With today’s news that Outriders is coming to Game Pass on day one, and last week’s revelations about Bethesda games likely being mostly exclusives now that Microsoft owns that swath of studios, there’s been an uproar from fanboys on both sides, shaking their spears at one another. But no matter which “side” of things you fall on, Microsoft’s aggressive moves can arguably be seen as a good thing (even if technically the monopolization/Disneyfication of the industry is a whole different subject to be discussed far beyond the context of the “console wars” as most fanboys know them).
The console wars are fought in the trenches by fanboys vehemently and blindly defending their positions for General Sony and Sergeant Microsoft. The truth at the top is a bit more nuanced. In fact, there’s really not a console war even happening on the corporate level. The corporations that fanboys go to war for don’t want or need the kind of toxicity that tends to fester on the fanboy battlefields. Sony is not at war with Microsoft. Xbox is not seeking to sink PlayStation. It’s all just… business. Sure, business is competition, to some degree. And Sony and Microsoft are competitors, to an extent. But business is also about growth, evolution, and challenging the status quo.
Think about it this way: We wouldn’t even have PlayStation if Sony hadn’t made the kinds of bold and brazen moves that Microsoft is making today. The very origin of PlayStation comes out of just trying to make the best platform possible for developers and players. It comes from pushing the boundaries beyond what anyone else was doing at the time. Watch From Bedrooms to Billions: The PlayStation Revolution to get enlightened on that subject.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m the editor-in-chief for a PlayStation enthusiast site. I’ve been playing on the PlayStation platform near exclusively for over 25 years. I’ve never even owned an Xbox, and my Switch hardly gets any playtime. I don’t PC game. I’m heavily invested in my Trophies, with 216 Platinums and over 16,000 total Trophies. I’m about as big of a PlayStation fan as you can get. But I see the moves Microsoft is making as good things, understandable for their own business, and better for the growth of the industry in the long term.
The Bethesda Factor
With confirmation that Bethesda/ZeniMax games are expected to largely be exclusive to Microsoft and any platforms that Game Pass is on (at this point Xbox and PC), PlayStation fans have felt an enormous loss in a number of industry-shaping franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Wolfenstein, and more. It’s a massive feather in Microsoft’s cap though, and as a company whose exclusives have been less-than-enthralling for the past few years or more, it’s a way of cultivating a first-party lineup from previously established and reputable studios.
Bigger still, however, is the additional heft this adds to Game Pass, a part of the Xbox ecosystem you don’t even need an Xbox to be in. Microsoft and Xbox are not and have never been about sales of individual products. Look at Windows. Microsoft Office. It’s all about making people a part of the ecosystem. So while Xbox’s may have their own selling points, they are merely potential gateways into the Microsoft ecosystem, rather than the product at the center of the strategy.
Sony’s strategy with the PlayStation, which hinges much more directly on sales of the console itself, is similar. Sony just arguably has fewer doors into their ecosystem, even if it’s opening some of them up with PC releases of older PlayStation exclusive titles. But still, elements like Trophies, first-party exclusives, PlayStation Plus, and PS Now are all tools to get you locked into the Sony PlayStation ecosystem.
Now, am I a little bit sad that I’ll most likely never be able to play a Bethesda game on PlayStation again? Sure. Personally, as someone who is locked into the PlayStation ecosystem with my own money, time, and energy, yeah, that stings. And that’s why fanboys tend to lash out at things like this. It sucks when your side “loses” something. Both Sony fans and Microsoft fans have felt this sting back and forth for well over 10 years.
But for Microsoft, it’s an enormous win, because it’s about getting players into their ecosystem. For Bethesda, it’s a huge win, because the studio has first-party resources it’s never had before. On the business side of things, these solutions need to be grand. Acquisitions. Exclusivity. Whereas the solution on the ground floor for each player is simple: swallow your pride and accept that you’ll have to play Bethesda games somewhere else if you really want to play them.
