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Xbox vs PlayStation: the Microsoft-Sony gaming rivalry plays out again

New consoles are coming out within about a week of each other, but the real battle this time will be over gaming titles. Player loyalties will be tested like never before

Microsoft's Xbox Series X (black) and series S (white) gaming consoles during the launch at a store in Seoul on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (AFP)

With the next generation Xbox (Series X) and PlayStation (PS5) consoles set to launch in the next few days, the decades-old console rivalry between Microsoft and Sony is in the spotlight again. So far, Sony's PS has won over most Indian gamers, but going forward, it's likely to be the games themselves, and not so much the hardware, that will decide the winner.

With its growing gamer base, especially after the covid-19 pandemic, India makes for a lucrative market for both companies. The 200% increase in sales of the older PS4 in the country between April and June 2020 as compared to the previous quarter is a testimony to that.

Sony has dominated the gaming console market in India until now. The PlayStation accounted for over 96% of console sales in the third quarter of 2020 (July-September) alone, going by a November report on gaming consoles by technology market research firm techARC. Statcounter Global, an analytics firm tracking the operating system market share, puts the PlayStation's share at 84.1% of the console operating system market as of October this year.

“Increasingly, the Xbox is losing grip of the market and PS is sweeping the opportunity. With the expected release of PS5, Sony is further expected to consolidate its market standing as many users are looking to buy it out during the festive season,” says Faisal Kawoosa, founder and chief analyst, techARC.

The launch of new consoles is a big deal for gamers. Unlike PCs or smartphones, there is a much longer waiting time between every generational upgrade. The PS4 was originally released in different parts of the world in 2013-14—it's been a six-year wait for the upgrade.

But the real battle this time is going to be over gaming titles, or game content as the industry calls it. With the lines between the two consoles blurring in terms of hardware configuration and price, content is going to play a more important role. Brand loyalties will be tested like never before.

Visitors play games next to a big model of Microsoft's Xbox controller at a flagship store of SK Telecom in Seoul on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP)
Visitors play games next to a big model of Microsoft's Xbox controller at a flagship store of SK Telecom in Seoul on November 10, 2020. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je / AFP) (AFP)

“Until now, India has been a PlayStation country. So, if that brand loyalty continues, things may work in favour of the PS5. But, in terms of value, the Xbox with 'Game Pass' has a much better value proposition. You can subscribe and try as many games as you want. The PS5 has very few exclusives,” says Oliver Jones, co-founder and director, Bombay Play, a Bengaluru-based game development firm.

Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda Softworks, one of the world's biggest game publishers, for $7.5 billion in September this year gives the Xbox an edge in terms of games and content. It makes the 'Game Pass' even more worthwhile for users.

'Game Pass' is a subscription-based service, which gives users unlimited access to over 100 games, including new titles. Gamers can play some of the most sought-after titles such as Elder Scrolls, Dishonored, Wolfenstein, Fallout and Rage. If Microsoft decides to make these titles Xbox-exclusives, cutting off access to other platforms like the PlayStation in the future, it could attract a large demographic of gamers to Xbox. “Bethesda making games exclusively for Microsoft is a big win for them,” adds Jones.

Though India is largely known to be a mobile gaming market, interest in PC and console gaming has picked up recently. PC shipments in India grew 9.2% year-on-year in the September quarter, as per global market intelligence firm IDC. Kawoosa says, "There is still potential of selling over 100,000 consoles in a calendar year. The exposure to digital gaming through smartphones, along with the rising trend of having an immersive experience, will drive this potential.”

Though Sony has been winning the console battle in markets outside the US, Microsoft may win the gaming war with its push into cloud-gaming. Microsoft already has a massive presence when it comes to PCs and laptops. It could tap this huge user base to expand its cloud gaming platform, as games can be played on regular PCs too and do not require high-end gaming notebooks.

“I think Microsoft wants to push the Xbox through cloud and get people to play on laptops. India is a market where people love multi-tasking through a single device, like the PC. It makes more sense to focus on an online gaming platform that can be accessed through such devices,” explains Kawoosa.

Microsoft also offers a bit more flexibility in terms of controls to users. In addition to game controllers, Xbox consoles also support keyboard and mouse input, unlike the PlayStation.

The Xbox Series X ( 49,990) and Series S ( 34,990) were launched in India on 10 November. The PlayStation 5 is expected to be launched later this month.

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