Opinion | The Sony PlayStation 5 will win the next console battle, but the future belongs to Microsoft
Sony is currently ahead of the pack when it comes to hype: The presentation of the PlayStation 5 logo on the big stage at CES in January has already caused a stir and set an industry record of more than five million Likes on Instagram. Enthusiasm for the Xbox Series X, on the other hand, is rather limited, even though the console is much more compact and more powerful in many areas.
A combination of clever marketing, impressive technical demonstrations, exciting exclusive titles and the strength of the PlayStation brand should result in Sony selling significantly more consoles at launch and in the years to come, especially if the price is as low as expected. But even if Sony can repeat the success of the PlayStation 4 with 110 million consoles sold, this is still far from enough to shape the future of gaming.
Microsoft's declared goal is no longer to sell as many consoles as possible, but to become the "Netflix of gaming" instead. The company does not want to reach "just" a hundred million customers but wants to connect with billions of people who do not even see themselves as gamers yet. Unlike last time, Microsoft is taking the right approach this time around.
The Netflix comparison does not quite fit, and instead Microsoft should rather see itself as the Spotify of gaming. If you think back to 2006, Apple followed the same strategy in the music industry that Sony is pursuing with the PlayStation 5: With the iPod, the company had a strong brand and decent hardware, the iTunes Store was the market leader in the sale of digital music, but passionate music listeners could also buy their CDs in the store and transfer them to the iPod without any problems.
But 2006 was also the year Spotify was founded. Music streaming was a terrible idea for the majority of customers at that time, and CDs or even records were the medium of choice for passionate music lovers. Mediocre offers like Microsoft's Zune Pass were what the gaming industry has produced today in the form of Google Stadia or even Nvidia GeForce Now. Technically sound streaming solutions were not enough back then, and they still aren't today.
But just a decade later, music streaming had become the predominant form in which people listened to their favorite artists. What happened? Many music lovers still cling to CDs, vinyl and the like, but streaming's audience goes far beyond this core crowd. Streaming services are also being used by people who previously listened to very little music other than the radio in their car - and that's where Microsoft wants to go with gaming. There are billions of potential customers who have never really tried gaming due to the high cost of the hardware. There is a huge target group just waiting for this hobby to become more accessible.
Microsoft will launch Project xCloud in September as part of Game Pass Ultimate. In doing so, the company will combine the most important cornerstones that have made Spotify or Netflix successful: A relatively low price, an extensive catalogue, which in this case contains hundreds of games, as well as the possibility of downloading the titles to a terminal and playing them locally on an Xbox or PC when the Internet connection is not particularly good.
As with Spotify, the future won't come overnight, and Sony still has a few good years ahead of it with the PlayStation 5. So, similar to what happened with Apple Music, the current market leader still has a chance to get in during the revolution. But if you think that a majority of gamers will still be running into a GameStop store in a decade to pay US$75/£70/€75 or more for the latest game, which after a lengthy installation can only be played on one particular device, you might be surprised by the future of gaming.
Own / Sony / Microsoft