God Of War Is A Great Example Of The Difference Between Sony And Microsoft

Almost a year ago, Xbox's Phil Spencer was doing the media rounds talking about the future of Xbox. The problem: the business model for game development was changing. Singleplayer, story-first adventures were just as important - but it was harder to justify funding them.

In part, that's what Xbox Game Pass was designed to help against. By having a subscription offering, users wouldn't have to pay upfront for a title. In turn, Microsoft could better fund not just the next Forza or Sea of Thieves, but the next grand singleplayer story.

It makes sense in a lot of ways, especially since it's not original. HBO and Netflix have done it for years; Spencer even specifically mentioned wanting to create a "Netflix for games".

But game development takes a while. And one year on from the release of the Xbox Game Pass, the grand subscription model is still mostly filled with smaller indies, remakes, and the odd blockbuster: Rise of the Tomb Raider, which launched on the Xbox One three years ago; Sea of Thieves; the Halo Wars games; the underwhelming ReCore; and the acquired taste of Gears of War 4.

None of these are "killer apps", the sort of games that moves consoles. Sea of Thieves did provide plenty of users a chance to sign up for a monthly subscription instead of paying $70 or more upfront, which is great for those who are sticking through the dearth of content.

On the other hand, there's Sony. They're still walking down a very traditional path, making bets on new hardware (PSVR) and continuing to fund huge, singleplayer experiences that most players only playthrough once or twice. Games that don't have microtransactions, or models that allow for the fast and easy production of DLC.

From a business perspective, Sony's position seems incredibly risky.

Image: Supplied

Rebooting something like God of War was always a mammoth risk, given what the series was built around. Kratos was a difficult character to like: the solution to all his problems often creates more issues than they solve, with his unabated rage resulting in the death of his family, his father, Athena, and the countless death of who knows how many after the entirety of Greece gets flooded.

On top of that, quicktime events aren't everyone's cup of tea. God of War 3 was a rare instance of good QTE's - but it's not a model that gamers would have appreciated in 2018.

And can you imagine how the internet would have reacted today to locked camera angles?

So an awful lot had to be thrown out. The end result, as Chris wrote in his review, was a game that ended up being a little bit of everything: part Last of Us, part Dark Souls dodging, part Witcher. The blend of ideas works, even if many of them come from other franchises.

God Of War: The Kotaku Review

There's a telling scene very early on in the new God of War, in the denouement of an exhausting battle sequence that ends with Kratos and his young son Atreus taking down a massive troll.

Read more

But the bigger theme at play here is the fact that Sony are funding these large open-world, story-driven games at all. And it's not like this is some kind of aberration. Even if you discount Naughty Dog as a one-off, special case that any publisher would love to have, there's still plenty of investment into narrative experiences elsewhere.

Detroit: Become Human lands next month. The new Spider-Man looks fantastic so far. Kiryu's story wrapped up recently with Yakuza 6, even if SEGA released the whole game for free by accident. And given the response to Crash Bandicoot's re-release last year, it's hard to imagine there won't be a similar level of interest in the Spyro trilogy.

Sony doesn't directly fund all of these games, of course. But five years on from the launch of the current generation, and even after the mid-generation refresh, it's fascinating to see how the strategies of the two companies are playing out.

Sony is still taking bets - massive bets - on grand adventures that might not pan out. Crackdown 3 and Sea of Thieves aren't cheap to make either, but there's more leeway too. They can have a smaller playerbase and be OK financially, not only thanks to microtransactions, but because there's a platform for players to build their own content, entertaining themselves outside of the whims of the developer.

Part of the problem, of course, is that Microsoft has been playing catch-up since 2013. Success begets success: when you have more money to play with, you've got more leeway to bet on things that might not work out.

And it's easy to forget just how many first-party studios Sony actually has. Ignoring their XDev department that collaborates with developers, Sony has teams like Guerilla Games. Polyphony Digital. Naughty Dog. Santa Monica. San Diego. Sucker Punch. Their London team. Their PSVR studio in England. Media Molecule (also in the UK). Their Japan studio. Bend (makers of Days Gone).

