How do you decide which grocery store to go to? Is it selection? Price? Convenience?
Thinking about which video game console (or consoles plural for the prolific consumers) to purchase involves some similar choices. That may seem like a weird analogy, but video game console companies are each carving out a niche much the same way different grocery stores do.
With two new video game consoles scheduled to release this holiday season (Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X), both companies are positioning themselves for another sales battle. However, the strategies that Sony and Microsoft are implementing are very different.
With its showcase in June, Sony positioned the PlayStation 5 as more of the same after the PlayStation 4 has sold over 100 million units. PlayStation is the place where you can play first-party exclusives like The Last of Us Part II, which was a technical marvel and has more depth to its story than just about any other game. For the PS5, they teased Spider-Man: Miles Morales and Horizon Forbidden West as follow ups to incredibly good and popular games.
There’s plenty of third-party support, too. As a sales juggernaut, third-party publishers are bending over backwards to get on PlayStation 4.
To bring it back to the grocery store analogy, PlayStation is Whole Foods. They have all the essentials and you expect their in-house stuff to be high quality, but it ain’t cheap.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is taking a different approach to the new console generation. At their most recent showcase on July 23, they hyped up how every game they showed can be played on Gamepass, their Netflix-like subscription service that runs $9.99 per month unless you get a deal. Gamepass currently has Carrion, an indie game we recently reviewed and really liked. If you have Gamepass, you have Carrion.
Gamepass will also have every Microsoft first-party game. Halo Infinite, the upcoming sequel to their biggest franchise which is due out this holiday, will be on Gamepass and isn’t even exclusive to the Series X. It will also be on Xbox One. That may hurt sales of the Series X, but is consumer-friendly if nothing else.
Xbox is Aldi. Sure, they may not have the greatest selection of in-house stuff, but they have the basics and you can save a ton of money. Xbox is positioning itself as the best value in gaming.
This dichotomy between PlayStation and Xbox is a change of pace from previous generations. Meanwhile, Nintendo has gone to the beat of its own drum for several years. The Wii was a smash hit because it was so different. They followed that up with the dud that was the Wii U. The Switch has been a big success, but came out three years ago. They aren’t on the same schedule as the other two big console makers. As a hybrid handheld, the Switch attracts a different audience than the others.
Nintendo also makes unique games that have a habit of breaking into the lexicon beyond the typical gaming audience. The March release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons has been a bit of a cultural phenomenon. The game is basically about customizing your own island while paying off a mortgage? I’d be lying if I said I fully understood why it’s a smash hit, but it is.
Nintendo is Trader Joe’s. They have unique stuff you won’t get elsewhere, but you won’t find many other brand name products. I didn’t know I needed key lime tea cookies in my life, but I’m guessing Animal Crossing fans didn’t know all they really wanted to do in a video game was decorate a house, fish, swim and catch bugs.
To stretch the analogy beyond consoles, PC gaming can be Costco. There’s a high upfront cost, but if you buy in high volume, you can get your money’s worth.
The point of this overwrought analogy is that while Sony and Microsoft may be competitors, they aren’t really going after the same audiences. Along with Nintendo, each of the console makers appears to be carving out its own niche. For all the talk of the console wars, there may not be one anymore. They all can be successful without clashing head on to the point of driving each other out of existence. Besides, hardcore gamers can double up to supplement their gaming collection just like how shoppers go to multiple stores to fully stock their pantry.
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