible considering it was Microsoft’s first attempt at a gaming console.

PlayStation 3 vs Xbox 360

The next generation of consoles for Microsoft and Sony would see the releases of the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3.

The Xbox 360 was released in 2005 and eventually sold 86 million consoles. The the PS3 came a year later selling 87.4 million consoles. The initial release of the 360 saw software issues, causing many consoles to spontaneously break. The infamous “red ring of death” reportedly cost Microsoft $1 Billion, with the company having to issue thousands of replacement consoles.

The hardware for both consoles was pretty similar. Instead of being promoted as gaming consoles, they were marketed as entertainment systems. Both were able to stream films on Netflix, play DVDs, download retro games, and both had access to online gaming.

For a time, platform exclusive games were no longer the stand out titles. In 2008 Rockstar decided against staggering the release dates between consoles, and as a result the best-selling game for both PS3 and Xbox 360 was GTA 4. Other iconic and best-selling titles for the consoles included Metal Gear Solid V (2015) and the Batman: Arkham (2009-2015) series, neither of which had timed exclusive releases.

The 360 and PS3 consoles also benefited from backwards compatibility to the previous generation of game titles, which, according to data from Music Magpie, made them some of the best consoles ever made, as they allowed gamers to play a wider catalogue of higher rated games based on their Metacritic’s meta score data.

PlayStation 4 vs Xbox One

The next generation of consoles saw Sony once again overtake Microsoft in terms of sales. Both the PS4 and Xbox One were released in 2013, but the PS4 went on to sell 60 million more units.

Although the PS4 and Xbox One are the most technologically sophisticated consoles, neither of them have outsold their predecessor consoles. The PS2 has remained the best selling Sony console and the Xbox 360, Microsoft’s.

This generation also saw a small return to platform exclusives. Persona 5 (2016) is currently the top selling game of 2020, a PS4 exclusive game. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016) is the top selling game for PS4 overall, and was another PS4 exclusive.

Sony also started to decide which consoles the Spider-Man games would be released on. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) was released in April for PS4, while released in May of the same year for Xbox One. The next two Spider-Man games – Spider-Man (2018) and Spider-Man: Miles Morales (2020) – would not be available on Xbox at all, which is bad news if you’re an Xbox gamer and a fan of the webslinger.

PlayStation 5 vs Xbox Series S/X

With the recent releases of the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, it appears neither Sony nor Microsoft are slowing down.

According to estimates from vgchartz, the PS5 appears to be outselling Xbox Series X/S, with Sony selling an estimated 2.1 million to 2.5 million PS5 consoles within the first 2 days after launch. On the other hand, Microsoft sold 1.1 million to 1.4 million Xbox S/X consoles within the first 24 hours. It’s too soon to say but it seems unlikely that Microsoft will be following SEGA’s demise anytime soon.

Unfortunately, one thing that is certain is that platform exclusive games are here to stay. PS5 gamers are able to play as Peter Parker in the Avengers game and as Miles Morales in the new Spider-Man Game. Xbox Series X/S players will soon be able to play as Master Chief in Halo Infinite (2021).

As someone who has only played Xbox consoles, I desperately want to declare Microsoft as the clear winner. As someone who’s trying to remain objective and fair, Sony has simply sold millions more consoles that didn’t break.

However, I can say that the rivalry between Microsoft and Sony has been beneficial for the gaming industry. The competition put pressure on both brands to continually innovate and think of new ways to entertain gamers. Although, both companies should stop platform exclusive games because I hate them.

Words by Matt Hillier

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