Microsoft’s pitch-perfect run-up to the next-gen came to a screeching halt this week. The company didn’t just squander the fragile trust of gamers slowly warming up to the Xbox Series X dream. It handed Sony a golden opportunity to coax fence-sitters over to the PlayStation 5.
What Microsoft touted as a pivotal first look at Xbox Series X gameplay was instead an unremarkable, cinematic trailer-heavy showcase for middling third-party IPs, most of which will be available on the PlayStation 5 too.
The presentation has been dubbed the first misfire in Microsoft’s otherwise perfectly-paced and near flawless execution to date. It evoked the self-inflicted and jumbled mess of the Xbox One launch back in 2013 .
And it’s that impressive execution which makes Thursday’s blunder so noticeable. The next-gen strategies of the two platform holders couldn’t be any more different.
Microsoft is banking on transparency and timeliness backed by confidence and a clear vision – something the company has long lacked – thanks in equal measure to a powerful console and the leadership of Phil Spencer.
Most of all, it appeared Xbox was all too aware of what mattered to players. The console design, specifications, and features are already out in the open, way ahead of Sony.
On the other hand, the PlayStation 5’s meager showing to date includes an underwhelming logo reveal at CES in January, the divisive Mark Cerny deep-dive into the console’s architecture, and a first look at the hyper-futuristic DualSense controller.
Xbox was ahead, firmly steering the narrative to a self-suiting beat, with Sony yet to announce when it would host a proper PlayStation 5 reveal.
Microsoft had the full attention of the gaming world – and probably those with a passing interest who only tuned in to add a little variety to the Groundhog Days of lockdown. Microsoft wasted the opportunity, though.
If Microsoft can bungle a standalone event with no competition from Sony, what will happen when the PlayStation 5 marketing machine starts churning its gears in earnest?
With no first-party Xbox Series X exclusives per se (the fruit of Microsoft’s admirable – but possibly misguided – consumer-friendly aim to ease the generational transition ), Sony will have a field day showcasing expected next-gen titles.
The PlayStation lineup includes illustrious IPs such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and God of War. At the risk of stating the obvious, these games aren’t confirmed for PS5 – but serve to highlight the pedigree of Sony’s roster in-waiting.
In the same vein, we currently know very little about the PlayStation 5 – although reports suggest there are still plenty of surprises to come.
With Sony keeping its cards so close to the vest, it would be unwise to make sweeping statements about whether these unknown variables will be enough to destabilize the impressive Xbox Series X.
But history suggests the PlayStation 5 may outclass the Xbox Series X in surprising ways. Mark Cerny’s focus on innovation and a raft of rave endorsements from developers only heighten that expectation.
All this makes it an ideal time for Sony to seize on Microsoft’s misfire. Gamers are hungry for something to hammer home the appeal of the next-generation. And with Microsoft’s very public flop, they are turning to Sony to deliver just that.
Sony has an opportunity to lure back gamers who’ve been entranced by the Xbox Series X, which until yesterday, let’s face it, was far more appealing than Sony’s staggered, almost listless, drip-feed of PlayStation 5 details.
While there’s still ample time for Microsoft to correct this first misstep ahead of the next-gen launch at the end of 2020, the real head-to-head is yet to come.
The latest rumors point to early to mid-June as the window for Sony’s big PlayStation 5 reveal , followed by Microsoft’s first-party Xbox 20/20 presentation in July .