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The next-gen console war won't be about price. Sony announced on Wednesday 16th September that its PS5 and PS5 Digital Edition will be released on 19th November for $499 and $399, respectively. An entry-level price that happens on par with the Xbox Series X would probably not be the only reason why I won't pick up the console from Sony as soon as it's released.
I didn't see Sony lowering the price of its flagship console as a strategy to undercut Microsoft, even though I had high hopes that Sony would take that route. $499 is the price you'll have to fork out for the PS5 or the Xbox Series X. But the whole crux of the matter is the availability of a "lite" or digital versions of both consoles.
Without any Blu-ray player, they happen the most affordable next-gen console models available for gamers and are probably the ones that manufacturers hope to sell the most, thanks to their more attractive price points. But where I find Microsoft's offer and its Xbox Series S interesting, I'm far less enthusiastic about the PS5 Digital Edition, which costs $100 more.
For once, however, my gripes have nothing to do with the price.
The initial exclusives are not really exclusives
Yesterday's Sony keynote was a showcase dedicated once again to gaming, just like the manufacturer's previous event last June. The focus was therefore on games, especially games that are exclusive to the PS5.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Final Fantasy XVI, Horizon II: Forbidden West, the remake of Demon's Souls, and even God of War 2: Ragnarok. The trailers are certainly explosive and mind-blowing, but the problem is that very few of these games will be available when the PS5 launches, and many titles won't be totally exclusive to Sony's new console.
- Also read: PS5: All announced games
Take Spider-Man: Miles Morales for example, the game that hyped up everyone when the trailer was first aired in June. It was supposed to be the sequel to the first next-gen Spider-Man (excluding the PS4) title, but in reality, it happens to be a mere spin-off. Gamers would dub this as a standalone title that rides on the coattails of the franchise branding.
For sure, it is a large expansion from the original, perhaps some might even coin it as a bloated DLC (downloadable content) that is packed with enough gameplay until it can be sold as a separate title instead of a simple add-on that you could have easily downloaded from the PS Store. Why is taking this particular route so important? Well, this is because Spider-Man: Miles Morales will be a Sony exclusive, which will accompany the release of the PS5, but it will also be available on the PS4 for those who do not want to upgrade to a next-gen console.
The same story unfolds for Horizon II: Forbidden West. It's also deemed to be a Sony exclusive, but the game will be released on the PS4 in addition to the PS5. In a blog post, Sony explained that "PS4 digital versions of launch games include a free upgrade on both PS5 consoles, while the PS4 disc versions of these games include a free upgrade on the PS5 with Ultra HD Blu-ray disc drive."
That's good news, but it does water down interest in picking up the Sony PS5 as an early adopter upon its release. By offering so-called PS5 exclusives that aren't really exclusives, Sony is depriving itself of a selling point to push players to take the leap to a next-gen console.
Why should I buy the PS5 on the very first day when I can play the same games on a PS4 while waiting for better-priced bundles to come out?
$70 for a game: a bad idea for the PS5 Digital Edition
Rumors of PlayStation 5 games retailing for $70 have been going around for some time now. Apparently, all of those rumors have proven themselves to be true via an indirect confirmation in a press release from Sony which lists several PS5 exclusives at $69.99.
It will therefore cost nearly $70 to play the remake of Demon's Souls on PS5, but also Destruction All Stars. The Ultimate Edition of Marvel's Spider-Man: Mile Morales, also priced at $69.99, will offer slightly more value for money as this title will also include a remastered version of Marvel's Spider-Man on the PS4. The regular version of Marvel's Spider-Man: Mile Morales, for its part, will be sold for $69.99.
I will not dwell on the marketing strategy taken by Sony executives and whether it is ripping off the consumers or not, but such a pricing structure could also end up affecting games on the Xbox as I have already expressed my opinion on this matter in the following article.
"But Antoine, don't tell me you're a sucker! Don't you know that you have to wait a few weeks or even months for the prices of games to go down?" would be what you are probably thinking by now. And I could only agree with you on that point, as I rarely purchase games on release day itself.
Except for the fact that, as I explained above, the next-gen consoles that are most likely to see the most sales for the very simple reason that they are cheaper than the non-digital versions, would be the Xbox Series S and PS5 Digital Edition, as these versions skimp on the hardware by ditching the Blu-ray drives. Owners of these digital consoles will have no choice but to purchase digital versions of the games that they want to indulge in.
And if you are familiar with the PS Store's pricing policy, you know very well well as I do that the price of digital games very rarely drops apart from promotional periods, or in the case of free games that are part of a PS+ subscription.
So at a price point of $70, which seems to be the domain of premium or triple A titles, is not entirely suicidal if you pick up the physical version of the game. Over the course of time, a physical copy of a game would most probably come down in price. For instance, a PS4 game currently sells for an average of $60 on the PS Store.