Microsoft has Mojang. Rare. 343 and their efforts on Halo. The Coalition and the Gears franchise. And then there's Turn 10 and the Forza games.

It's not even close to a level playing field.

Image: Sea of Thieves

So when you see comments decrying the lack of exclusives on the Xbox compared to the PS4, it's really ignoring the reality: the Xbox can't have more exclusives than the PS4. There's just not enough developers.

That's not a huge problem though, because nobody has enough time in the day to play every new game. And Microsoft's strategy seems a hell of a lot smarter when you look three, four, five years down the road. An Xbox owner might only ever have to buy one game a year, simply paying $10.95 a month to access anything else they feel like paying on a whim.

But what matters for gamers right now are those one or two games that make you stop and go, "Shit, I need to play this."

And every now and again that game happens to be a multiplayer blockbuster, something all your friends are playing. PUBG and Fortnite fill that void right now. Halo was a big drawcard for that very same reason.

But a lot of the time, those games are grand adventures, stories and worlds that you can lose yourself in. They're experiences you haven't had before. They're not experiences you create yourself. They're someone else's world, something that pulls you out of the monotony of day-to-day life.

And despite the increasingly difficult leaps of faith required, Sony has continued pushing those games forward. Kratos redeeming himself as a father. Aloy redeeming herself to her tribe. Drake rebuilding his relationship with Sam, and saving his relationship with Elena. Games you might only play once, but you'll remember for years, if not forever.

Time and time again, that's what people buy a console for. And while Microsoft's strategy makes perfect sense, consoles aren't always a sensible purchase. It's often emotional, impulsive, driven by the need to follow a hero. A character you want to believe in. A journey.

Journeys like God of War.


Comments

    Good article. It really sums up my experience with the Xbone compared to older consoles.

    I’ve got TONS of stuff to play, and at any given time I can find something good….. but when I think back on it, there’s very few great experiences I’ve had with the system to date. Aside from the Witcher 3, far too many of my Xbone experiences are relatively soulless but otherwise solid open-world or multiplayer games.
    Don’t get me wrong, I still like my Xbone, but with a few “epic” 3rd party single player games being fizzers this generation (I’m looking at you Mass Effect and Fallout 4) the big single player titles just aren’t there.

    Unfortunately for me I’ve got an Xbone X, a new PC and a Switch…. and if I buy a PS4 now my wife will kill me. Lucky everything’s got ROCKET LEAGUE!!!

    Last edited 13/04/18 12:19 pm

    That was a good retrospective? Alex, I jump between ps4 & pc but play almost no PlayStation exclusives, I play on PlayStation because it's less invasive/ Intrusive than my brothers xbox experience & i have many psn friends, Also if Xbox wants No Mans Sky, Then take it, It's yours to keep lol. Xbox most likely has some good parts like better service? Idk but i'm sure it has it's value, In regards to the article, I'd always go with more narrative focused games.

    Yay more xbox bashing from kotaku, typical.

      It is very distinctly not bashing Xbox, and there's plenty of lines in there remarking how much sense their strategy makes going ahead.

        I really enjoyed reading this. It didn't feel like it took a side in any way and simply said "here's what the two strategies are, here's how they're playing out at the moment and here's how I envision them playing out in the future." This is the level of article I wish I'd read more of on this site. Mature analysis and review of the architecture of the current environment and what it means for games as a whole. Personally I think the title could have been a little clearer (I didn't expect this level of analysis of the industry in an article about God of War and feel that some may miss reading this because they think it'll solely be about a game they may not be interested in), but it's head, shoulders, knees and toes above other "articles" on this site (I'm looking at you "Here's a song that had the name 'Chun Li' in it"...). Good work, Alex. This was a great, thought provoking read. Thank you.

          Thanks, I reworked this a lot to make sure it was right and it's good to know people appreciate it. And I'd point out that's always been the fun of Kotaku as well: we will do those huge investigative pieces, the behind-the-scenes stories, but also the fun side posts and quirky random things that happen in and around the world of gaming.

          Sometimes people only see one style of content because of timing, or just what happens to be going on in the world at that given time, but we always strive to cover all ends.

            Alex, great articles like this are why I still visit Kotaku. Even when I don't agree with you, you're articles are always worth the read.

