Most of my social media friends are primarily PC gamers so I thought I’d write a post helping them to decide if/when they should buy a Playstation 5 [PS5] or an Xbox Series X [XSX]. But before we get into that, lets talk a little bit about the console business model.
Both Sony and Microsoft sell their consoles (particularly near launch) at a loss. The idea is to get you in the door, then they make their money off of you via software and subscription sales. As a general rule of thumb when you buy a game on one of their platforms they get 30% of the sale price, and of course 100% for first party titles. Keep that in mind as we discuss each machine.
Now let’s talk about exclusives. True exclusives are becoming increasingly rare these days. Don’t be fooled when a company says “console exclusive” or “timed exclusive.” The former means the game WILL be on PC (just not on the other console), the latter means it’ll be on PC you’ll just have to wait a while.
Let’s talk PS5 first. Sony is a ‘traditional’ console seller in that their console is their platform. They want to sell a bunch of PS5s to build market share. This is why they have such high quality exclusives. Sony is willing to devote a ton of resources into exclusives because these are used as the ‘bait’ to get you into the Playstation ecosystem.
Tangent: I’m not a developer so this might be nonsense, but I suspect that true Playstation exclusives look as good as they do because the developers can take advantage of every hardware-specific feature and trick there is. They’re not worried about “how will we do this on Xbox or PC” so they can squeeze every drop of power out of their single target hardware.
Once you buy that PS5 to play an exclusive, Sony hopes you’ll buy other games, plus peripherals and maybe a Playstation+ subscription. The only other Playstation revenue stream they have is their streaming service Playstation Now, but so far Sony has used this mostly to put their back-catalog to use. They really want to force you to buy a Playstation in order for you to play their newest, hottest titles.
So when should you but a PS5? When there are enough exclusives to justify the hardware cost; so 2022 maybe? The truth is you probably won’t use your PS5 very much; all your friends are on PC and if you’re a dedicated PC gamer your rig is probably more powerful than the PS5 is, or at the very least it will be when you upgrade in a couple of years. Most of my die-hard PC gamer friends report that their consoles mostly collect dust after an initial burst of enthusiasm.
Xbox Series X
Now let’s talk about Microsoft. Microsoft diverges from Sony in a huge way in that the Xbox hardware platform is not their only revenue stream. They have this side project called Windows as well. Microsoft’s focus is on selling you software and subscriptions, and they’re leaning harder and harder into subscriptions at this point.
Because of this, XSX exclusives aren’t always as flashy as PS5 exclusives. In fact there are virtually no true XSX exclusives; Microsoft is making a concerted effort to offer all its games on Windows as well as Xbox.
Recently Xbox Game Pass has become a huge focus. It works on Xbox hardware and on Windows machines. Microsoft is happy to sell you an XSX, sure, but what it REALLY wants to sell you is a Game Pass subscription and it doesn’t care where you play the games. Could be on Xbox, could be on PC, could be via Xcloud.
In fact one could argue that they’d prefer you play on PC. Consider that when you buy an XSX, Microsoft loses money. When you buy a new gaming PC that comes with a Windows license, Microsoft earns money. [Granted a lot of PC gamers just carry their Windows license with them, but every time an Alienware, OriginPC or a gaming PC from Best Buy is sold, Microsoft makes money on that Windows license.]
Of course when you play on Windows, Microsoft doesn’t make anything from you when you buy a game from Steam, Origin, Epic or any other store, and no one that I know chooses to buy from the Windows Store unless they can’t avoid it. But again, this is where Game Pass comes in and why Microsoft is leaning so hard into it. Game Pass is their on-going revenue stream from PC gamers.
So when should you, the PC gamer, buy an Xbox Series X? Never. XSX is for those of us who don’t want/can’t afford a gaming PC. But as long as PC gaming is your jam, there’s very little reason for you to buy an XSX.
Hopefully this post will be of some help and will stop some of the complaints from PC gamers about how little incentive there is for them to buy a new console. These consoles are not generally meant for you. You’re wealthy enough that you can buy a $1500-$3000 gaming PC and then a few hundred dollars more every couple of years to keep it up to snuff. Be content with that, and understand that consoles are meant for a different market. Let console gamers enjoy their once-a-decade $400-500 new devices in peace. Don’t be the guy driving around in a Ferrari complaining that Chevrolet is giving you no reason to buy their new Aveo model.