It is not a huge stretch to utter the following phrase: Microsoft are losing the console battle this generation. As of February 2021, the PlayStation 5 had sold around 4.5 million units, in comparison to only about 2.8 million Xbox Series X sales (statistics confirmed by Ampere Analysis). As of writing, PS5 sales are sitting around 8.6 million, with Xbox Series X sales numbers still more-or-less unknown.
What's s my point? Well, that seems pretty obvious, right? The PlayStation 5 is selling like hotcakes, and at least in February, it is far outselling its Xbox counterpart. Now, I am going to make a statement that – considering the numbers I just showed you – might seem a little whack: Microsoft is still winning the next-gen war. Why? Well, we have one word for you: Game Pass. (Editor's note: Two words, but who's counting).
Whilst not the only factor in this discussion, Xbox Game Pass is a wild new piece of technology, perhaps a Netflix of gaming. If Netflix has any stories to tell, it's that it has taken the world by storm, and is now the world's largest subscription service, with 183 million subscribers as of March 2020. That's pre-Covid numbers. Imagine how many people are subscribed to it now!
Through the cloud, we'll be able to give a robust gaming experience to anyone connected to the internet, even on the least powerful devices, devices people already own.
— Phil Spencer on the Xbox Game Pass, interview on WindowsCentral.
Comparably to the subscriber counts of a media giant like Netflix, Xbox Game Pass seems to be a bit child-like. With about 18 million subscribers as of writing, it seems to be a comparable baby, especially considering the number of people who have outright purchased the PS5 – a much pricier acquisition. I seem to be proving me wrong right now, but trust me, this is going somewhere.
During a six-month period in 2020, Xbox Game Pass subscribers grew by more than fifty percent. That means: From 10 million up to 15 million. It has been growing exponentially ever since. Its growth is impressive, and I predict that it will continue to grow, especially after an insanely successful showing at E3 2021. There are two reasons for this...
1. The Microsoft and Bethesda Deal Changes the Game
Microsoft and Bethesda have, as I'm sure you know, joined arms, with their insane line up of games, all coming exclusively to Xbox and Xbox Game Pass. This library includes classics like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the Fallout games, Doom, and tons more. It is a massive deal that changes the game for PlayStation, because the PS5 will no longer have games that might not have been exclusives, but were certainly system sellers during the PS3 and PS4 generations.
The announcement has been a little under-reported, possibly because up until E3 2021, very little news was available as to what this means. We now know: the PS5 will not be getting Starfield. This is huge, one of the most highly anticipated games ever is not coming to PlayStation. There are tons of other examples, and we don't know if games like this one may eventually make it to the PS5, but we do know that they will launch on Microsoft systems.
2. An Impressive Exclusive Game Lineup
How many exclusives are now lined up for Microsoft? Ten, twenty, something like that? Sure, they don't have the great single-player games featured on PlayStation systems, but they sure-as-hell have a solid lineup. Combining the Halos and the Gears of Wars of the world with Bethesda? It is the perfect recipe for success. A delicious recipe, a recipe that is guaranteed to impress. Speaking of recipes, they even have a mini-fridge!
What Does This Mean for Microsoft?
Well, Microsoft are killing it. Yes, the Xbox Series X is lagging behind in terms of sales numbers, but that's beyond the point. We always get stuck in this narrow-thinking conundrum when we talk about the console wars. It's either Xbox or PlayStation – the physical console systems themselves, not the ecosystem – but not Nintendo. That's it, and there's no wider conversation to be had. There is an inherent problem with this thinking: the gaming industry is fluid, it changes far more and far quicker than comparable industries like film and television.
If Netflix can change the entire television industry in less than a decade, imagine what Microsoft can do with Game Pass. It's going to be something to really look out for, and from the news we have witnessed over the last six plus months, it is certainly on course for huge success. It is, almost certainly at this point, the future of gaming.
In other words: Microsoft may be losing the console battle, but they are certainly winning the war...
Other Columns that you should check out: