The Exclusive Gap Between PS4 And Xbox One Has Become A Canyon – Forbes
“Wait, Horizon Zero Dawn is only on PS4?”
That was the forlorn text I got from my friend yesterday after reviews went live for Guerrilla’s new open-world game, and it was deemed a must-buy by most, myself included.
Given that it’s a new IP, I wouldn’t blame someone not in the industry bubble for failing to realize that Horizon was a PS4 exclusive, as my Xbox One-owning friend just discovered. I’m still surprised that the team behind Killzone was able to produce a game that’s just totally on another level like this, after all.
But this is the other story here. Not just that Horizon Zero Dawn is great, but that once again, it’s a Sony exclusive.
This topic is unavoidably going to turn into a fanboy minefield in short order, but the narrative is pretty clear. Sony is doing a great job cultivating high-quality exclusive sequels from its storied franchises, but also creating new IPs that are must-have games. This is in contrast to Nintendo, which always produces solid first-party titles, but lacks most everything that’s third-party multiplatform, and Xbox, which still has a few core exclusive franchises, but they’re not what they once were, and Microsoft is almost more likely to cancel new exclusive IPs than see them to completion at this point.
There are many stories about how Sony got this far out in front of its competition this generation, and the most common tale is how Microsoft botched the reveal and rollout of the Xbox One at launch, first messing around with the idea of an “always-on console” that possibly was going to use discs as mere licenses, but even after scrapping that idea, still launching at a higher price with less power and marrying the system to an albatross called “Kinect 2.0.”
But in the years that have followed, even in an age when exclusives seem to mean less than they used to, given how many huge games come out for at least two consoles plus PC, Sony has just been hammering Microsoft at every turn when it comes to exclusive games, and they don’t show signs of stopping any time soon.
Microsoft has certainly produced some good games. I loved Halo 5, and was satisfied with Gears of War 4. ReCore is creative and Forza always fills the racing niche better than its rivals. I think Sunset Overdrive was a promising new IP that didn’t get enough love. Dead Rising and State of Decay are uh, adequate zombie franchises.
But the list sort of peters out there, and the only game there I would actually consider can’t-miss is probably Halo. If you flip to Sony, you have Until Dawn, Uncharted 4, Bloodborne, The Last Guardian, Nioh and Horizon Zero Dawn, with The Last of Us 2 and God of War 4 up ahead. And most of these aren’t just good. Many of the released titles are Game of the Year contenders in some capacity, which is something I don’t think anyone has said lately about Gears 4 or Halo Wars 2 outside of die-hard Xbox fans.
What’s the difference between Sony and Microsoft here? What is one doing that the other isn’t? I think there are a few issues to talk about here.
• Microsoft is keeping its two most beloved franchises alive, Halo and Gears, however it can. But the problem is that this means it has handed them over to two new developers. Bungie and Epic are gone, and now it’s 343 and The Coalition at the helm. The problem with this “sub in” idea is that while the games are good, they’re always chasing after what came before, afraid to change too much in order to “honor” the old titles and please fans, but not really advancing the series forward in a meaningful way, or having it continue on when it probably just should have ended, and everyone moves on to something else. Gears 4, for example, was a perfectly fine game, but almost always overlooked among everything else that came out this past fall. A new Gears game at one time would have been one of the hallmark releases of the year across any platform, but it’s pretty clear that time has passed as the series mostly produces more of the same.
• Sony, meanwhile, still has Naughty Dog itself working on sequels like Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us 2. Rather than trying to recapture the magic of past games, they’re instead trying to top themselves, and in the case of Uncharted and Nathan Drake, they know when to call it a day.
• Sony also does not have a problem encouraging its partners and in-house developers to work on whatever the hell they want to work on. That’s how you get Bloodborne from Souls’ From Software or Until Dawn from Little Big Planet helper Supermassive or Horizon Zero Dawn from Killzone’s Guerrilla. While it’s unclear if this is exactly how this played out, it stands to reason that say, Bungie wanted to work on something new with Destiny, but Microsoft valued Halo more than it did Bungie, so it didn’t pay Bungie enough to stay and it went to Activision. While Microsoft got to keep Halo, it’s missing out on exclusive access to one of the most beloved new IPs of this generation as a result.
• As mentioned before, it feels like Microsoft is cancelling more new exclusives than it’s making these days, from Phantom Dust to Scalebound to Fable Legends. It’s entirely possible these games would not have turned out well, but while developers seem to be thriving when working with Sony, they wilt under Microsoft. This leads to awkward partnerships like Microsoft paying to make Rise of the Tomb Raider a year-long exclusive, believing that’s enough exclusivity to even put Lara Croft on their Xbox packaging as one of its “icons” alongside Master Chief, Marcus Fenix and uh, a Forza car. That image alone more or less sums up the entire exclusivity issue here (also note the canceled Fable Legends on there).
• On top of all of this, Microsoft no longer really gives people a reason to own an Xbox One. Even if its exclusive line-up is less expansive than Sony’s, thanks to its new “Play Anywhere” policy, all you need to play any Microsoft exclusive is a PC. The company itself has created a situation where if you own a PS4, a PC and maybe some Nintendo hardware, that’s everything you need. Through its own decision-making, it has made the Xbox One essentially redundant.
It’s unclear what will change with Scorpio this fall. The system will boast more power than ever, so that might be enough to lure many back to Microsoft as it will play perhaps the “best” version of third-party titles, plus its own exclusives, but I have to believe this quality gap will remain. Sony has grown a garden of must-play games on PS4, while you can only say the same for a few titles on Xbox One, and even in that case, it helps to be a huge fan of X series in the first place.
I do not relish these debates because they always devolve into fanboy sniping, but I own both consoles, and I even came from using Xbox 360 easily twice as much as PS3, back in that generation. But the power dynamic has shifted, and Microsoft feels lost, like they’re clinging on to old series that have long stopped improving or innovating much, and they’re failing to plant seeds for the future. Sony isn’t perfect and has its own missteps (*cough* The Order), but trying to be as objective as I’m able, I just don’t think the exclusive line-ups of both systems are even comparable at this point. Sony is coming out on top time and time again, and as we prepare to have The Last of Us 2 square off against State of Decay 2 and God of War 4 against Crackdown 3, and so on, I just don’t think that’s going to change.
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