The divide between console fans has always been an arbitrary rivalry perpetuated more by consumers than the companies themselves. The difference between PlayStation and Xbox — especially in the current generation and likely continuing into the next—has centered around each console’s exclusive titles and their subscription services.
Any other separation between the systems is a result of stubborn fans who refuse to accept that there’s not much technological difference between PlayStation and Xbox outside of minor developments that are hardly noticeable, unless someone has the desire to observe them side-by-side. Even then, the difference is minute, and to say otherwise is a bland attempt of the bored to rile up others.
However, objective analysis will lead those same unshakable loyalists to realize that PlayStation has outsold Xbox worldwide for years. Granted, Sony has been in the console market far longer than Microsoft, and has retained its fans for decades while continuing its popularity in Japan, Korea, and other countries. Xbox, on the other hand, appeals primarily to gamers in the United States, and while the brand does have fans around the world, the core of its following resides at home.
With PlayStation’s ongoing lead in mind, and Xbox’s push to regain lost ground after they lagged this generation (primarily due to a lack of exclusivity and a poor marketing campaign for the original Xbox One), one cannot deny the improvements the brand has made to its subscription services.
The perks offered in these services are going to be the main advantages each system has, and Microsoft’s bundling of multiple subscriptions into one—alongside its Xbox Play Anywhere and Project xCloud functionalities—will be the most needed feather in the company’s cap.
Xbox Live Gold
The most basic of Xbox’s subscription services is Xbox Live Gold (XLG)—the service required to utilize Xbox’s online multiplayer features in any game. However, XLG and PlayStation Plus are almost identical in terms of their features. Therefore, XLG alone will not be enough for Xbox to close the gap in its efforts to catch up with PlayStation in terms of sales and fan loyalty.
Regardless, XLG is an essential feature for those gamers who enjoy playing with friends or having access to a few free games every month. Despite its lack of distinction when compared to PlayStation Plus, XLG cannot be ignored when discussing the future of the brand.
Xbox Game Pass
Xbox Game Pass (XGP) is where Xbox begins standing out. XGP offers gamers a vast library of games they can download and play at no extra charge. The only real downside is that players who participate in this subscription do not outright own the titles with XGP’s extensive library, unless they purchase the game itself on top of the service.
However, as long as a user’s subscription is active, they can download and play any games in the library as much as they wish (unless the title’s removed from XGP at any time), and they will never lose their progress, achievements, or Gamerscore. This by itself does not separate it from PlayStation Now, but the final aspect of XGP does.
That final aspect is the ability for XGP subscribers to play new, exclusive Xbox games as soon as they’re released without having to pay more for them. Sony has yet to add that capability to PlayStation Now, forcing the service’s subscribers to shell out an additional $59.99 for the standard edition of their exclusives.
Moreover, Xbox Game Pass is available at a lower cost than PlayStation Now. Couple the lower price with the right to access Xbox exclusives the day they launch without paying more for them, and Xbox fans have a service that provides much greater value than its primary competitor.
Furthermore, XGP subscribers can download any title in the Xbox Game Pass library to access offline. While some PlayStation Now games also offer this function, most of them require an internet connection to play, sometimes resulting in lag in titles for which an internet connection should be unnecessary.
Xbox Play Anywhere
One of the appeals of Xbox is the Xbox Play Anywhere (XPA) feature. Fans who purchase certain Xbox titles can play them on either their Xbox One or their Windows 10 PC without having to pay for it twice. This function permits players who have a laptop, defective Xbox that’s getting repaired, or any other situation to play some of their games on a different device, offering a level of convenience not often seen elsewhere.
While PlayStation Now does provide PC support for a select few of the games in its library, that list is far less extensive than Xbox’s arsenal. In addition to only having to pay for the game once, Xbox fans can carry their progress over from Xbox to PC or vice versa. The convenience factor provided by this system provides another advantage to Xbox over PlayStation and is another aspect of the brand that will help expedite Xbox’s game of catch-up.
More than convenience, however, the XPA lineup is noteworthy, featuring such titles as Middle-Earth: Shadow of War, Halo Wars 2, Sea of Thieves, Gears 5, the soon-to-be-released Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and more. Xbox Play Anywhere feature more than simple indie titles of which no one has ever heard. It sports some heavy hitters as well, making that convenience factor and one-time purchase much more valuable.
Project xCloud is a streaming service coming to Xbox and PC, making every game players possess on the console or computer available to stream and play on other devices, such as phones, tablets, and more. This service, while still in a beta phase, is yet another facet of Xbox that will offer immense amounts of convenience, allowing gamers to play their titles on the go without having to pack their bulky console or desktop and take it with them.
While streaming services inevitably suffer from lag issues, Xbox Game Studios (XGS) is working hard to resolve, or at least minimize those problems before xCloud’s official launch. Giving fans more options as far as devices on which they can play will go a long way in assisting Xbox with narrowing the gap between itself and PlayStation.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate
The big bad boss of all subscription services on consoles, Xbox Game Pass Ultimate combines the benefits of XLG, XGP, XPA, and Project xCloud into one subscription. Every title available in the XGP library will be available to stream over Project xCloud, and XPA titles included in that same library can be played either on Xbox or PC. In addition, players will be able to play all of these games online, at home or elsewhere, through their access of XLG.
All of this for $14.99/month (or currently $1.00 if one has never access this subscription in the past). The value of this subscription is unrivaled, as Xbox fans have the ability to play over 100 high-quality games online, via portable devices, and as much as they desire while maintaining all of their save progress, achievements, and Gamerscore.
Closing the Gap
Due to its dropping the ball on exclusivity and DLC deals in the current generation, Microsoft and XGS have struggled to catch up to their rivals over at Sony. However, with the subscription services mentioned above offer incredible value to all gamers at low, competitive, and affordable prices. Xbox is more focused than ever before on customer satisfaction, brand loyalty, and fostering positive relationships with their fan base.
While it’s impossible to convince die hard loyalists who subscribe to either Xbox or PlayStation that their preferred device is in any single way to its primary competitor, it’s also difficult to argue that any of Xbox’s subscription services are not worth their price when one considers the wealth of content and convenience provided.