Xbox Series X v PS5 - battle hinges on games

Analysts and gamers say the titles offered by Microsoft and Sony will be key


Two things that matter to gamers are how fast their games start up and how good the game graphics look.

For the former, the Sony PlayStation 5, or PS5, appears to have an edge over rival Microsoft's Xbox Series X. For the latter, it could potentially be the other way around.

This difference between the two upcoming, highly anticipated video-game consoles was highlighted by many tech news sites when the specifications of the consoles were released last month. Both consoles are set to launch at the end of the year.

But analysts and gamers say that while hardware performance is important, the next console war will ultimately be fought over other factors, such as how good the games on each platform are.

According to Mr Tom Wijman, a senior market analyst at games and e-sports analytics provider Newzoo, it is never just about hardware specifications.

"Right now, it's unlikely that games for the new generation, particularly those developed by third parties, will make optimal use of the power in each console. Therefore, I don't expect processing power to influence the purchase behaviour in the early lifetime of a console. However, Sony's loading speed (enabled by its fast solid state drive, or SSD) and audio quality might," says Mr Wijman.

He tells The Straits Times that four major factors are at play - people are more likely to stay with the same brand, they are likely to buy what their friends buy, as well as the price and content. He adds that exclusive content is still a major purchase driver.

Gamers here echoed the point about the importance of games.

Writer Syafii Ghazali, 37, says: "The specification gap between the two upcoming consoles isn't that big, so I think the speed-versus-power debate is purely academic. For me, it's all about which one has the better games."

Mr Syafii owns a PS4. But he would switch camps and get the Xbox Series X if it has "killer" game exclusives.

Safety trainer Shannon Dragon, 39, owns the current console models of both platforms - the Sony PS4 and the Microsoft Xbox One. He is leaning towards the Xbox Series X because Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass service and the company's upcoming cloud service called Project xCloud will allow gamers to play games on different devices such as smartphones and tablets. "I might get the Xbox Series X if it has exclusive games that I want to play," he adds.

Another game-related factor that could sway buying decisions is backward compatibility - the ability of the upcoming consoles to run older games.

Microsoft appears to have an edge here. It has said all current Xbox One games will be playable on the Xbox Series X, which amounts to more than 3,000 games.

Sony says "almost all" of the top 100 PS4 titles, ranked by accumulated playing time, are expected to be playable on the PS5. Eventually, the majority of the over 4,000 PS4 titles will be playable on the PS5, it says.

However, for gamers not looking to replay what they have already bought, backward compatibility is less of an issue.

One such gamer is Mr Feroz Akbar, a 39-year-old supplier manager. "I buy a new console to enjoy the newer games. Better graphics, powerful storylines. I'm not looking to replay older games," he says.

When Sony released details of the PS5 hardware specifications in a YouTube presentation last month, PS5 lead system architect Mark Cerny said the console will come with an SSD with data speeds of 5.5GB/s - more than twice as fast as the SSD inside the Xbox Series X, which runs at 2.4GB/s. It could mean PS5 gamers will be spending less time waiting for games to load compared with Xbox Series X gamers.

Meanwhile, Microsoft said the Xbox Series X has an AMD RDNA 2 graphics processing unit (GPU) that runs at 12 teraflops.

The PS5 has the same chip model, but it runs at 10.28 teraflops. In other words, game developers could potentially tap the extra muscle of the Xbox Series X to make graphics-intensive games run better with higher frame rates.

Sony announced in January that more than 106 million PS4 consoles have been sold internationally.

Microsoft does not release sales numbers, but according to a CNBC report last October, 46.9 million Xbox One consoles have been sold worldwide through the second quarter of last year.

Another major video-game player, Nintendo, said last December that its Switch console had sold more than 52 million units.

With the world tackling the Covid-19 outbreak, Microsoft and Sony have said the pandemic would not affect the release dates of their consoles.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2020, with the headline Xbox Series X v PS5 - battle hinges on games. Subscribe