The Xbox Scorpio is coming. And for all its substantial merits, it is unlikely to actually change the course of the console war much all by itself. For now, it is clear that Sony is the incumbent who cannot be unseated, not this generation, anyway. However, the Scorpio’s true merits will not be in whether or not it can win the console war for Microsoft- that may be its utility to them, sure. But for us, as gamers, the true merits of Scorpio (and indeed, Microsoft’s larger gaming strategy with Xbox and Windows 10) will be in what the lasting impact of them, at least of the good decisions Microsoft is making with them, can be.
And Microsoft is making a lot of good decisions. I am not convinced yet on its ability to deliver on the games, content which is necessary to ultimately make any games ecosystem compelling, but the actual policy and service decisions surrounding Xbox and even Windows 10 at the moment are great. Backward Compatibility, Play Anywhere, Xbox Game Pass, Cross Platform Play, full game refunds, these are all just some great decisions Microsoft has made in the last year or so- and these decisions are all areas where Microsoft now far outpaces Sony. Sony may have more and better games for now – and there is no question that they do – but there are definitely areas where they can learn from Microsoft going forward.
“Backward compatibility is not a system selling feature, and it is honestly not even one that a lot of people use even once. But it is an essential feature nonetheless, one that inspires consumer confidence, invites consumer investment in your ecosystem, and is just a friendly move that generates goodwill in general.”
Consider, for instance, the all important question of backward compatibility- backward compatibility is not a system selling feature, and it is honestly not even one that a lot of people use even once. But it is an essential feature nonetheless, one that inspires consumer confidence, invites consumer investment in your ecosystem, and is just a friendly move that generates goodwill in general. Sony has adopted the x86 architecture for the PS4, presumably with the aim of avoiding the kind of compatibility issues that custom solutions like the Emotion Engine or most infamously, the Cell, caused. To Sony’s credit, they have doubled down on the notion of inter- and backward compatibility with the PS4 Pro, showcasing full compatibility between two hardware variants.
One would think this is indicative of Sony, too, choosing to invest in integrated ecosystems going forward- but it’s not that simple. At the same time as the PS4 Pro, Sony has released PS2 games on the PS4 PSN Store, not honoring prior digital purchases of PS2 games made on the PS3, and it has released multiple Vita hardware SKUs, which are not compatible with each other. This is not the kind of broken ecosystem Sony can afford to present, especially in face of the unified front Microsoft is putting forth- backward compatibility, and an emphasis on a continuous digital ecosystem, are essential at this point. This is one very important lesson Sony needs to learn from how Microsoft is handling Xbox and Windows 10 gaming.
It’s interesting, because this idea of an integrated ecosystem was basically pioneered by Sony to begin with, at least in the gaming market- with the PS3 and PS Vita, Sony briefly offered a continuous online identity, with a purchase of a game on the PS3 unlocking that same game on the Vita too (and vice versa), and with both systems placing a strong emphasis on legacy content (PS3 and PS Vita both offered PSOne Classics, and Vita offered PSP games, while PS3 offered PS2 Classics). It’s with the PS4 that Sony seems to have lost sight of a concept that it brought to the market- and that Microsoft has now made its own with Xbox Play Anywhere and Backward Compatibility features.
“It’s interesting, because this idea of an integrated ecosystem was basically pioneered by Sony to begin with, at least in the gaming market, with the PS3 and PS Vita.”
An integrated ecosystem isn’t the only area where Sony can learn from Microsoft, either- the Game Pass is an excellent example of Games as Service (and a far superior offering to PS Now, which isn’t getting ahead of itself, either). That is something Sony might want to look at as a viable offering in that area which is viable in the here and now, rather than being primed for some nebulous future. Game refunds are another- you cannot expect customers to invest in your ecosystem if they don’t feel like their purchases are secure. And they won’t feel like their purchases are secure unless they are protected from poor purchases in the first place. Microsoft has blazed the trail with a truly consumer friendly refund policy- and this is one area where Sony should look at shamelessly copying Microsoft.
Cross platform play is another area where Sony has ended with egg on its face- for the longest time, Sony claimed that it would allow full cross platform network play, and it was only Microsoft’s insistence on keeping Xbox Live closed that was causing any holdups in that ever happening. But then Microsoft went ahead and opened up Xbox Live to connecting with other networks, and Sony still continues to block cross network play. And lastly, Microsoft have revealed their plans on how they plan to tackle digital refunds…this is once again not a system selling feature but it generates goodwill among gamers.
Really, services and policies are the only area where Sony needs to look at, and learn from Microsoft. The PS5, when it comes out, will be a powerful system- it will be more powerful than the Scorpio is (and the Scorpio successor will probably be more powerful than the PS5, and the PS5 Pro will probably be more powerful than that, and so on). Hardware power is no longer the issue here- at last, both companies have competent, easy, powerful, flexible, and scalable hardware solutions on the market. But where Sony is winning in terms of building an appealing games library (and that is an area Microsoft could stand to learn from Sony in), Microsoft is definitely winning in the services area. If both companies were to learn from each other in areas where they are weak respectively, we as gamers would be far better off as a whole.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to GamingBolt as an organization.