It’s safe to say that the Xbox One has not been the success that Microsoft once hoped it would be. After all, they designed it as a all-in-one box that could conceivably replace the TV box in people’s homes as a gaming and entertainment focused system. Alas, there’s no need to dwell on the Xbox’s failings back in 2013, their reveal will go down in infamy. Over the next couple of years Microsoft’s system would be the butt of all jokes and suffered immensely in the early years of its existence. All the while, Sony’s PlayStation 4 hit the reveal out of the park, leading it to dominating success this generation.
For the first few years of the generation, much was made of the PS4’s power advantage over the Xbox One. Sony higher-ups such as Shuhei Yoshida even made sure to make note of the power disparity. Comparison channels such as Digital Foundry and IGN routinely made comparison videos giving the thumbs up to the PS4 system time and time again. The PS4 was the more powerful console and everybody knew it.
Mid-way through this generation, both consoles were treated to upgraded systems. The PS4 Pro from Sony featured a sizeable upgrade over the base system, albeit lesser than the upgrade that the Xbox One X provided. Numbers-wise, The PS4 to PS4 Pro upgrade was from 1.84 teraflops to 4.2 teraflops. On the opposite side, the Xbox One to Xbox One X upgrade was from 1.23 teraflops to 6 teraflops. This represented a 1.8 teraflops upgrade the Xbox One X had over the PS4 Pro. Essentially, an entire PS4’s worth of performance.
At this point, you might be asking what’s a teraflop? Well, that’s a technical term often not heard outside the realms of PC GPUs. To put it into Layman’s terms, a TFLOP is the capability of a processor to calculate one trillion floating-point operations per second. So, if we take the Xbox One X’s 6 TFLOPs GPU, we can say it can calculate six trillion floating-point operations. These calculations determine how many Polygons can be pushed in a scene of a video game and how complex said Polygons are. To get to the crux, > TFLOPs = > Polygons = > Better looking/better performing games.
Now, in 2020, Sony and Microsoft are planning to release their next generation consoles this holiday. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X have seen the light of day, albeit just the specs at the time being for the PlayStation 5, and we know which console will dominate the power paradigm: Microsoft’s Xbox Series X.
In terms of the specs that effect graphical/technical performance, the Xbox Series X bests the PlayStation 5 in the GPU, Memory, and CPU. PlayStation’s new system takes the nod in the SSD department. It’s worth noting that the above GPU and CPU figures for the PlayStation 5 are clocked at its max performance, but Mark Cerny noted in the reveal that the PlayStation 5 will often run at a lower performance depending on how demanding a game is. Overclocking is often seen in the PC gaming space. Microsoft’s GPU and CPU figures are locked and run at a constant.
What does this mean for the next generation of consoles? Almost certainly the Xbox Series X will run third party games at a noticeably better performance than their PlayStation 5 counterparts. Whether this be higher, more stable resolutions or better frames per second, will be determined on a game-by-game basis and how developers choose to maximise each system’s power.
As far as first party exclusive games go, it remains to be seen. As we’ve seen with the PlayStation 4, Sony’s first party studios are extremely talented at optimising for PlayStation architecture. The power disparity shouldn’t be too much of a problem when it comes to the exclusive titles as Sony’s first party studios can spend the time optimising for their own system. Likewise, Xbox’s first party studios can do the same thing so we might see a slight advantage there but it will not be on the level of disparity we’re likely to see with the third party titles.
ISFE and Ipsos MORI’s GameTrack consumer survey regarding the public perception of features for the next generation of consoles revealed that “Better graphics” are widely agreed to be important in the European markets, with 68% of all surveyed gamers considering it important. Among console gamers only, this figure moves up to 78%. – Source.
Taking this survey into account, plus the anecdotal prevalence of this issue with the Xbox One and PS4 at the start of this current generation, it’s safe to assume that power matters. Not just for bragging rights, gamers like to know they’re getting the best version of a game possible. Anecdotally, I have noticed a shift of respect for Microsoft’s system that they’ve worked hard to rebuild after their disastrous reveal of the Xbox One back in 2013. The crucial question now is will this power supremacy translate into the Xbox actually challenging the PS5 this time around? Yes… but there’s also other factors to take into account.
Namely, when the PS4 lost the power advantage the narrative shifted to the games. Without a doubt, the PlayStation 4’s lineup of exclusives have absolutely trumped the Xbox One’s offerings, at least in the single-player games department. PS4 exclusives such as God of War, Uncharted 4, Spider-Man, and Horizon Zero Dawn comfortably beat the Xbox offerings in sales numbers. PS4 exclusives often enjoyed higher critical success. Whilst the Xbox One did deliver some quality exclusives such as Ori and the Blind Forest, Gears 4 & 5, Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 4, these were not enough to compete with Sony’s more consistent output of high-quality exclusive games.
Microsoft admitted this themselves and have promised they’ll do better. Head of Xbox Phil Spencer responded to a fan wondering if we would see more single player games on Xbox, Spencer responded: “Yes, I can confirm” more single-player games. Further, “the additions to XGS [Xbox Game Studios] we have a lot of teams that have built strong SP focused games and we want that to continue.”
Phil Spencer refers to the recent acquisitions of studios made by the Xbox division. Those studios include Undead Labs, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, Compulsion Games, inXile Entertainment, and Obsidian Entertainment. That’s an impressive amount of additions to the XGS portfolio. Many of these new projects are yet-to-be-seen so we’ll have to wait and see if Microsoft deliver on their promise. What we do know is that Sony’s first party studios are hard at work on bringing games such as God of War 2, Spider-Man 2, Horizon Zero Dawn 2, and more, so Microsoft best up their game if they want to better challenge the PlayStation system this time around.
All in all, the Xbox Series X is in an immensely better position to challenge the PlayStation 5 than it was with its predecessor the Xbox One. The power supremacy is dominating the headlines and the perception of these consoles. However, Sony can rely on their excellent first party studios to deliver great exclusives to keep their existing fans and earn more. Whilst the power supremacy is definitely going to help the Xbox Series X do better than the Xbox One, they will also have to deliver on their promise to deliver better quality exclusive titles if they wish to truly go head-to-head with Sony again like in the Xbox 360/PS3 days.