            Last edited 13/04/18 4:59 pm

      Read the article mate, it's pretty positive on the X-Box front.

      Nah, It's not bashing Xbox, Talks about the game pass being a good idea given the Xbox's market share compared to the Ps4's larger playerbase etc. .

      Did you even read the article? Or did you just jump straight to rabid fanboy rage?

      Yay, more clueless twats who don't actually read the article!

      So angry. I blame them video game thingies.

    They would have more studios and more games if they had invested their X Box 360 success into studios like Ensemble and Lionhad instead of shutting them. Investing in new IP is also a smart idea, instead of opening new studios to churn out sequels of last gen successes.

      Or hinged on the idea of what made some of the best Xbox 360 games, ones you play in your lounge with mates. So many fantastic experiences where you play *with* people rather than with headsets on playing with your mate 300km away. (Only 1 example of many) Kinect/guitar hero etc were a little gimicky but it was something you could play with your partner, your visiting cousins, your friends over a beer, etc. It was something that Wii managed to do but have moved away from (Yes successfully), however the market still exists for games, but no one produces them anymore.

    So when you see comments decrying the lack of exclusives on the Xbox compared to the PS4, it's really ignoring the reality: the Xbox can't have more exclusives than the PS4. There's just not enough developers

    But why not? It's not like MS don't have the cash to buy up some good 3rd party developers (or, even better, start some up from scratch). They've certainly got deeper pockets than Sony and can afford to take more risks if they choose to.

    I think it's more an issue of priorities. Playstation is one of the most profitable parts of Sony, if not THE most profitable. If it's the bedrock of their success, it'll be a top priority for them and they'll be willing to invest more in it and take more risks.

    Xbox, by comparison, is a much smaller piece of the overall Microsoft business. So if they want to get some investment in the Xbox business (eg buying or creating development studios), they have to be able to make a case that the return on that investment will be better than the return if MS invested that money in their Windows or Office or Azure business instead. End result being that Xbox is a lower priority for MS than Playstation is for Sony.

      Yeah Ensemble's shutting still hurts. I don't care about Halo or Gears of war. I would hate to see them buy up third party devs as said preferably start up devs would be great.

      It really is a difference in philosophy. I see Sony as having, in addition to the supermarket chocolate, lots of handcrafted chocolates of the finest quality (check out cocochocolate.com.au ) some of which might not be to everyone's taste, whereas Microsoft has contented itself with providing oodles of supermarket chocolate, which are made to a standard formula and of which it can be reasonably sure of selling adequate quantities.

      Sorry, I just really like chocolate.

      MS is still feeling the burn of all the anti trust suits against them from when they were chucking their money around in an attempt to win the web browser wars of the 90s. They could have thrown tons of cash at devs to make apps for windows phone too, but they didn't and it died a slow death in the market.

        To be honest, I think the business itself is losing its appeal for them. The Xbox was supposed to be the centre of the living room etc etc. Get people to buy the gaming device and you can then sell all the other services like movies, TV, etc. But these days you don't need a console at the centre of all that - you just need a Chromecast and a smartphone. And that's assuming you don't have a smart TV with all those apps already built in.

        Consoles going forward are going to have to make their money from the actual games business, not from being able to value add additional services on top that can now be delivered by other much simpler, cheaper devices.

          Your making a whole lot of sense, I opted out of getting a xbox this gen as i wanted a video game console that had a focus on being exactly a video game console not living room media centre, Now going forwards their hardware has to compete with tv's themselves, So now all they have is a video game console with no real heavy hitters for games.

          Completely agree.

          There are too many alternatives for the living room.

          Perhaps MS is simply too big to succeed in the console market. It can never be about the games - rather about some grand strategy to surround us all with Windows.

          Sony on the other hand is big enough to compete, but small enough to focus on the products core (actual games).

      I would say you pretty much have it nailed. (and in your follow up comment)

      One only needs to look at the huge difference in priorities between the first Xbox generation and the current one.
      The evidence would strongly suggest that MS has never been satisfied with the traditional console gaming model on its own, furthered by the persistent rumours that Microsofts core investors haven't thought highly of the Xbox for some time and the companies long standing history of being extremely cagey on the profitability of the Xbox division.

