Did the Pandemic Help Microsoft?

I was always planning on waiting to get my next-gen console. It’s what I do now, as I never see a reason to be an early adopter for systems that have few games to begin with and I always have games I need to play anyway. However, this time has been different. I wanted to celebrate my graduation with a shiny new console, and I had been heavily leaning towards purchasing the PS5. With games like God of War, The Last of Us Part II, Spiderman, and Ratchet and Clank, PS5 seemed to have it all.

But I do LOVE Halo. However, the Xbox One really burned me and so did the Halo games that came out during that generation. But while Xbox had the promise of Halo it didn’t have much else except the whispers of the games being developed and the receipts from the game studios Microsoft was buying up, PS5 seemed like the obvious choice once I had the cash to spare. However, now in the summer of 2021, I might have to pass up on PS5 for an Xbox Series X, and I don’t think I’m the only one that feels this way. And I think the pandemic was a big reason why.

Now let me say it clearly, obviously, Sony’s PS5 is still in huge demand, and people are going to buy it, but what I want to focus on is how much people wanted the PS5 a year ago when Sony had a lineup, and Microsoft only had a plan. The sheer magnitude of people that only wanted a PS5 was easy to see. IGN took a few polls of its audience’s console intentions, and things did not look great for Xbox at the time.

Sony had the games and the success from the PS4 to warrant a lot of people’s continued trust in their brand. Microsoft had to play catchup and make up for its lackluster Xbox One strategy that left many people wanting more. If the consoles would have released on time in proper quantities, there is a possibility that Sony would have swept a massive percentage of the early adopter install base.

While not impossible to overcome, Sony’s hypothetical early success would have put Microsoft in a much more difficult position. People tend to buy their main console on a few factors: price, first party games, power, and communities. Xbox Series X takes the power debate by a little bit, but the price game is tough due to Microsoft and Sony’s different strategies with console hardware this generation. Both consoles are listed at the same price unless you look at the cheaper offerings like the Series S and PS5 digital edition. Comparing price and power, PS5 would take it with their 400 dollar digital edition. 

Then there are the games which had a clear winner little under a year ago. Sony had the lineup with Spiderman: Miles Morales and a remaster of Demon Souls. A little soft, but it was more than Microsoft, who was launching without any Series X exclusives on day one.

Both consoles have large backwards compatibility support, but when most of the last-generation games that are on Xbox are also on Playstation, buying a PS5 begins to seem like a no-brainer. Sony also had more stuff announced for shortly after launch, like Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart and God of War. 

Xbox meanwhile had Halo infinite, which had been delayed without a release date in sight. In November 2020, there seemed little reason to buy an Xbox Series X over a PS5 for the games. And if we project the polls, Sony would have taken a sizable amount of the day-one buyers. A huge headstart with a potential for those early buyers to be investments in themselves as they tell friends and family they were enjoying their systems. 

However, that isn’t what happened. Instead, a combination of things has made it difficult for Sony and Microsoft to keep their consoles stocked in stores. From scalpers, to trade delays, to pandemic job shortages, the entire road appeared to be filled with potholes that the companies had to navigate. Most people who were looking to get a console are still struggling to find a system that isn’t being sold for massively inflated prices. 

In a way that’s been great news for Xbox and a huge annoyance to Sony. Xbox has had the past year to improve their position in the minds of consumers. Since the release of the Series X, Mircorsoft has acquired Bethesda and announced a slew of games that are goming from their growing roster of first-party developers.

Many of the games had been announced before but now they had gameplay trailers and release dates of 2021 and 2022, right around where most people will hopefully begin to have an easier time to locate these systems.

Xbox has a strong line up from returning franchises like Halo Infinite and Psychonauts 2 as well as some new IPs like Shredders, Back 4 Blood, and Redfall and many more. Essentially, Microsoft has repositioned themselves and improved a deficiency they had coming into the new generation. The new games, coupled with unique Xbox features like Game Pass, will serve as steeper competition for Sony going forward. To be fair, Sony does have PlayStation Now but it isn’t quite on the same level of Game pass for recent big titles.

Sony meanwhile has been a little stubborn with some of their business choices. Sony has so far put put up a resistance to allowing cross platform play and allowing their games to have PC ports. Xbox on the otherhand has enthusiastically thrown themselves at these practices. It almost seems like Sony is confident enough in their own stellar lineup of games and Microsoft’s initial lack of game support to take them through the first few phases of this generation.

However, now it seems like Microsoft has almost completely caught up or at least has strong potential as long as the games remain strong upon release. It will be a much closer competition between the gaming giants as stores begin to build up stock of the next-gen hardware and it looks like Microsoft should thank their lucky stars that a pandemic gave them more time to carry out their plans. I can’t wait to see how this generation shakes out for both companies, but I think I’m going to start out with the Xbox Series X.

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