By Darius Thornton
When one thinks about the greatest rivalries of all time, their mind might drift to those such as Coke and Pepsi, Lakers and Celtics, Ali and Frazier, left Twix and right Twix, pancakes and waffles, Goku and Vegeta, and North Carolina and Duke. However, the greatest enduring battle does not lie within any of the combatants listed here; no, instead, it lies with two titans of the gaming console industry: Microsoft and Sony, which really means the Xbox against the PlayStation. Now I know what you’re thinking — how does a petty competition for sales from two giant, greedy corporations even compare to the intense, storied rivalries I listed above? Well, let’s look at it like this: what other debate sends online forums and civil discourse into full-on flame wars within seconds of either company or system being brought up? Not even Coke vs Pepsi holds that much power. It’s now 2020, which marks nearly 20 years of direct competition between Microsoft and Sony’s flagship consoles with no foreseeable end in sight. Both companies announced next-generation consoles to be released this holiday season, very close to one another of course. This means that the Console Wars will likely rage on through yet another decade. But how did we arrive at this eternal battle?
Genesis (No not you Sega)
A long time ago, (1994) in a video game market far, far away, industry titans, Sega and Nintendo, dominated the industry and battled for supremacy. However, a new hope arose from seemingly nowhere. In December of that year, less than a week after the release of the Sega Saturn, a company by the name of Sony Computer Entertainment released the PlayStation, and although consumers didn’t realize it at the time, it would one day signify a changing of the guard. As one console war simmered down, another began. Well, after a while anyway. Sony released the PlayStation 2 six years later, planting their flag at the apex of the gaming industry, competing directly with Nintendo’s GameCube. However, just over a year later Microsoft, who had up to this point been known for software and computers, released the Xbox game system… And with that, a rivalry was born. Though, at this point, it wasn’t exactly a rivalry. The PlayStation 2 practically destroyed the Xbox in terms of sales, in large part thanks to the brand recognition that it had after the original had already come out, and in part, due to having a wider array of games. Xbox loaded up on exclusives like Gears of War and Halo, which just so happened to be two of the most popular games at the time, but it didn’t matter. Xbox also boasted a better technical system, with better audio and graphic quality than the PlayStation 2 was capable of. In this case, quantity prevailed over quality, and PlayStation practically coasted to a proverbial victory over their would-be rivals and established themselves as an empire in the gaming industry.
Episode II: Attack of the Fanboys
It would be Microsoft that would strike first next time. In late 2005, it released the Xbox 360, the Xbox’s sleeker, more polished and more powerful sequel, trying to take the crown for themselves. It worked, for about a year. Just over a year later, Sony’s PlayStation 3 was out on shelves. Nothing much really changed, Xbox still made its bread and butter on Halo and Gears of War, although PlayStation struck back with titles like Uncharted. Sony also gained the technical edge with slightly better graphics and the PS3’s capability to support Blu Ray which the Xbox 360 was unable to match. Both consoles came with revolutionized online gaming programs in Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, respectively. This brought their popularity to a new plateau. Alright, you do the math. What does online gaming, plus the internet allowing everyone to express their opinions on message boards equal? You guessed it, fanboys. It was during this era that the war truly engulfed the galaxy. And with popularity, Loyalists for both sides began popping up quicker than weeds in a field– in both the hardcore gaming community and in more casual gamers. This is comparable to traditional brand loyalty in a sense. You’re either a Nike person or an Adidas person, a Coke person or a Pepsi person, an Apple person or a Samsung person, you get the picture. In terms of the Console Wars though, people drew lines in the sand after buying their console of choice, proclaiming absolute loyalty to either Microsoft or Sony. Of course, people want to believe the product they are buying is superior to the alternative. But it was more than that, the alternative was now the enemy, and thus any attempt to bash them should be taken.
On Xbox and PlayStation message boards, intended to connect people who share the same console to make matchmaking easier, new terminology began to be used to describe the other side. If you had a PlayStation, you were a “Sony Pony”: someone who rode with Sony (Because Sony rhymes with pony). If you had an Xbox, you were an “Xbot”, someone who was programmed by Microsoft (You know, because they make software) to be loyal to Microsoft and consume Xbox products even though PlayStation is “obviously” the better system. If you had both, you were a unicorn that didn’t exist. If you had a Wii, you were just irrelevant–just the way it was. With both armies of fanboys mobilized, with their insults at the ready, it was only a matter of time before the war began. I vividly remember being alive during that seven-year period in maybe fourth grade, asking my friends what system they played. If they said an Xbox, they were an ally; if they said PlayStation, they were the enemy (at least when it came to this). I was in an Xbox group with some friends and we played games together through Live. That changed though when one of my friend’s dad bought him a PlayStation that he began using to play with some of his other friends from time to time. He may as well have been Benedict Arnold to us. We just couldn’t fathom the idea that he could have both systems. The armies clashed over who was superior with Xbox supporters using the “We have Halo and Gears of War!” argument as their heavy artillery and trump card. PlayStation would counter with, “We can Run Blu Ray” or “We have Uncharted!” or “Halo hasn’t been good for years!” This went on for years in Youtube comment sections, Reddit, and message boards, desecrating battlefields. Who won? Well in terms of sales, Sony, on the exclusives front, yet Xbox on the internet front.
Episode III: Sony Strikes Back (Sorta)
The war evolved again in December of 2013 when both companies released their next-generation consoles, the Xbox One (don’t ask me how Microsoft names these things) and you guessed it, the Playstation 4. This time, it was PlayStation who took the win when it came to exclusives, thanks in part to the decline in the relevancy in the Halo and Gears of War titles and thanks to Sony’s contracts with and acquisition of studios and IPs. This has allowed them access to a great number of prestigious and popular titles like Bloodborne, The Last of Us, Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War, Persona 5, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, almost all of which being Game of the Year candidates. You can argue that this was a ploy to keep their fanbase from switching over to Xbox or getting Xbox fans to switch over by enticing them with these games. That’s really become Sony’s calling card, “We have (insert title here) and no one else does”. Just exclude your competition, smart business move. Microsoft, on the other hand, is taking a different approach. It has expanded upon Xbox Live, with Xbox Game Pass, which has allowed for monthly free games to paying subscribers. It has also allowed for crossplay with Nintendo and PC players on Minecraft and other titles (which Sony has only just recently begun to do) and allowed for backwards compatibility, which allows gamers to play popular titles from the Xbox 360 on the Xbox One. There’s also the Xbox One X, a variant of the Xbox One that is more powerful and boasts better graphics than any other console on the market. Sony focused on games, Microsoft has tried to make up the difference with other features, but yet again Sony takes the figurative sales cake. Though, their fanboys continued to battle it out, refusing to give an inch.
In December of 2020, The Xbox Series X (seriously Microsoft, who names these?) and the PlayStation 5 are set to be released as the latest iterations of the company’s flagships. This marks nearly 20 years of direct competition between Microsoft and Sony and a rivalry amongst fans that has lasted nearly as long. Sony is still firing with exclusives like Persona 5 Royale and the Final Fantasy VII remake. However, not to be undone, Microsoft has invested in its own exclusives, such as Halo: Infinite and Tell Me Why. It is unclear as to who will emerge the victor this time, but it’s clear this is a war of attrition, a battle that will never truly end, even if Sony continues to outpace their rivals in sales. Microsoft will not submit. Here’s to another decade of conflict.