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Pushing Buttons: The end of the toxic ‘console war’ between Xbox and PlayStation

<span>Attendees walk past a Microsoft Xbox sign opposite a Sony PlayStation sign at E3 in 2015.</span><span>Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters</span>
Attendees walk past a Microsoft Xbox sign opposite a Sony PlayStation sign at E3 in 2015.Photograph: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Microsoft’s big Xbox announcement last week turned out to be something of an anticlimax: just four games, none of them particularly earth-shattering, are making their way to PlayStation or Nintendo Switch in the near future. (Annoyingly, Microsoft’s executives refused to name them, but it was later reported by Famitsu and the Verge that the games in question are Sea of Thieves, Grounded, Pentiment and Hi-Fi Rush, which lines up with what I’ve heard from other sources.)

Microsoft is neither exiting the console market nor taking all its games multiplatform, as whipped-up rumour mongers had wildly speculated. And the (excellent value) Xbox Game Pass subscription service is remaining exclusive to Xbox and PC.

This is, essentially, non-news. Microsoft was already one of the biggest publishers on PlayStation, especially now that it owns both Bethesda and Activision-Blizzard: everything from Skyrim to Call of Duty to Minecraft is technically a Microsoft game. If Microsoft gaming chief Phil Spencer had announced that, say, last year’s Starfield was headed to PlayStation 5, or Xbox head Sarah Bond had said that Microsoft was ditching the idea of Xbox-exclusive games altogether, well, that would have been a huge shift worthy of writing home about (or, in my case, writing to you about). Instead, this is a small extension of a strategy that Microsoft has been pursuing for years. Every time I’ve talked to any Microsoft exec for years, they’ve obediently trotted out a variation on that “play the games you want, with the people you want, anywhere you want” line that showed up several times in last week’s Xbox broadcast.

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What this announcement did instead is highlight how toxic and outdated the idea of the console wars is. Grown adults are still so over-invested in the idea of a console as an identity that the very prospect of Microsoft releasing some of the products it has spent billions developing or acquiring on other, significantly more popular games machines was enough to provoke tantrums and emotional outpourings. The Xbox community has been a binfire for weeks over this, with people on X posting wartime memes and YouTubers throwing up videos with titles like “Xbox … IT’S OVER!”.

Some of this outrage is no doubt manufactured to increase clicks, but most of it is misdirected passion. Fans care deeply about the Xbox and the games that its studios have brought to us over the years, but it fundamentally does not matter much which machine a video game is played on, whether it’s a Steam Deck or a Switch, an Xbox or a PlayStation. Microsoft’s own executives have been saying this for years, and anyone who hasn’t been hearing that has not been listening.

The console wars have never been anything other than a marketing trick. There have been times over the years when this was nonetheless quite entertaining, such as when Sega v Nintendo was producing one of the great 1990s business rivalries (remember the tagline “Sega does what Nintendon’t?”) and when Microsoft’s continual fumbling of the Xbox One announcement in 2013 gave Sony ample opportunities for playful piss-takes.

But now that culture wars have turned every facet of modern life, from politics to parkrun, into an adversarial nightmare, it’s just not fun any more. It is ridiculous to see people arguing over video game consoles as if it were a matter of life and death.

Yet even if the thing we’re arguing about doesn’t matter, the way in which we argue about it does. Toxic fandom is a problem everywhere, from football to video games to Star Wars, and its vociferous, illogical and mean-spirited nature reflects the tenor of public discourse since 2016. Bad actors have tried to weaponise video game fandom before and turn its ire on targets that suit their aims, and they will try again.

To bring it back to Xbox: for me, the problematic thing about Microsoft’s presence in the gaming world is simply that it is a mega-corporation focused on continual growth. Unlike Sony and Nintendo, it has almost limitless resources, as displayed by its recent acquisitiveness. It is still working on turning around a history of acquiring great studios and then squashing them through corporate meddling. I am suspicious of any company with the power to buy out the competition in a creative industry where competition is key to the variety, innovation and creative value of its output. Microsoft starting to bring Xbox games over to rival consoles actually suggests that it’s not hell-bent on monopolising this space, and that more players can benefit from the fruits of its many studios’ labours. This is reassuring.

This isn’t the end of Xbox consoles, then, but let’s use this as an opportunity to call for an end to the manufactured console wars. They really do make us all look bad.

What to play

You can tell that Pacific Drive was inspired by Jeff VanderMeer’s weird fiction, because playing it is like driving into the exclusion zone from Annihilation in a beat-up car. Strange and horrible things are waiting for you in there, under eerily hued, thundersome skies, and your shambolic vehicle is the only thing that stands between you and them. You drive out into the Zone over and over, never quite knowing what you will see, fixing up your car in the garage with what you find and trying to investigate more and more of what’s going on.

It’s all quite peaceful until it suddenly isn’t, and you’re fleeing from a storm while fumbling with manually turning your lights and wipers on and off.

Available on: PC, PS5
Estimated playtime:
Not sure yet …

What to read

  • If you’ve ever idly perused the PlayStation Store, you might have seen the Stroke the Animals games – eyebrow-raisingly basic games where you hammer a button to stroke an animal (ie, a jpeg of an animal) for a few minutes to get an easy trophy. When Ellie Gibson went searching for what these games were all about, she found an unexpected story.

  • Peripheral manufacturer PDP is coming out with a new guitar-shaped controller for use with Fornite’s Festival music game component (and Rock Band 4, for anyone still playing that). Fun fact: Fortnite Festival was developed by Harmonix, the developer behind the original Guitar Hero and Rock Band games.

  • If you can make it to Asda, you might be able to buy a copy of last year’s ill-fated wizard FPS Immortals of Aveum on PS5 for a quid. It’s not a bad game, but it came out during the most crowded gaming year on record and sadly sank without trace.

  • Embracer Group, having gone on a wild acquisition spree funded by speculative Saudi money that suddenly vanished last year, has laid off 1,400 people, cancelled 29 games and shut several of the studios it bought. Its CEO then made the sure to be popular statement that layoffs are “something that everyone needs to get through”.

What to click

Skull and Bones review – yo ho ho and some pockets of fun

Ever wanted to play Mario Kart accompanied by a live jazz band? In Oklahoma, you can

LGBTQ+ representation in video games lags behind film and TV, report finds

Tomb Raider 1-3 Remastered review – a great remaster of Lara Croft’s lost arc

Question Block

A question from reader Paul this week:

“What games would you go back and re-score (if you could), either because you were too harsh on them at the time, or too lenient?”

I mean, obviously I’m right first time, every time, Paul. Except, uh, when I’m not. Most of my earliest critic gaffes are hidden in the pages of magazines from a decade or two ago, thankfully, but some remain public. Readers, may I humbly declare that I was wrong about Assassin’s Creed 3, which I should have been much harsher towards. (I was trapped in a hotel room for a week while playing it and I think I got Stockholm syndrome.)

I was also wrong about Sunset Overdrive, which I thought was properly crap but which in retrospect is an interesting curio – though I maintain that its tone is just incredibly annoying.

Oh, and if I could rereview Dark Souls, I’d give it a 10. The version I played just wasn’t quite finished.

If you’ve got a question for Question Block – or anything else to say about the newsletter – hit reply or email us on pushingbuttons@theguardian.com.