After flying high with the Xbox 360 to nearly uproot the PlayStation 3 as the best-selling home console, the Xbox One did a tremendous amount of damage to the brand. Microsoft saw its all-in-one entertainment machine mostly ignored, with a mere handful of headline-making exclusives released over its run.
In November 2020, Microsoft launched its Xbox Series X a couple of days before Sony’s PlayStation 5. The promotional campaigns were very similar, with both rightfully leaning into the upcoming exclusive games as well as the power of the new hardware.
Now, 29 months since the launch – at the time of writing – the XSX is being left behind. According to the figures of VGCharts, the PS5 has outsold the XSX 35.44 million to 21.33 million, even with the Xbox Series S included in those figures for the Microsoft console. In the total sales between the two, only 38.2 percent have gone to Xbox.
Do these figures truly reflect the quality of the XSX experience, is the PS5 really that much better to warrant such a sales triumph, and can Microsoft bring more gamers to the platform?
XSX vs PS5: Specs and experience comparison
Both the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 generally cost the same amount to this day, with a bit of fluctuation in cost and value on the bundles. In this sense, the XSX does offer a little bit more power and some better specs. The edge goes to the Microsoft console in the following areas:
- CPU is 0.3 GHz better
- GPU boasts a 1.6 teraflop advantage
- SSD stores 175 GB more
These gains do make a slight difference when playing the same game of high graphical fidelity, and the additional storage requirements make more sense for the Xbox. Beholden to its subscription model, Microsoft wants to give players more space to download more games, while the PS5 would seemingly be more disc-oriented.
One thing that I specifically remember of the two consoles, booting them up on their respective days of release, is the massive difference in the experience between the two. On the PlayStation 5, it boots up with some stunning animations, a new menu to work through, and a game-centric layout that puts them front and centre.
Having been an immediate Xbox One adopter, but having very much disliked the layouts of the console’s home page and the UX, the XSX boot-up was disappointing. Everything’s the same. It immediately washes away any sensation of getting a next-gen experience for £450 ($500), sinking you back into the lost world of the Xbox One.
Stepping up the controllers
Even through the last generation of consoles, Xbox has always had the best controllers. With the launch of the XSX came a new and improved Xbox Wireless Controller, and it’s glorious. The hybrid D-Pad, Dynamic Latency Input, and overall comfort factor of the controllers are all top-class.
However, even with comparatively little use, some issues have occurred in this experience. Not unlike the issues with the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Cons, the new Xbox controllers can suffer from analogue drift. The one that came with the console and the one purchased separately have both succumbed to this game-breaking issue, perhaps due to the time spent in games that often activate the analogue buttons, like NHL and ARK: Survival Evolved.
Unfortunately for Microsoft, this is a facet that Sony has now matched and even exceeded. The DualSense controller is superb. Its built-in microphone, haptic feedback, colour changes, and dynamic adaptive triggers make the gaming experience all the more immersive. To get similar features, you need to splash for the Elite controller for Xbox – currently £140 ($160). However, the recently released DualSense Edge for PS5 – a highly adaptive controller – runs you closer to £200.
Another often-noticed issue that’s seemingly been inherited from the Xbox One is its occasional problem reading discs. Particularly with Blu-rays or DVD, but also with games on occasion, the console might just refuse to read discs. Of course, this is only the experience on one XSX, but on the more-played PS5, the problem hasn’t arisen here.
Putting the disc in before it reaches the profile select page seems to be one way to sometimes trigger this bug in the Xbox. Before rebooting, this can sometimes be cured by running and then killing other software first, but it’s a lot of fuss for a console that still desires to be the all-in-one entertainment hub.
Software is all that really matters
As is the case now and always, the software is all that matters in gaming. People don’t pay for premium gaming hardware not to use it for the best and most exciting games. Exclusive games remain the prime selling point, and while the price and additional features can come into play, the hardware isn’t dissimilar enough for them to be the main factors in the minds of most customers.
Instead, it’ll be all about the games that one console has and the other can only dream of having, and in that sense, the Xbox Series X has continued the drought endured by the Xbox One. There were, of course, mitigating factors behind the delays of those shown as exclusives coming to the Xbox, but little else has been added since.
Simply showcasing how ravenous the Xbox Game Pass community is for even a hint of a potentially top-class exclusive game, indie creation High on Life from Rick & Morty co-creator Justin Roiland was a huge hit. Eurogamer reports it being the Xbox Game Pass’ biggest launch in 2022 – coming out in December – and the biggest third-party launch of the service ever.
There have been others. Forza Horizon 5 further cemented the series as the pinnacle of free-roam racing, Psychonauts 2 delivers some good old-fashioned fun, Grounded is a great take on survival action, and Halo Infinite certainly exists. Overall, and certainly by comparison, the effort on this primary selling point has been lacklustre at best.
