It’s the calm before the storm. Right now we’re just sort of playing games on our PS4s, Xbox Ones and Nintendo Switches like nothing has changed, but next year is when the video game industry gears up for its big transition.
Next year we’re getting new consoles alongside the growing specter of consumer-ready game streaming, and things look like they’re getting ready to shift in a bigger way than they did at the dawn of last generation.
But while there will be no cataclysmic shift in the way people buy either hardware or software right away, everyone in the industry knows that change is coming.
A combination of streaming
ubiquitous cross-play and expnding notions of what gaming hardware can look like are going to shift the industry throughout the course of the next generation. The PS4/Xbox One generation was more or less business as usual, particularly at launch, but it set the stage for greater changes to come.
The ground has shifted over the past five years or so, however, and the question then becomes what the biggest company in the space are going to do about it.
We have a pretty good idea of how Microsoft is going to manage this transition. The tech giant has been pushing services like game pass for a few years now, and it plans to roll that strategy forward into streaming service Project xCloud.
It’s a handy pair with the company’s Windows business and backend services: it wants to be a pivotal part of the infrastructure that powers the future of gaming.
That strategy most definitely involves selling physical Xboxes for the time being, but Microsoft is the console manufacturer that’s most aggressively setting the stage for a gaming business that’s less reliant on physical hardware.
We also have a pretty good idea of how Nintendo is going to manage the transition. Nintendo does its own thing, and it’s going to keep doing it:
the Switch is an amazing piece of hardware that can keep selling itself even in the face of broader changes, as anyone that’s ever pulled a Joy-Con off of a Switch to challenge a stranger to Mario Kart will tell you.
But while the hardware is a big part of Nintendo’s future, this company has and always will be built on software. Nintendo is a game developer, and it seems like it’s going to keep propelling itself into the future based on the strength of first-party development. It’s worked pretty well so far: people even bought the Wii U.
God of War.
And then there’s Sony, which looks like it’s going to go the Nintendo route. This is the direction the company has been going for a while now: during the second half of the PS3 era and into the PS4 era the manufacturer has been increasingly defined by a kind of elaborate, AAA single-player exclusive that its first-party studios do better than anyone.
Games like God of War, the Uncharted series, Bloodborne, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, The Last Guardian and more have been some of the biggest first-party exclusives this side of Nintendo, and the company shows no sign of slowing down on that.
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That seems to be the tack that Sony wants to keep taking into the next generation, and it’s a good one. Content is king, as people like to say, and we repeatedly see that borne out over on the video side of the streaming wars. NBC, for example.
is going to launch its own streaming service, and I’ll happily pay $10 a month for the small handful of legacy sitcoms that form the backbone of my comfort food TV. I know I like these shows and I’ll watch them, just like I know I like Uncharted and I know I’ll play the next God of War.
Nintendo likes to make weird hardware and Sony likes to make almost aggressively straightforward hardware. Sony is also in a strong position right now as the undisputed console market leader, something Nintendo didn’t enjoy before launching the Switch.
But increasingly the core of the two company’s businesses looks similar: selling platforms on the strength of exclusives.
Sony’s first-party development is stronger than ever, and unlike Microsoft’s, it remains exclusively tied to the one platform.
And so if the PS5 is the only place you can play the growing suite of top-flight exclusive games, people are going to buy the PS5. This is even more true because not a whole lot of other companies are making games like God of War or Uncharted anymore.
most of the major publishers are more interested in games-as-service, leaving Sony and to a lesser degree Nintendo carrying the torch on this particular sort of contained, AAA, story-driven game.
It’s a good strategy. Microsoft’s recent spate of acquisitions show that Redmond is indeed very interested in pursuing a similar strategy, though it can’t quite lean on it as much as the more-developed Sony.
The competition is going to be tough on platforms, streaming and other services, especially as Google tries to muscle its way in. But exclusive development is going to let companies like Sony or Nintendo rise above that competition to a certain degree: fans will follow the games to the platform they’re on, rather than starting with a platform and then seeing what games are on it.