I’ve always considered myself something of a PlayStation fanboy.
When I worked in video game retail a few years ago I wore my blue PlayStation lanyard with pride, convinced gaming-illiterate parents that a PS4 was absolutely the system to get their kids for Christmas, and when the PS5 was announced I put my money down without hesitation. I even took launch day off work so I could play my shiny new next-gen console until my eyes stung.
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Yet after swinging through a snow-blanketed NYC in Spider-Man: Miles Morales, dying repeatedly on the first level of Demon’s Soul and having watched the pre-release trailers for upcoming exclusive Returnal on loop, I came to one conclusion: I really wanted an Xbox Series X
PS5: The king of exclusives
Now I’m not suggesting that PlayStation’s currently announced slate of exclusives is underwhelming, or that upcoming titles like Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and Horizon: Forbidden West don’t look utterly spectacular. I’m dying to see more of those games, and I cannot wait to play them later this year.
Sony has always shone when it comes to exclusive titles, you only need to look at the console generation just gone for proof. The PS4 was the sole home to some of the best games of the last decade; titles like God of War, Bloodborne and The Last of Us Part II are almost peerless.
Microsoft on the other hand seemed to concede defeat on the exclusive games front pretty early on. Games like Sea of Thieves and Halo: The Master Chief Collection were eventually patched into reasonable shape, but did anyone actually enjoy duds like Crackdown 3 or ReCore?
Of course, Microsoft has been throwing around its financial clout plenty in the last three years and has gone on a bit of a shopping spree. The company sucked up developers like Ninja Theory Theory and Obsidian, alongside arguably the biggest gaming acquisition of all time when it bought Bestheda for more than $7 billion last year.
The future of Xbox exclusives certainly looks rosier than it has done in years, and if beloved franchises like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls will now be Xbox console-exclusives that is a major boon, one that Sony could struggle to match.
These acquisitions give gamers a very good reason to get invested in the Xbox eco-system, and the idea of missing out on The Elder Scrolls VI or Fallout 5 did certainly play a major role in my decision to purchase a Series X, but ultimately what really pushed me over the edge is the wildly different exclusive pricing strategies Xbox and PlayStation are taking.
A high price to pay
Both PlayStation and Xbox have new IP, but they're going about it in very different ways.
As already mentioned, Sony is releasing Returnal in April. This third-person action game blends frenetic combat with a psychological horror story. I’m super interested in it, but I’m a little worried that the procedurally generated maps might start to feel repetitive, and I’m unconvinced by what we’ve seen of the game's story.
Microsoft on the other hand released The Medium in January. It’s a third-person psychological horror game (psychological horror is so hot right now) that sees you playing a character who can travel between two different worlds. The game intrigued me, but I had my hesitations as the developer’s track record is, in my opinion, spotty at best.
So two brand new IPs, one exclusive to each console, but the real kicker is that if I want to play Returnal I need to stump up £70 (which converts to $97), whereas from day one The Medium was available on Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription service.
Sony has made the frankly baffling decision that PS5 games should retail for £70, which is a £20 increase on the £50 standard price seen during the PS4 generation. This price increase has also been felt in the US, though to a more palatable degree, where the standard $60 price point has been increased to $70.
The hubris from Sony here is quite remarkable and it’s the direct opposite approach to what its biggest competitor has taken.
Alongside scoring a Series X this week, I picked up 3-years of Game Pass Ultimate for £120, which is less than the cost of two first-party PS5 games. That means for the next three years I can play every single Xbox console-exclusive on day one all without having to fork over a single extra penny.
While Sony is actively raising the barrier of entry for players, Microsoft is working hard to lower it — I know which strategy I prefer.
Reaping the benefits
The big benefit of all these exclusives being available day one on Game Pass isn’t just the insane amount of money it will save me in the long run, it’s that it gives me the ability to try games without fear.
Once I got my Series X set up this week I downloaded The Medium and gave it a shot. I was pretty underwhelmed, but I didn’t care because it was included in my Game Pass subscription — so giving the game a shot didn't cost me anything.
Whereas when Returnal releases at the end of April, if I fork over £70 and ultimately come away unimpressed I will have wasted a huge amount of money. Game Pass doesn’t just give you access to a sizable library, it gives you the chance to try games without worrying about wasting a portion of your precious gaming budget.
In many ways when I think about Sony and Microsoft’s differing approach to exclusives I’m reminded of the battle between Netflix and Blockbuster in the late 90s. One company pioneering a new way to distribute content to its customer, the other desperately hanging onto the old ways hoping that nothing will change.
Of course, the parallels aren’t one to one because PlayStation remains the dominant console pretty much worldwide whereas Blockbuster was dying a slow death, but Microsoft definitely appears far more forward-thinking this generation whereas Sony is coming across as a little arrogant.
I am still a huge fan of my PS5, and it will almost certainly continue to be my preferred destination for playing third-party releases this generation. However, on Series X I can try out any exclusive I want without a care in the world whereas with the PS5 each exclusive I buy will need to clear a pretty high bar to justify the ludicrous cost.
Of course, comparing the exclusive strategy of the PS5 and Xbox Series X is pretty pointless if you can’t actually buy the systems, which is proving the case for many. So if you’re after either next-gen machine, we’ve got a guide to where to buy a PS5 and a where to buy Xbox Series X when restocks come back.