The list of exclusives to the PlayStation 5 before the 30-month mark includes: God of War Ragnarök, Horizon Forbidden West, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Gran Turismo 7, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Returnal, and Sackboy: A Big Adventure. That’s not to mention the smaller releases, remasters, and director’s cuts.
On that note, the Xbox Series X is still a near-paradise for retro gamers. You have to pay per game for the most part, but those available truly highlight the pinnacle of Xbox consoles of the past and the quality of some cross-platform classics. The very best of the bunch includes both of the real Star Wars: Battlefront games, Knights of the Old Republic, the Fable trilogy, Morrowind, the Mass Effect games, and the Portal duology.
Is the Xbox Game Pass enough?
For just £10.99 per month, you get access to EA Play, Ubisoft+, online gaming, discounts on games, access to Xbox-exclusive games on release day, and hundreds of games to play and explore on Xbox and PC. Microsoft even looks set to succeed where Google’s Stadia failed and release a functional cloud-based triple-A gaming service.
Game Pass reads like a great deal because it is by just about any metric, but it just doesn’t warrant the purchase of the Xbox Series X. Most people need a computer, so many of these benefits can be enjoyed on a slightly more expensive bit of hardware that functions beyond gaming, TV, and movies.
Also not helping its value is the lack of major, triple-A games that can persuade people to join. At the time of writing, Microsoft’s listed most-played games on Game Pass showed Minecraft, Football Manager 2023 Console, ARK, Dead by Daylight, Sea of Thieves, Farming Simulator 22, DayZ, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Skyrim, and Dreamlight Valley.
Of those top ten, only Sea of Thieves isn’t available on PlayStation. Halo Infinite ranks 12th, but that’s it for games that aren’t playable on a PlayStation console within the top 16. What’s great is that all of these games offer hundreds of hours of single-player fun or a thriving multiplayer community, so the Game Pass grants the most accessible pathway to these games as a collective. That said, if you only play for one game, in a few months, you would have spent enough to buy it outright in most cases. This isn’t even delving into the PlayStation Plus tiers, offering a similar smattering of retro and modern games.
Are improvements on the horizon for the Xbox Series X?
The lack of exclusive games and how much it hurts the sales of the Xbox Series X clearly hasn’t gone unnoticed. Not only has Microsoft gone on a multi-billion acquisition spree that’s mopped up storied developers and publishers Bethesda and Activision-Blizzard, but the CEO of Microsoft Gaming, Phil Spencer, has discussed the topic publically.
In an exclusive interview with the YouTube channel Same Brain, Spencer said that they have heard that it’s “been too long since [Xbox have] shipped… a big first party game.” Over on another YouTube channel, Xbox On, he reiterated his stance of exclusivity being on a case-by-case basis for games under the Microsoft umbrella.
There’s been a lot made about the Activision-Blizzard acquisition for $68.7 billion. Predominantly, the fuss is surrounding Microsoft’s ability to get a huge foot in the door of mobile gaming as well as acquire the automatic best-selling series Call of Duty. The latter raised red flags among market competition watchdogs, but after review, the UK inquiry found that making CoD exclusive to the Xbox would be a significantly loss-making pursuit.
Of course, the console’s first truly captivating exclusive is set to come out this year: Starfield.
Starfield could make or break the Xbox Series X
Starfield is one of the most highly-anticipated games of this year, and even the last couple of years. Being a return to pure single-player gaming for Bethesda, fans of the likes of The Elder Scrolls series and Fallout are getting very excited for what’s been called “Skyrim in space.” If it proves popular and playable from the get-go, it could bump Xbox sales significantly.
Still, both those criteria are rather high bars for Bethesda based on recent evidence. Bugs have become an accepted and even an enjoyable facet of Bethesda’s single-player games of the past, and even the Starfield trailer at the Xbox Bethesda Games Showcase featured a little head-twist bug last year. Then, there’s the Fallout 76 problem.
It was a big leap into multiplayer gaming for the Fallout series, but it was rushed and massively overhyped by Todd Howard on just about every occasion. The launch, simply put, did not go well. It’s tough to look past Fallout 76 and its legacy when Howard’s again on the hype train, emphasising that there’s over 1,000 traversable planets in Starfield among other grand statements.
According to VG24/7, the team working on Starfield is more than twice the size of the Fallout 76 team, and since coming under the Microsoft banner, more money was likely pumped into the development. Even the late release date push signals an intervention from the owning company, knowing how much is riding on Starfield for Xbox. Saying that Starfield’s success is make or break for Xbox may be a bit excessive, but if it does flop, it certainly won’t help.
To date, the Xbox Series X has struggled to impress or be overly engaging. A lack of enticing exclusive games continues to be the core issue, and while it’s very encouraging for Xbox players to see Microsoft gobble up the studios behind beloved IPs, the spending spree will take a while to bear fruit.
On June 11, the 2023 Xbox Games Showcase should be reasonably telling of the console’s prospects, but it has a huge amount of catching up to do if it’s to truly rival the PlayStation 5.