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PlayStation has 100 million reasons to feel confident | Opinion

X019 saw Microsoft ready for the next generation, but the power remains with PlayStation

There were two announcements made during X019 that epitomised the direction of the games industry's biggest companies.

The first wasn't even an Xbox announcement at all. It came from EA, which revealed that gamers could buy Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order from the Epic Games Store and receive an in-game Star Wars skin for Fortnite. That's EA and Respawn teaming up with Fortnite, the No.1 rival to their other game, Apex Legends.

Could you imagine that eight years ago? In 2011, EA stated that it wanted to make its (then) biggest competitor (Call of Duty) "rot from the core." Now, it's teaming up with its biggest competitor to help sell games.

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X019 was another moment for Xbox to promote its new initiatives

The second announcement was from Xbox. It was the news that people using xCloud can now play the games (all 50 of them) using the Sony Dualshock 4 controller. Both announcements are linked to the same business strategy, which is the same reason Nintendo now make games for smartphones and why Microsoft's Ori and the Blind Forest was granted a release on Switch. It's the strategy of not expecting gamers to come to you, but going directly to them.

If you're launching a major action game, then why not be on the same platform as, and target the audience of, the biggest competitor in the same category? If you're launching a streaming service and are aware that most gamers don't have the right controller, why not make it possible for the best-selling games controller (which currently resides in some 100 million homes) to work with your service?

EA was on stage at X019 announcing an xCloud partnership, just a few months after announcing its own cloud streaming platform, and weeks after returning to Steam. EA wants its own distribution channels, but it has concluded that to be entirely reliant on that is self-limiting. It's a trend that's occurring across the business, particularly among video game giants challenged with growing their audiences and not just their revenues.

"Every beat along the industry calendar this year -- from E3 to Gamecom and now X019 -- has seen Xbox aggressively pursuing new audiences"

This willingness to break down walls to find a new audience has been the strategy at Xbox for the past few years. Although it doesn't disclose hardware numbers, Microsoft has lost out to Sony in this generation and is now being eclipsed by Nintendo. As a result, it is trying to attract gamers on PC, smartphones and rival consoles in an effort to increase its audience.

That strategy was on display everywhere at X019. There was the aforementioned Dualshock 4 news, as Xbox tried to leverage the PlayStation audience as best it can. Age of Empires got a lot of focus as Microsoft tried to win over even more PC gamers, which was coupled with news that xCloud is coming to Windows 10. Then there's geographic expansion, with xCloud coming to India. Japan got a big focus, too, with plans to bring a number of Final Fantasy and Yakuza titles to Game Pass, alongside the roll out of xCloud to Japanese players (plus Spencer re-iterating his desire to acquire a Japanese games developer).

Every beat along the industry calendar this year -- from E3 to Gamescom and now X019 -- has seen Xbox aggressively pursuing new audiences. Microsoft is coming across as confident and, outside of the hardware and software, ready to plunge into the next generation.

By contrast, PlayStation has been somewhat quieter. It has teased some next-gen details, it has acquired a big studio, and it has bolstered up its own subscription and streaming platform. Yet it's approaching these areas more cautiously.

"Sony's No.1 aim for the next generation is to convince its existing customers to stick with PlayStation"

Our interview with PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan earlier this month was telling in how it contrasted with our conversations with Microsoft. As Xbox eyes even more studios, PlayStation says it could do more in this space but will "need to exercise a great deal of attention." As Xbox commits all its first-party games to its Game Pass subscription service, PlayStation says it's not quite ready to do that yet.

Indeed, PlayStation has been busiest behind-the-scenes, reshaping its business and management structure so it can make decisions faster should things like game streaming take off. Our conversation with Jim Ryan was a reminder that, for all the excitement around Xbox's new maneuvers, PlayStation remains in pole position.

Xbox is aggressively pursuing new business models, distribution models and markets because it wants and needs to attract a wider consumer base. PlayStation is doing all of those things, too; it's pushing subscriptions, it's expanding PlayStation Now, and it's opening offices in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia, but it's doing that in a more measured way.

That's because, as Jim Ryan kept reminding us, it already has an install base of 100 million consoles. It doesn't have to be quite so aggressive in these new areas because the existing models and markets are already working in its favour, and the primary objective is to protect that base. Microsoft's No.1 aim for the next generation is to go to the gamers and encourage them to become Xbox customers. Sony's No.1 aim is to go to its existing customers and convince them to stick with PlayStation. There's a different dynamic at play.

Xbox is resurgent right now. Its plans and initiatives are exciting and potentially transformative, and PlayStation will need to keep reacting to that. But make no mistake, the next-generation is still Sony's to lose.

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