What’s to come from PS5 and Xbox Series X? With both next-gen consoles – and their cheaper, discless counterparts – having launched to market, with the tidal wave of hype that we all expected, the question on our lips is what will be different in the long term.
What will Sony and Microsoft do differently compared to previous generations that we’re yet to hear about, and are we entering a time when increased cross-platform play and hardware agnostic platforms are finally bringing the age-old ‘console wars’ to a close?
We sat down with Rishi Chadha, Head of Gaming Content Partnerships at Twitter, to talk about how these launches had varied from previous consoles, and how conversations around and between these console makers were signalling a shift for both platforms.
Chadha works in the midst of the gaming ecosystem on Twitter, working with publishers such as Epic Games or Activision Blizzard to ensure they can grow and engage with their audiences effectively on the social media platform.
So what does Xbox or PlayStation’s social media presence say about the future of gaming? Here’s what we learnt.
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One of the key things Chadha puts across to me is how differently the PlayStation and Xbox platforms have engaged with their audiences for these console launches, with the former seemingly happier to keep things under wraps, and largely let hype accumulate in its silence.
“PlayStation has had a kind of simmering conversation that's been going on all throughout the year, with massive spikes during their reveal events,” says Chada. “So the one in June, and then the one that they had in September – after which there was another big spike. But everything else was kind of just simmering.
“Meanwhile, if you look at Xbox, they've actually had much more of a volatile conversation, in that there's big spikes in conversation, whether it's around the game showcases that they've done, or the fridge giveaway. And so too with the launch, it's been much more announcement based and event based and content based – whereas PlayStation has just really been focused on key marquee events that have happened throughout the year.“
That’s something that’s easier to do after the PS4’s runaway success, of course, and it was clear from early on that Microsoft was going to be playing catchup with its next-gen Xbox consoles.
But Chadha adds that there’s also a big similarity between Xbox Series X and PS5 discourse, in that platforms, studios, and fans alike are largely engaging with conversations around both consoles over social media:
“What I really like seeing happening now is that it's not a Xbox versus PlayStation type of conversation, it's more of a ‘these are different consoles doing different things’. And, you know, we can celebrate both consoles. We're excited for what each console is doing. And I think one of the things that has been unanimously celebrated for both consoles has been things like load time, and the way that each console is so much faster now. So like, I think that's been something that's been applicable to both as well.
“And this is a bit wholesome, but I love the way that brand accounts are engaging with one another, congratulating each other on launch day and talking about that, like, that's something we never really expected to see. I was always very much like, ‘the two are separate’. And so to see them engage with one another now and just have that type of, you know, supportive commentary on the platform is really great to see.”
Cross platform gaming
But is this collaborative discourse of posting and commenting and sharing going to change the way that platforms actually work together – manifesting the future through tweets?
Maybe not, but Chada suggests that the gradual increase of cross-platform play – made easier by the increasingly PC-like architectures of today’s flagship gaming machines – is changing the conversation around gaming.
“We are now moving into a world where the idea and concept of cross platform play is a real thing from the off,” says Chadha. “So I think that the hype that people normally have, because of a lot of first party exclusives, that's shifted a bit, so now the same conversation can include both platforms more easily. There's certain games, obviously, like Spider Man: Miles Morales and things like that, where Sony corners the hyper around that one game specifically. But I think those are some of the shifts that we're seeing right now.”
It’s a nice change to the usual narrative of social media echo chambers, funnelling users into ever more hardline and exclusionary positions. But is this really happening?
A big difference may just be that social media was still in its infancy when the last generation of consoles came around in 2013, and comparisons are hard to make when the underlying mechanics for public discourse have changed so much in the past decade.
One thing is clear, though: gaming platforms are changing from what they were, moving to more hardware-agonistic services than can be streamed to a huge range of devices, as with xCloud or Google Stadia, or even Microsoft’s long-running Play Anywhere initiative ensuring players can access their same titles on both Xbox and PC.
“We are seeing more cross platform play for games,” says Chadha, “so people can be on multiple platforms, whether it's PC, Xbox, PlayStation and play together with more ease. I think that's going to continue to evolve and mature. And we're gonna see the evolution of game streaming, whether it's with Microsoft or with Google Stadia.
“I think those are some of the big areas. And I also think that the ability to play your games on mobile is going to continue to be an area of a lot of growth. Because, you know, let's face it, not everyone can afford to purchase a console or a new PC, but mobile is something that's far more accessible for everybody. So how games can be ported, or how games can be played on mobile, is going to be a very interesting area in the very near future.”
With Destiny 2 now confirmed to be getting cross-platform play in 2021 for current- and next-gen consoles, and a rise in titles like Among Us and Fortnite that ignore the traditional boundaries between platforms, there's certainly evidence of this already happening – and by the end of this console life cycle, likely in seven or eight years time, we could be playing in an ecosystem almost unrecognizable in how it lets gamers play together, whatever machines they're using to do it.
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