      For me it was telling that the focus of the Xbone in the lead up to the current generation seemed weighted in exploring new and untapped revenue streams rather than on core gaming.
      Couple that with a move away from game development investment and it looked pretty clear that they wanted money out and no longer wanted to put so much money in.

      To their benefit, bringing in Spencer was perhaps the smartest thing they could've done, he seemed to understand that Xbox was ignoring gamers at their own peril, though I get the impression he's still stuck trying to mitigate the damage while pursuing something MS doesn't seem to want anymore.
      I hope his comments on investing in development again aren't just words, they seriously need a smash hit right now and more than one going forward.

      You answer your own question. =P

    Great article Alex.

    One clever thing Sony is doing is completely stripping it's first party games of loot boxes or MTX.

    Meanwhile both Forza, and soon SoT will include MTX.

    On the other hand... bravo to MS for their BC program. Currently playing the enhanced RDR and Oblivion updates and they are absolutely brilliant.

      I wonder if Sony can introduce PS3 BC with the PS5. Considering how emulators can run certain PS3 software already...

        They wont do that because it would conflict with their game streaming subscription service

          Yeah, it makes much more sense to roll PS Now out here (or build it into PS+) than trying to get games that were coded for the Cell architecture to play nicely on x86. Way, way too much work for little reward.

            OK, so in about 1,000,000,000 years when Australia's internet is up to par then :-P

            Na maiter, a'm juist bitter...

              Yeah, that's the issue.

              Even in the 'states, my contacts all say PS Now isn't worth the trouble. Gamers are more concerned with visual artifacts and framerate than that have ever been. For now, game vaults like Xbox Game Pass and EA (Origin) Access seem like the future.

              Sony might get away with it this generation, as Alex pointed out, the exclusives on PS4 are just so, so strong that the majority are still going to stick with Sony over MS.

              But I'm confident PS4 games will have to run on PS5. Otherwise, long term, I think MS will have them licked. It just feels better knowing you can play your games 10 years later, ala steam, without having to dust off your old console and hope it still works.

              Then again, is PS5 still kills the XB2 with exclusives, then who knows? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

              And considering the PSN tries to send all australian traffic thru some pissy little pipe in Japan that makes my 100Mb/s cable drop download updates and patches at 300-800kb/s..............

            Do you have any numbers as to how well / badly PS Now is doing in those markets where it's available?

            I really don't think backwards compatibility is their end game with it. I think it's more about giving people an option for gaming without needing to invest in a dedicated piece of hardware. Think along the lines of something built into smart TVs, etc.

            I still think there would be a business case for them to implement BC in consoles. People who have shown a willingness to invest hundreds of dollars in a dedicated console are likely to be willing to pay for older BC games if they're available on the store. But they might not be so willing to pay a monthly subscription to play compromised versions of those games on PS Now.

    Xbox's story is pretty well much how Don Mattick absolutely f***** over the Xbox One and future strategy, and how long it takes to try and rebuild.

    Phil Spencer was dealt an incredibly s***** set of cards, and has the experience of trying to rebuild from what Don Mattick gave him, which is essentially nothing.

    I love my xboxen, but if Crackdown 3 was cancelled next week I'd not be surprised one bit considering the devs have gone dark since E3 last year......

    After years of just having an Xbox I bought a PS4 at Xmas - ostensibly to keep the kids off my Xbox (that hasn't worked as well as I would've liked)

    But also so I could play Bloodborne, the uncharted games, this Easter bought the two older kids a game each (shadow of the colossus and the last guardian were the choices) its nice c having the options and yeah the xbox is targeting a different kinds of gamer to the PS4 you can see it in their exclusives

    Theres a reason why my Xbox is mostly a media player in the lounge room for myself and my mother, while the PS4 is in my room and is actually having games played on it.

      Apart from the fact the Xbox is actually a really good media player? lol.

      I might just be being an elitist or something, but my XB gets more spins from backward compatibility than the PS4 for new games.

