Two very different PS5 and Xbox Series X reveal events took place this week, with both Sony and Microsoft focusing on the technical side of their consoles, but marketing them in — ahem — “unexpected” ways. Microsoft gave the console to a handful of outlets and tech YouTubers to try out, whereas Sony’s Mark Cerny delivered what was essentially a Nintendo Direct crossed with a college lecture. The PS5’s lead architect today provided an unabashedly thorough rundown of the console, free of any glitz and glamor but full of plain-faced discussions about Sony’s research into how ears work.
We kind of knew what we were getting into with today’s PS5 event — the company said it would be focused on the hardware — but many still expected there would be something in there for the average viewer. It seems that Sony and Cerny delivered the presentation it originally planned to hold at the canceled GDC 2020, but didn’t cater its audience to the YouTube masses just desperate to see some gameplay footage. Cerny going into excruciating detail about the advantages of the PS5’s SSD was not what most were looking forward to.
On the other hand, Microsoft continued its push of the Xbox family of consoles, debuting Xbox Series X gameplay by using Xbox One games as examples. We saw the difference in visuals and performance with the likes of Forza Motorsport 7 and Gears 5, while those who got to try out the hardware were keen to point out how fast it is.
And that’s the key selling point for both consoles thus far. They’re fast. So fast that loading times are a thing of the past, and so fast that on the Xbox Series X at least, it takes a few seconds to switch between games. The PS5’s SSD is faster, considerably so, but then the Xbox Series X has the advantage in terms of its GPU and CPU. And what will people focus on — the speed of the system, or how pretty all the games are capable of being?
The problem with the PS5 stream
This is where Sony stuttered today. In reality, there isn’t a gulf of difference between the Xbox Series X and PS5, and both have their advantages. But the Xbox Series X specs sheet certainly reads better, and in a Sony presentation completely centered around technical jargon, it wasn’t made clear to the viewer at any point what exactly the PS5’s advantages are. Cerny noted how the speed of the SSD could be a transformative tool for the developer, but this point wasn’t illustrated clearly to the average viewer. And with over 600,000 viewers watching the presentation on YouTube alone, this was a presentation for the average viewer, even if Sony handled it as though it was being solely delivered to its investors.
Now, I didn’t think the Xbox Series X’s messaging was particularly great, either. It’s understandable why Microsoft wouldn’t want to show off its upcoming games right now, but leaning on games like the middling State of Decay 2 for the Series X’s gameplay demo shone an unfortunate light on the Xbox’s struggles with first-party games. Considering that Microsoft has placed the Xbox Series X’s compatibility with the Xbox One at the forefront of its presentation thus far, it highlighting its struggle with its first-party Xbox games was an odd move.
The ball’s in the Xbox Series X’s court
Yet looking back on these two early reveal events, it feels like the ball is in the Xbox Series X’s court considering what’s been offered thus far. Microsoft did a better job of showcasing the areas in which the Xbox Series X is powerful — considering that video games are a visual medium, Sony utilizing nothing more than slides with facts and figures was a dubious decision considering the audience it was broadcasting to.
The compatibility with Xbox games is also more attractive than PS5’s own attempts — which stretch to the PS4’s top 100 games — when you consider the strength of the Xbox Game Pass. Being able to carry that library over to the Series X and have new next-gen games released on it at the same price point is incredibly alluring, with Sony’s own PS Now service paling in comparison.
Of course, there is surely still plenty more to come from both companies. Cerny’s comments that PS5 can fundamentally change the way games are designed is certainly the most intriguing note we’ve received about next-gen thus far, and it remains to be seen what impact this will have on the industry. But considering that the Xbox Series X is the clear underdog in this situation by a considerable stretch, it’s arguable that the lack of pomp surrounding today’s PS5 stream has made the playing field seem more level than we believed it would be. We’ll have to wait for the games before we can properly pass judgment, but for the time being, the Xbox Series X looks like a more attractive proposition than it did previously.