Microsoft has seemingly done everything right so far. The Xbox Series X got a big reveal right on top of The Game Awards, and Phil Spencer has been everywhere stumping for the platform. Last week, several games were revealed for the platform, which was Xbox's way of saying, "Yes, we'll have games this time."
By comparison, we know barely anything about the PlayStation 5. Wired wrote a couple cover stories. PS5 architect Mark Cerny did one very long-winded breakdown of its capabilities for a fake audience. Sony revealed the "DualSense," which stirred up some controversy with its odd design. We know that Xbox Series X will have Halo Infinite, but we only have rumors of a Demon's Souls remaster and Horizon Zero Dawn 2 for PS5.
Has it mattered? Well, let's see what Google Trends has to say about the matter.
As you can see, Microsoft received one very large bump in interest around the time of the Game Awards reveal, but otherwise PS5 has retained a solid advantage in search interest both in North America and worldwide. Not even last week's gameplay showcase was enough to push the Xbox Series X above the PS5. People just seem to care more about the PS5 more right now. There are likely a few reasons for this:
The Xbox Series X's capabilities remain abstract: Microsoft has done its best to drive home the raw power of the Xbox Series X, even going so far as to show off an extended demo to our sister site, Digital Foundry. Nevertheless, it all remains rather abstract. We've seen some video clips; we know that ray tracing is an exciting new feature, but there's still little sense of what it means to be "next-gen."
This was especially evident during last week's showcase, which was long on trailers and short on gameplay. When it was done, more than a few people on social media wondered what the fuss was all about. If the graphical improvements were incremental at best, why bother with a new console?
Microsoft and Sony will tell you that the real improvements will be in the elimination of issues like loading times, thus opening new vistas for open-world games and other genres. How do you convey that in a two-minute demo, though? Neither Microsoft nor Sony seem to have an answer right now, which might go a long way toward explaining the general confusion about the upcoming generation, and why Microsoft hasn't had as much success drumming up the interest it needs to overtake Sony.
Microsoft hasn't shown enough first-party exclusives: Microsoft has made a big point of hyping up its new family of Xbox Game Studios, which includes the likes of Obsidian and Ninja Theory. These studios should provide plenty of ammo over the next generation of consoles. Again though, it's all theoretical. We know Halo Infinite is coming, but we hardly know anything about it. Fable is just a rumor. Hellblade 2: Senua's Saga is intriguing, but it's little more than a teaser right now.
Microsoft has promised more info in the coming months, with a first-party presentation currently planned for July. In the meantime, its reveals have felt a little thin. Most of last week's trailers were last-gen IPs, with many of them, if not all of them, also set for other platforms. This is likely a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has thrown everyone's plans into disarray in one way or another, but the fact remains that last week's stream did little to spur interest in the Xbox Series X. Until we see some truly exciting games, that's likely to remain the case.
Sony owned this generation, and interest is just naturally going to be higher in the follow-up: This one should be a given. The PlayStation 4 doubled the Xbox One's sales this generation, and interest in the platform remains anemic. Interest in the PlayStation 5 is being carried by seven years of sustained momentum. Microsoft isn't going to be able to overcome that overnight.
There's a benefit to being mysterious: Finally, for as much as Microsoft has dominated the headlines, a sense of mystery isn't always a bad thing. We know a lot about the Xbox Series X at this point, with the only real point of speculation being its price tag. On the flipside, we don't even know what the PlayStation 5 will look like, much less what games will be available on it at launch. News outlets are snatching at every single morsel of information in an effort to get even a little insight into what the PS5 will be all about. Ridiculous as it may sound, this is currency in an era where players spend all day in ResetEra threads speculating endlessly on future reveals. In that, what seems to be a weakness for PS5—a rollout that has been spotty at best—may instead be a strange sort of strength.
The truth is that there might not be much Microsoft can do to sway hearts and minds, absent a truly mind-blowing presentation for Halo Infinite. In many ways, Microsoft is still rebuilding its internal studios after the disaster of the Kinect, with Ninja Theory being the only acquisition so far to truly bear fruit. Sony can still get by on the interest generated by Last of Us Part 2, Horizon Zero Dawn, and other major IPs.
