When it comes to straight up sales numbers, PlayStation 4 locked in its win for this console generation a long time ago. After the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3’s neck-and-neck race last gen, a mixture of the PlayStation 4’s appeal overseas and exclusive titles combined with the Xbox One’s hobbled start out of the gate pretty much doomed Microsoft’s console from the beginning. But, if we’re talking about winning the hearts and minds of its gamers, Microsoft has made an incredibly strong case by defining new standards for the industry. It’s here that PlayStation 4 is still trying to catch up.
The most obvious area where Microsoft has topped the competition is with backward compatibility. Some would argue that backward compatibility isn’t a popular feature when it comes to the actual hours spent playing last-gen games on current gen consoles. Not only would they be wrong, but they’d be missing the point of backward compatibility entirely. Backward compatibility is the most physical, literal version of legacy when it comes to choosing one console over the other. Looking at my Xbox One’s digital library, pretty much every game I purchased digitally on Xbox 360 is playable on my Xbox One. Same goes for my physical discs. If Microsoft announces that the next Xbox will have full backward compatibility across the last three console generations, it would make it near impossible for me to jump over to PlayStation’s side. No matter what, even if you play your last-gen games or not, Xbox pretty much set the standard for what players will expect moving forward.
The same goes for cross-platform multiplayer. Xbox boss Phil Spencer’s laissez-faire, borderline utopian attitude towards cross-platform play, where anybody on any platform should be able to play with their friends on other platforms, inherently struck a chord with most gamers. What families and friend group hasn’t felt, if not torn apart, at least stretched a little thin because of the antiquated notion that, even though we’re playing the same game, our console choices mean we shouldn’t be allowed to play together? During a particularly divided political moment, Spencer’s insistence on reaching across the aisle and push for cross-platform play, whether it was in interviews or on Twitter, set the tone, and PlayStation is just begrudgingly beginning to give in with Fortnite.
This kind of pro cross-platform attitude seems borne out of one of Microsoft’s seemingly less-appreciated efforts with Play Anywhere. Sure, Sony might have started this one with its Cross-Play and Cross-Buy initiatives for certain PS Vita titles, but Xbox took it to the next level by letting players freely swap between their consoles and their PCs with both first- and third-party games like Gears of War 4, Sea of Thieves, Resident Evil 7, and even Middle-earth: Shadow of War. Game Pass is another example of where Xbox took PlayStation’s idea and ran with it. PS Now might have the bigger library, but it’s only just now letting players download certain titles from its library, whereas Game Pass launched with this feature. You could even say that the PS4 Pro kicked off the mid-generation upgraded console trend and that Xbox copied it, but the Xbox One X is, technically speaking, a superior console to the Pro, even if this doesn’t always translate to meaningful differences when it comes to actually playing games.
The recent unveiling of Project xCloud, the multi-device game-streaming service set to enter its public trial phase next year, is just another place where Microsoft is ahead of the curve. Having recently acquired five studios to make first-party exclusives, with all those exclusives being available in Game Pass and on multiple devices, Microsoft might have lost this console generation if you look at statistics alone, but it’s setting itself up for success in the next one by setting crazy high standards in this one.