Take a stroll through any Twitter street or Reddit alley, and you will eventually come across two gangs facing off, one side holding their DualShock 4s and another their Xbox One Wireless controllers. This is the ever constant, ever heated arena of the console war – a global gaming tradition ageing back to the days of Nintendo and Sega. It seems fans are willing to live and die by their console of choice, even though they’re essentially the same systems with a couple of tweaks in different areas. So why do gamers protect their console’s name with such defiance and passion, and how has this technological rift come about?
Sony is ahead of Microsoft in sales and customer satisfaction at the moment, and have been since the competing companies launched their respective next-gen consoles in 2013. It turns out that 2013 was a massive year in understanding the war of the consoles as it stands today (there’s always been rivalry between companies and their players, but for the sake of being succinct we’ll stick to what we have today). The infamous ‘Xbox 180’ debacle was perhaps the biggest industry shake-up in recent memory. It caused the majority of die-hard Microsoft fans to, initially, step over the territory line and join Sony in the PR battle of the Xbox One vs. PS4. Things were changing in 2013 – Netflix, iTunes, and Spotify were bringing the entertainment industry into a fully digital age, and Microsoft believed this to be the way forward for the gaming industry. In an effort to create a fully (and exclusively) digital console, they marketed features of their new Xbox One that were to become a near-disaster zone for the company.
Initially, the Xbox One would need to connect to the internet every 24 hours in order to play games – if that didn’t happen, you couldn’t play and that was that. Physical disks were to be systematically culled – with Xbox One disks only being used for the installation of the game onto the system’s hard drive, they were simply useless after being used once. Cutting out the second hand game industry, the only way many players are able to afford many of the next-gen titles, as well as limiting use to players who had surefire internet connection 24/7 meant that the Xbox One was pretty much marketed as a massive f you to the fans who had devoted so much time and money to Microsoft. Ignoring fan outrage at the design which would basically mean more money for the company, Microsoft exec. Adam Orth simply told fans to “deal with it” and told them to stick to the 360 if they couldn’t afford the hike in prices that the Xbox One would entail. Because Microsoft would make so much more money from this plan (by cutting out the used games market), they assumed that Sony, who had maintained radio silence concerning the features of their PS4, would follow suit – effectively making this model the reality for gamers whether they liked it or not.
E3 2013 turned out to be the biggest PR disaster in the history of Microsoft. An event so paramount to fan decision over which console they would purchase came crashing around Bill Gates’ ankles as Sony announced that the PS4 would be a console for the consumers, with offline play as standard and the ability to resell and loan disks. Sony milked the opportunity for all it was worth and went the extra mile in efforts to humiliate the competition, showing a comedic demonstration of the process of loaning a PS4 game entailing a gamer simply handing his friend a case and saying “here”. Microsoft and the Xbox One became the laughing stock at E3, with around 80% of its following joining Sony.
Less than a week later, Microsoft buckled and reverted all of its unholy features in the great ‘Xbox 180’. Fans understood their rights, and their power moving forward, and while many rejoined Microsoft, a substantial number remained dubious of the unfriendly approach taken by the company and stuck to Sony.
In terms of understanding why console wars exist, this spectacle is paramount to gaining an insight into the minds of the fans, and there are a series of repercussions from E3 2013 that can help illuminate why console wars exist today.
Fandoms are video game companies’ biggest marketing tool
Sony got Microsoft, and they got them good. They recognised that for a company that relies so much on its fans to succeed, it needs to meet the demands of that fandom. They also, and perhaps more importantly, recognised that they possessed an army of gamers willing to fight for them at E3 after the disillusionment of the Xbox One. In their complete humiliation of Microsoft, Sony aligned themselves within the console war itself – not only through the PS4’s consumer friendly design, but also through the attack on the opposition’s hardware. When the leader attacks, the troops do so in a bitter frenzy. Essentially, console wars are encouraged and exacerbated by both companies to create the drama and sensationalism of every good PR move, and they have millions of foot soldiers on the ground working for them. Still, the console war works for each company, regardless of who is being promoted. If someone sees an ad for a PS4, attention will naturally also turn to the Xbox One as its counterpart. One cannot exist in such success without the other – it’s all a bit Harry Potter.
More money = more risk
After the 180, Xbox fans and Sony fans were a fairly equal split again. The Microsoft-ians that were happy to return to the company shelled out the cash for their Xbox One systems, as did the Sony PS4-ers. And that’s a lot of cash. Gaming stands today as one of the most time and money consuming forms of entertainment. At release, the PS4 retailed for $400 with the Xbox One coming in at $500. Considering each new game stands at around $50 – $60, that’s a big investment. So it’s no wonder that A) fans reacted so extremely to their beloved Microsoft’s disregard for their needs, and B) gamers defend their choice of console so vehemently. You spend a good portion of your earnings on a console, you want it to be the best console. So you fight. Nobody’s going to sit back and admit to the opposition that they made a ridiculous choice spending all that time and money on a console that’s inferior.
The dangers of being labelled a noob
This all comes down to the painfully human notion of saving face. It’s why we say we’re ok when we feel the whole world crashing around us, and it’s why we defend our personal life choices. The gaming industry in inherently competitive – it’s a gaming industry. The ‘mine’s better than yours’ culture is going to seep into every console argument for the rest of time. Humanity is innately, and irrevocably, a proud species, and there’s no bigger attack on pride than insulting someone’s ability to do something they love. Gamers defend the notion that their console is better because they want to look the pro – it’s why technological jargon and processing speeds are the grenades of the console war – they want to look like they know more than the opposition to avoid the dreadful consequence of being labelled… a noob.
Immersion and agency of titles
Ultimately however, and perhaps more romantically than the economic and psychological reasoning behind the console wars, it is due to the nature of gaming as a form of entertainment that brings fans into the trenches of battle when they’re called upon. Because consoles aren’t the only things we fight about, we argue incessantly over which fps or rpg is better, or even which weapon should be used in what situation. Players get so passionate about these things because they connect deeply with the titles they play – arguably more so than people do with books or movies. The immersion and agency afforded to the consumer in the gaming industry creates a love affair with alternate worlds, and personal connections with the characters that inhabit them. The defence of this love is therefore the most romantic you’ll get at attempting to understand the existence and nature of console wars.
You can watch the full PS4 press conference from E3 2013 courtesy of IGN here: