I hate the console wars. Up until the most recent PS5 and Xbox Series X/S generation, I’ve only ever owned one console at a time. I started out with the PS1 – yes, I’m that young/old (please delete as applicable), then moved on to the PS2. However, the next generation had me jump ship to the Xbox 360. With the shift to online multiplayer, having the same console as your mates became the most important thing, so despite loving my first two PlayStations, I begged my parents for an Xbox 360. This was followed by an Xbox One, but around halfway through the last gen I realised I’d made a bit of an error here, so I traded in the Xbox One for a pre-owned PS4. Now that I work in games, I’m lucky enough to justify owning both, and I’d recommend the Xbox Series S over the PS5 right now, but have very fond experiences on both sides of the divide. That little journey through my console life is important (well, relatively), because it hopefully underscores that I have no skin in the game when it comes to their imaginary conflict. They’re just expensive toys I have in my house.
If you want to use combative language though, Xbox won E3. In some ways, it won by default – Sony wasn’t there. But at the same time, it seems like a few companies managed to score own goals by attending with nothing to show; does anyone remember anything about the Gearbox stream other than Randy Pitchford being left hanging by Kevin Hart? Xbox sent their show into the stratosphere, with Halo Infinite, Redfall, The Outer Worlds 2, Hades, A Plague Tale: Requiem, Stalker 2, Psychonauts, Sea of Thieves, Age of Empires 4, Forza Horizon 5 (deep breath), and Starfield all making an appearance. That’s before you even mention all the games added to Game Pass and the fact we know some of their most exciting titles – Hellblade 2, Avowed, Fable – were allowed to sit this one out. Fable is Xbox’s Jordan Henderson, clearly an essential cornerstone but just not quite ready, so the Kalvin Phillips-esque The Outer Worlds had to step up instead. Xbox didn’t just win E3 by virtue of showing up, it had the most exciting showcase of them all, Nintendo’s Treehouse pending.
Still, it feels like Sony was smart to sit this one out. Not because Sony suckz and sony ponys and xboners and my Kratos can beat up your Master Chief, but because for all the ground Xbox is making up, Sony remains ahead, and it knows it can do things on its own terms. If Xbox had held the exact same showcase they revealed at E3, but had held it in, say, February, I would still have been as excited as I am now, but many of you wouldn’t have watched it. That’s not a slight on you personally, but while Xbox can draw a crowd, it needed the eyeballs of E3 to convince everyone that it came to play this generation. An Xbox event on its own would only really pull in Xbox fans and a few curious stragglers.
Meanwhile, Sony can host its own State of Plays whenever it wants. Sure, it too only pulls in hardcore fans and a handful of others, but it doesn’t care. Sales figures and the company’s position in pop culture shows us there are more Sony fans out there than Xbox fans. Plus, Sony has more established titles. Aside from Halo, few Xbox franchises have huge fanbases. Psychonauts is a cult classic, Sea of Thieves’ popularity is tepid, Forza is well liked but racing games have a firm ceiling on them… Xbox needed everything to come together. You came for Halo or for Xbox or for E3, and you saw Redfall. You saw Starfield. You saw Hades on Game Pass. Hell, you saw everything on Game Pass.
Sony is fine with telling us a week in advance “we’re showing 15 minutes of Horizon Forbidden West next week, be there or don’t,” because it knows we’ll show up. God of War 2 will likely have a similar event closer to release, and just like the PS5 reveal, we might see a collection of smaller PS titles being clustered together in Sony’s own showcase a few months down the line.
Sony had nothing to gain at E3. Unless it has a completely unannounced game with a trailer ready and waiting, Sony doesn’t benefit from E3 at all. Since this event is all digital, it could have just held its own event this week and cashed in on E3 while not having to pay for the privilege, but it’s unlikely it has a game of that magnitude under wraps when we know its strategy is to push forward with sequels to successful established titles. God of War 2, The Last of Us Factions Part 2, Jak 4 (hey screw you, they might be making Jak 4!), and all the rest don’t need a petty, E3 adjacent event to bring in viewers. What’s more, with Xbox offering so many of its titles on Game Pass, Sony rocking up with a bunch of – admittedly probably great – upcoming games that will only be available at premium prices looks bad in comparison, even if nothing Xbox had to show was on the level of Horizon’s 15 minute vertical slice.
Sony has skipped E3 for three years, and it’s starting to feel like Xbox has home advantage there. Sony has the advantage basically everywhere else, so why would it take Xbox on head-to-head in the one place it might come off second best. Xbox can have its moment in the sun while we all fawn over Game Pass and Halo and the upcoming titles, but as soon as Sony reveals a God of War showcase, our attention will shift on a dime. Sony knows this, and while Xbox won E3, Sony knows the best way to win is to not play at all.
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