The operative phrase here, however, is "get by." Sony has been coasting on accrued goodwill while Microsoft has been far more aggressive in its messaging. Come fall, it may be that Xbox Series X will be launching with Halo Infinite; a powerful subscription service, and superior backward compatibility, while Sony will be launching with... what? A Demon's Souls remake? Ports of Final Fantasy 7 Remake and The Last of Us Part 2? We don't even know what it'll have.
This fall may well be the PlayStation 3 all over again. Or maybe not. Either way, Sony remains slightly in the pole position in the next-gen race despite doing comparatively little to this point. We'll see if that strategy lasts.
Major Game Releases: May 11 to May 15
Here are the major releases for the week of May 11 to May 15. Want to see the complete list? Check out our full list of video game release dates for 2020.
- Halo 2: Anniversary [May 12 for PC]: Halo 2 is the latest Halo game in the Master Chief Collection to make its way to Steam. The new release will support 4K UHD and 60+ FPS. All cutscenes have also been remastered for PC. Halo 2's ending may still be divisive, but its multiplayer remains legendary, and will be a joy for fans to jump back into, surely.
- Super Mega Baseball 3 [May 13 for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC]: There may be no baseball, but there is a new baseball game coming out. Super Mega Baseball 3 is the third entry in the Super Mega Baseball series, coming just two years after the release of Super Mega Baseball 2. Super Mega Baseball 3 introduces a brand-new Franchise mode, and also lets players import their teams from Super Mega Baseball 2. For those turned off by the realism of MLB The Show 20, Super Mega Baseball is a fun arcade alternative.
- Hatsune Miku: Project Diva Mega Mix [May 15 for Switch]: It's been a long time since we got a Project Diva game. Way back in 2017, Sega released Project Diva Future Tone—an arcade port with few frills (no sorta-raising sim, no room decoration), but hundreds of Vocaloid songs. The downside was that Future Tone was a PlayStation 4-exclusive, casting away its roots on portable platforms like PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS. With Mega Mix, Project Diva returns to a half-portable platform. Stay tuned for Project Diva expert Caty McCarthy's review later this week to see how it stacks up in the cult hit rhythm game series.
Five Things You Should Know Heading Into This Week In Gaming
- We're basically in E3 now. Last week Microsoft unveiled the first "gameplay" of Xbox Series X, and tomorrow The Game Awards producer and host Geoff Keighley is set to reveal a mysterious new game. It's only the start of Keighley's "Summer Game Fest" event season, with more reveals planned for June and July. This morning, meanwhile, Ubisoft announced its own digital showcase for July. Honestly, it feels like E3 week has just started. And the week will never end.
- Assassin's Creed Valhalla is getting Beowulf DLC. It's around the time where store listings and other leaks happen in abundance. Even without a dependable E3 2020 to count on, this is only the start of accidental reveals for games and additional content. We'll be keeping an eye out for leaks, as always.
- Next Monday, May 18, is the start of a new Animal Crossing: New Horizons event. It will be International Museum Day from May 18 to the end of the month in Nintendo's life simulation, which will incentivize players to visit their museums again. It'll be nice to be able to do more in the museum than have Blathers tell you he can't accept your fossil duplicates.
- Could we see a Mafia 4? Mafia 3 was a flub in terms of gameplay, but was renowned for its exceptional storytelling. Recently, the Mafia series Twitter account ominously tweeted "Family." For those who were worried Mafia 3 was the end of the series, now it's looking like it may not be.
- Civilization 6 is trying out a season pass. Most strategy and 4X games have stayed away from the season pass model in recent history. Instead, they tend to stick to substantial DLC upgrades and expansions, rather than the newer trend of a stretched out season pass. For Civilization 6 this year, however, Firaxis and 2K Games are trying out a season pass for $39.99, bringing in content that would typically be limited to a more focused DLC pack. We'll see how much this adds to the lifespan of the popular 4X game.
Axe of the Blood God for May 11, 2020
Axe of the Blood God is our official RPG podcast releasing every single Monday. You can find subscription info here. We also put out an Axe of the Blood God newsletter every Wednesday, which you can subscribe to here.
Some RPGs become successful franchises, and others simply vanish into history, regardless of merits. This week's episode of Axe of the Blood God covers the latter, with Nadia and Kat discussing lost gems including Alpha Protocol, Resonance of Fate, The Last Story, Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning, and more. Do these games deserve another chance? Maybe, maybe not, but they at least deserve to be remembered.