It has now been nearly a month since the launch of the PS5, as well as the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. And still they are stupidly difficult to find. Even when stock arrives, it feels like you need to carry out a blood sacrifice to a hundred retail and internet gods before you even get a whiff of new console stock.
And that has me coming to two conclusions: the first is the console wars are basically over, and the second is the ‘next generation’ simply hasn't arrived yet. That might sound bizarre given the discourse around Sony and Microsoft's next-gen consoles over the past few months, but allow me to explain.
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It's all very well for Sony and Microsoft to harp on about how powerful their respective new consoles are and how they’ll change your gaming experiences to a degree that your tiny mind can barely comprehend. But as impressive as all three consoles are, the fact that you can’t get them renders a lot of the excitement and messaging behind them moot.
Now, stock shortages of new gaming consoles, or indeed other compelling tech, isn’t surprising in the early launch days of such devices. But the PS5 and Xbox Series X shortages are beyond the pale.
While the idea of the so-called console wars has been laughable in general — regardless of which console sells the most, both win — the concept is utterly irrelevant given these shortages.
It’s no longer a case of which new console you buy, but for some rather a case of buying what you can get a hold of, if you’re not willing to wait for demand to slow down. I reckon you should wait for 2021 when there are more games and developers with the new console hardware. But I get the desire for new tech is a powerful compulsion.
And with this vast demand, even for the lesser-powered Xbox Series S, it means that both Sony and Microsoft have won the console war. All three machines are pretty much a resounding success.
That could change as demand eases off and one company might find it challenging to continually ship console units. But that's not likely to happen for a while; think 2022 or 2023.
As for choosing one console over another, both offer different things. The PS5 has the innovative DualSense controller and a longer list of upcoming exclusive games, while the Xbox Series X has stellar backwards compatibility and Xbox Game Pass set to be boosted by the growing numbers of developers under the Xbox Game Studios banner. Unlike the last console generation, this one makes a compelling argument to get both machines, at least when they become easier to buy.
So in simple terms, it’s game over for the console war, before it even began. Thanks for coming to my TED talk, read on for part two.
Talking about this generation
I’ve been slowly moving from using the term “next-generation consoles” to “this generation.” But when I stop and think about it, I feel the PS5 and Xbox Series X are very much still next-generation consoles.
I don’t know anyone personally outside of games media and tech reviewers who have access to either of the new consoles. Until more people have the PS5 and Xbox Series X, or Series S, then the new generation of gaming can’t really start in earnest.
And then we have the games. While the Xbox Series X enhances games that’ll run on the Xbox One, it has no games that really make you stand back and exclaim “**** look at those graphics.” Assassin's Creed Valhalla looks great but it’s not a huge step up from Red Dead Redemption 2 to my eyes. And sure Demon’s Souls is hugely impressive — just ask my colleague Marshall Honorof — but it’s a remake of a decade-old game.
With no striking new intellectual properties or games that must have the new hardware to run, we’re in a tricky situation where we have one foot in the old generation and another in the new. This is nothing new when it comes to game consoles, but usually there are some standout exclusives that are the early poster children of the future of console gaming.
And PC gaming fans might be snickering with their powerful hardware arguably offering next-gen power for a year or so. But when it comes to getting hold of the new Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080 or AMD Radeon RX 6800 XT, it’s easier to find an honest person in politics than stock of either graphics card. The same is true of other graphics cards in their respective families, most recently the GeForce RTX 3060 Ti that sold out in mere moments.
As such, we’re all stuck in a form of limbo, where new gaming hardware is being touted around by big companies but feels so far out of reach you might as well be reaching out trying to pluck a star from Orion's Belt.
I’m hoping this will change as the holiday gets closer and 2021 starts peeking around the corner. But until that happens, I’m not ready to accept that we’re in the next-generation of gaming.