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Is there anything we can do about the fanboys? | Opinion

Praise one platform holder, and you'll inevitably be attacked by fans of the other

I made a mistake back in September.

Sony had just announced it had acquired Firesprite Games, which was a significant acquisition. Firesprite is the spiritual successor to Sony's old Liverpool studio (famous for Wipeout), and at over 250 employees, it's a sizeable company -- certainly by UK standards.

To illustrate this to our less informed readers, I tweeted that Firesprite may not be one of the UK's better known studios, but it actually has more employees than the likes of Rocksteady, Rare and Sony's other two UK developers -- Media Molecule and London Studio.

Did you spot the error? Consumer games journalists the world over are slapping their hands theatrically to their foreheads. I had compared a PlayStation developer to an Xbox developer. I was in for it now.

And I was. Over the next few days I was condemned on Twitter for my overt support for Sony. Gamers scoured for any past examples of my hatred for Xbox (all conveniently overlooking my Twitter banner image where I'm wearing a Rare t-shirt).

Whereas businesses understand perfectly that competition can drive up quality and prompt innovation, it doesn't always look like that to fans

I have constantly been surprised by the sensitivity of console fans. I made a comment about some Xbox games being far from release on a podcast. I made a loose comparison to PS5 being like cinema and Xbox like Netflix (a statement on their business strategies, rather than their quality). Both comments greeted by a tsunami of angry responses.

I know many reading this are probably thinking 'welcome to the last 20 years', but I've never experienced such fury over something that matters so little. And the obsession that if I say a nice thing about one company, I therefore must think the opposite about the other.

I find the console space genuinely exciting right now. Xbox delivered two next-gen consoles -- that's never happened before -- targeting different markets. It's pushing cross-play and Game Pass and streaming so hard that I am fascinated at what that's doing to the traditional market. Sometimes, it seems to be boosting it, sometimes it doesn't. As a games analyst, it's a thrilling thing to watch play out. And I've not even talked about its aggressive acquisition strategy.

Then there's the momentum Sony had coming out of PS4, and its huge line-up of AAA games that stretch way into 2023 and beyond. Its push into new territories. It's increasing interest in PC. The studios it's buying, and the new AAA studios it's recently signed. I love writing and talking about all of it.

There are moments where you might find me wary or sceptical about certain decisions, but I genuinely want them both to succeed. I'm a business journalist. I have been for my entire career. I want PS5 to break records, I want Game Pass to get stronger. I want a vibrant, healthy console industry.

So perhaps you can understand why I get frustrated that, on one forum, I am dubbed 'notorious Xbox hater Chris Dring'. While at the same time, I am getting an email from a someone calling themselves 'Xbots are Corporate Slaves' with the request for me to "Kill yourself asap disgusting Corporate Slave." That's an actual email sent in the last week after I wrote an article describing Microsoft as the publisher of the year.

Both new-gen consoles have their strengths, but just try explaining that to core fans of each device

A few times I've tried to tackle the hatred head-on. I wrote a piece for VideoGamesChronicle discussing how all three systems (including Nintendo) have slightly different objectives, and that they're all likely to succeed over the course of the next generation. I even explained about why console competition can be a good thing. I pointed out that without Xbox Live, PSN wouldn't be as good today as it is. Without the dominance of PS2, Nintendo would never have built the Wii.

Yet whereas businesses understand perfectly that competition can drive up quality and prompt innovation, it doesn't always look like that to gamers. Try telling Sega fans that console competition is good. Try convincing PlayStation players who love Fallout that Microsoft investing in studios is a good thing.

To stick with the football analogy, we've got far too many hooligans running around

I am privileged. I have all three modern games consoles. I don't have to choose whether to play God of War or Gears of War this generation. I don't have to pick between Game Pass and PS Now. If one platform is going through a quiet spell, I can just play the other.

But I do remember what it was like being a Nintendo fan in the year 2000. Waiting impatiently for anything to come out on my N64 as everyone else rushed out to buy PS2s. I recall exactly what it was like not getting to play GTA or Devil May Cry or Metal Gear Solid.

When gamers buy a console, that's often the machine they're stuck with for the next five to seven years. They have picked their football team, and now they'll sing from the terraces about how much better they are, how the other side cheats and they'll lobby the manager to buy all the best players (I hope this is making sense).

Some of this is just all fun and games. A bit of friendly competition amongst gamers. We're different in the teams we support, yet still united by the sport. However, when someone is going out of their way to send an email asking me to kill myself because I thought Xbox had a good run of releases, that's when I fully understand why Phil Spencer said this is the one thing that could drive him out of the industry. To stick with the football analogy, we've got far too many hooligans running around.

What can we do about it? Nintendo and Xbox's friendly relationship has cooled hostilities between those two fanbases, and it's tempting to see that as a template for peace. But Nintendo is more of an indirect competitor to Xbox, which is why there have been a number of agreements that have seen Xbox games and characters appear on the Switch console. Microsoft publishes Minecraft on PlayStation, and Sony has released its MLB game on Xbox, but it's unlikely the collaboration between the two will extend much further.

The various execs have tried being more polite and praiseworthy of each other, but there's always a little barbed comment here or there that stokes things up again. They are competitors after all and trying to justify their different strategies.

The one big hope is that as the walls between the consoles begin to crumble, it'll start to open a few eyes. I stopped being protective of Nintendo the day I started working on PS3 games as a QA tester. It turned out that Ratchet & Clank was really good after all. Perhaps the day Xbox players are enjoying Uncharted on PC, or PlayStation owners are discovering Halo over Xbox Cloud Gaming, things will start to calm down. When the walls separating the two sides are not a $500 console, but an affordable subscription service, perhaps we can see the two fanbases come together.

I look at the vitriol that exists around Epic Games Store and Steam and I am wary of getting my hopes up. Perhaps some gamers are just instinctively wired to pick a side and start fighting.

But it's Christmas time. The time for a bit of optimism. And so I will believe that this new generation will continue to bring gamers together, and the days of the fanboy will soon be at an end.

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Christopher Dring

Head of Games B2B

Chris is a 15-year media veteran specialising in the business of video games. And, erm, Doctor Who

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