All of that might make the PS5 Digital Edition far less relevant. Yes, you save $100 with the PS5 Digital Edition compared to the normal PS5 at the beginning. But at $70 per game, savings of $100 for the console seem quite superficial.
This problem will obviously also affect Microsoft's Xbox Series S as well, but the American gaming giant has a strategy up their sleeves that might compensate for any potential pricing issues, unlike its Japanese rival.
Sony is still finding its way in the cloud gaming world
What is Microsoft's ace up their sleeves? It would be none other than the Xbox Game Pass. The Xbox Game Pass is a subscription service that was launched by Microsoft in 2017, where it provides subscribers access to a large catalog of games, all for a monthly subscription. Initially, the idea was simply to offer a catalog of digital games that could be downloaded, but things have changed since then.
Since September this year, the Xbox Game Pass also works via the cloud, where it has integrated Microsoft's xCloud gaming cloud service with the Xbox Game Pass Ultimate offer (at €12.99/$15.50 per month). I have talked about it in more detail in the article below. This offer makes the Xbox Series S really interesting and more than makes up for its missing Blu-ray player.
Of course, you end up not really owning the digital copy of the games and you only have access to them as long as you pay the subscription fee, which is the case for your movies and TV series on Netflix. Still, it is nice to know that you won't have to fork out an eye-gouging $70 for a game every single time, and that you can play it on your smartphone, PC, or tablet via cloud gaming. I wonder whether this model will affect the Nintendo Switch or not in the long run.
Microsoft is light years ahead of Sony in this department, with the Japanese company starting to ask itself the right questions but is still a long way from catching up. By "asking the right questions", I mean the Playstation+ Collection offer that was unveiled by Sony last night.
This package will allow players to download PS4 games to play them on the PS5 console - which is pretty much the same way as to how the Xbox Game Pass works. The manufacturer has drawn up a list of titles that we do not know whether it is exhaustive or otherwise. But it does include PS4 blockbusters such as God of War, The Last of Us (remastered), and Uncharted 4, among others.
This monthly subscription service for the PS5 comes as a bonus for PlayStation+ subscribers and will obviously be made available at no extra cost. The PS+ Collection currently costs $9.99 per month, but the catalog, as it stands, is far less extensive than the Xbox Game Pass. And this formula does not offer the possibility of taking advantage of cloud gaming, either.
And the possible deal breaker to this potentially sweet deal? If you happen to own a PS4, chances are you already own these games. However, Sony has officially promised that both its PS5s consoles will offer backward compatibility for up to 99% of PS4 games. Except that if you have a PS4 game on a Blu-ray disc, how can you launch it on your PS5 Digital Edition?
You'll probably have to pay for the PS+ Collection subscription and hope that your game is in the catalog. And if not, then too bad for you! All you had to do was buy your PS4 games in digital format from the PS Store!
Does a more expensive price justify the PS5 Digital Edition?
Let us talk to you about the price at last. I did mention it at the beginning of this article and explained that it wasn't the main reason for my lack of enthusiasm surrounding the PS5.
And I stand by that line of thought, as I expected a price similar point to the Xbox Series X so I'm not going to squeal about the $499 for the base PS5 model, contrary to what I normally express in my moody posts for select smartphones.
However, there's no denying that forking out $100 more for the PS5 Digital Edition ($399) compared to the Xbox Series S ($299) will not go down well in Sony's favor. And yet, I find that this price difference, in absolute terms, quite justified if you only take into account the respective console specifications, without any of the potential problems that I mentioned earlier.
The Xbox Series S will undergo a significant hardware downgrade compared to the X Series, as Microsoft confirmed. However, Sony has assured that apart from the absence of a Blu-ray player, both PS5 models will have exactly the same specifications and therefore, offer the same performance.
Xbox Series S and PS5 Digital Edition
|PS5 Digital Edition
|Xbox Series S
|GPU. 4 TFLOPS, 20 CUs, 1.565 GHz
This specifications table is not totally exhaustive, and there are differences in teraflops, bandwidth, RAM which will only be of interest to a small fraction of consumers. I doubt that Sony will be able to convince ordinary gamers, who do not care much about the hardware specifications, that forking out the extra $100 compared to the Xbox Series S is worth it.
On paper though, the PS5 Digital Edition is a more interesting technical machine in my opinion, than the Xbox Series S. However, I'll probably wait for the first half of 2021 (Q1 or Q2 2021) to buy a PS5, maybe just in time for the release of God of War 2.
Ah, Cyberpunk 2077 will be released on November 19th too, which would be at the same time as the PS5? Hmmm, perhaps I need to reconsider my stance. No, it is a coincidence and I won't give in to those feelings anyway. I really don't. On the other hand...