For a long, long time, there was no cultural battle more fraught, more excessive, more absurd than the console wars. Which console you bought tended to define what you wanted out of gaming, and each wave of new consoles opened up a new front in an ongoing struggle. Once-mighty armies fell from grace. Billions were made and lost. But like any protracted war, all sides may have finally run out of bloodlust. Sony and Microsoft seem to slowly be deciding that the consoles wars need a ceasefire.
Take Microsoft’s Project Scorpio, which has turned out to be the Xbox One Pro, more or less. Microsoft has made it clear that whatever Scorpio’s real name turns out to be, it won’t be making the Xbox One obsolete. Similarly, Sony’s rumored “PlayStation 5,” supposedly arriving in 2018, looks to be more of an upgrade along the lines of the PS4 Pro rather than a whole new console. So what’s happening? Why the ceasefire?
The short answer is that Sony and Microsoft increasingly view game consoles as a ticket to the far more lucrative business of actually selling you video games. The PlayStation Store alone made more cash in 2016 than Nintendo. Not Nintendo’s eShop. Nintendo, the company. Buying games digitally, which gamers are doing more and more, means that every time you buy a game, whoever made the console gets a cut. And those cuts, it turns out, are far more lucrative than any exclusive.
Of course, both Sony and Microsoft would love nothing better than to drive their competitors before them and hear the lamentations of their first-party developers, but that’s unrealistic, and they both know it. So instead they’ve been quietly spending money to make it easier for game developers to put their games on their respective stores. It’s why Microsoft turned the Xbox One into a Windows 10 machine. It’s why Sony has been buying up the rights to every indie game it can find. And Nintendo has gotten into the act, as well. Even Nintendo has, quietly, changed its tune: The creators of indie hit Snake Pass recently revealed the game was ported to the Switch within a week, an absolutely unheard of speed, let alone for the notoriously developer-unfriendly Nintendo.
How games have developed has changed, as well. Snake Pass, for example, is one of many, many games that use Unreal Engine, where before developers might spend years coding an engine from scratch. Even big AAA publishers tend to build one “in-house” engine these days and stick with it, which in turn puts pressure on console makers not to rock the boat too much. Engines like Unity, which are designed to work across all platforms from mobile to console, allow smaller studios to turn out more games, and more creative games, with ease. And, of course, the more games on that digital store, the more revenue Sony and Microsoft pull in.
Finally, even divisions once held sacred are fading into the background. Nintendo’s famously stubborn refusal to put their characters on other people’s hardware collapsed with Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run. Both Sony and Microsoft have made gestures that would merge their multiplayer networks. Working together is simply better for the bottom line, with modern gaming.
There will, of course, always be upgrades. The march of technology is relentless, after all. But it seems, more and more, that Sony and Microsoft would rather ease fans into trading up eventually, and ensure they keep all the games they bought, rather than try to sell an entirely new console and a pile of exclusives. The console wars may end not with a clear winner, but an armistice buttressed by money.