    I've got all the recent consoles, and I agree that currently the PlayStation is the console of choice for my gaming, just so many wonderful games that are only on PlayStation, my Xbox X is waiting for that exclusive game, the switch is my mobile gaming machine, hardly play it on the doc,on the big screen, PC would be my main choice for gaming if and when I'm not my PS4 pro, this is a reversal of last generation, when for me it was the PS3, sitting waiting

      I still find myself playing multiplats on the X1X to be honest. Whereas my PS4 Pro's HDD is full of exclusives.

      I also really enjoy being able to boot up Oblivion/Witcher2/Red Dead Redemption at 4K.

      However, if I had to pick one machine, it would have been the Pro. The draw of exclusives new games (like God of War) is simply the too strong. Co-op games like Sea of Thieves feel better suited to my PC.

    lol at people who deny that Playstation has a better lineup of first-party exclusives compared to Xbox. Silly to claim otherwise when you look at the numbers.

      I didn't know that anyone really thought that. All that Xbox really has is Forza (great games but a niche audience), Halo & Gears of War (both MIA) and... I guess Sea of Thieves? Although it's technically third-party (or second I guess as Rare are owned by MS now) but Microsoft are certainly treating it like a first-party title.

      They really need a fresh AAA IP. Or several.

        Sea of thieves is first party, rare is a ms studio no different than naughty dog

      Don't think anyone is saying that.

      Xbox had its strengths (4K on the X, generally better on multiplats, Elite Controller, amazing backwards capability).

      But PS has amazing exclusive games. You just can't top that.

    I just wish people would wake up and stop with the excuses. Xbox needs to die. Heads need to roll, Phil Spencer is a genuine decent human but its too late.

    Xbox needs to fully disappear before the next generation, stop committing troops and resources to a lost cause. I really hope they eat shit now so that next gen its actually closer to 50/50 and there's a valid point to owning an Xbox.

      Right...

      Remove the ps4's only competition.

      That wont go wrong at all.

      We need microsoft otherwise sony will have a stranglehold on the market leading to lesser quality products and more expensive products. One company having a stranglehold on the market never ends well. If you remove Microsoft you remove any and all incentive for Sony to improve. They now have a stranglehold on the console market.

      Your idea would not solve any problems. It would only create more. Why would you want to buy a new console from a company that abandoned the previous one so early on into its life?

        Hiatus/disappear it needs to be clearly die before it can come back. I don't want Sony to be the sole company but its looking more that way now. Xbox keeps trying things and apart from backwards compatibility they're all shit, they need to just go away, sit in a forest then come back refreshed.

    I really hope the future of gaming is not a subscription only service that needs your console to be online. I like waiting for a game to arrive in store buying it and looking forward to getting home and playing it.

      Here in Australia especially with our internet quality a subscription service is out of the question. Games are often now 50GB plus. Downloading that regularly on our internet would be a pain.

    Inb4 Microsoft's new console is called "Xbox Azure" and it's completely online everything and runs online but streams the game you a tiny box in your house for a connector to the TV and controllers etc. To me, it's the logical next step for MS after building a MASSIVE processing power in the cloud. It'll be the only thing that can kill Steam and Sony.

      Sony are already doing that with PS Now. It's a niche product at best, though. It doesn't matter how much processing power they've got on the server side if only a small percentage of people have an internet connection even remotely capable of keeping up. And that'll only get tougher with the jump to 4K resolutions.

      Last edited 16/04/18 11:20 am

        It's not only the compression/decompression and transfer speeds required for 4K, but also the latency involved. Most gamers would be used to latency of about 50-100ms via controller, frame rate and TV lag (30fps in itself is equivalent to a 33ms lag in drawing the next frame). If you're talking about an additional network latency of even 50ms (considered very good), all of a sudden that at least doubles 100-200ms and all of a sudden games become less playable.

        Anyone that's used Remote Play on PS4 can attest to this and that's via Wifi within the same room, let alone to a server half way across the country or even the world. Light itself takes 130ms to travel around the Earth in a straight line. Unless there is some quantum leap in network latency, I fail to see how games as a streaming service will ever take off.

    Great article, this kind of super produced game agregates a lot of valor into console, althrough risk strategy from sony, is going very well

    Last edited 18/04/18 2:52 am

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