Outriders, Game Pass, and Being Part of an Ecosystem
Ecosystems have been at the forefront of business for ages. Businesses rely on some degree of loyalty from customers. Countless companies will opt to take more obvious losses in an attempt to garner a community and tie people into their ecosystem for long term gain. Even outside of gaming, look at things like gym memberships or subscriptions to streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Spotify, and countless others. It’s all about getting you to buy into a bigger long term idea.
Outriders coming to Game Pass on day one has been a point of contention for PlayStation fans, but I fail to see why. Again, much like with Bethesda, the situation is a win-win for Microsoft and Square Enix. Microsoft gets a big game on the subscription service on day one. Square Enix gets an even larger built-in player base that can better support the game’s launch.
Think about just how many games were bolstered by launching via PlayStation Plus. Is Microsoft likely throwing down huge amounts of cash for deals like these? Absolutely, but it’s all in pursuit of the ecosystem. Also, in this case, Outriders isn’t even exclusive to Game Pass, just a nice bonus for subscribers. You can still get yours on PlayStation if you want. Unlike Bethesda, which is a tangible loss for PlayStation players, Outriders on Game Pass is just a win for Microsoft (and for Square Enix). But it’s not a zero-sum game. A win for Microsoft isn’t an automatic loss for PlayStation.
What Does it All Mean for Sony?
When the PS3 came out, it carried the burden of being highly expensive and difficult to develop for. For all of its successes, Sony spent a lot of time playing catch up with the PS3, and the PS4 era—a shining era in PlayStation history—was a direct responses to years of floundering where Microsoft was conversely making a lot of great moves.
In fact, the PS3 was a result of a decrease in competition pushing companies to do better. Its launch felt almost full of ego. The PS1 and PS2 were lauded consoles, so Sony just seemed to coast into the PS3 era. In some ways, the first forays into the PS5 feel a bit the same. There’s a lot to love, but after a successful generation with the PS4, there are a number of aspects about the PS5 and Sony’s general communication with the community that have felt a bit too much like they’re coasting on good will. I mean, we’re four months into the PS5 and Sony has barely talked about the console and the future of the system, if at all. Storage space is woefully inadequate (and expansions will be ridiculously expensive). People are still having issues with external hard drives. And Sony’s barely said a word about any of these things.
Long story short, the good will that Sony’s built up can only take them so far. But competition breeds innovation. Companies can do better for consumers when backed up against the wall. People have been wondering how Sony will come out swinging against things like losing future titles from Bethesda, Double Fine, Obsidian, and more; How Sony will counter the absolute might of Game Pass. And I’m sure those are the very conversations going on between Sony executives right now.
Losing future Bethesda games on PlayStation might be a tough pill to swallow. Outriders coming to Game Pass stings for people who have to pay to play on PlayStation. I’m not absolving these things of having some negative impacts for the community. As someone who is unlikely to dedicate any time or money to the Xbox ecosystem, I’m not thrilled about it. But it’s all just business, and I’m sure Microsoft wasn’t considering Sony fanboys’ feelings when they were working through the Bethesda acquisition, the same as Sony making deals for exclusives wasn’t done with Xbox fans at the forefront of the conversation. They each want to do what’s best for their own communities and ecosystems.
At the end of the day, Microsoft making big and almost unprecedented moves within the industry is nudge to Sony; a wake up call. And if history’s proven anything so far, it’s that we’ll see some massive things from Sony in response in order to stay competitive and continue to push the entire industry forward as everyone simultaneously chases and builds what they think the future of video games looks like. Who knows… maybe one day we’ll even see Game Pass on PlayStation, easily letting you be a part of both ecosystems simultaneously. Probably not, but hey, crazier things have happened.
Daily Reaction reacts to the video game industry. Have suggestions for the column or subjects you’d like us to react to? Let me know in the comments below and be sure to check out previous Daily Reactions for more dives beyond the headlines.