The PS5 And Xbox Series X Launch Lineups Are Weak, But That’s Not The Whole Story


With the launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S right around the corner, people want to know what the launch lineup looks like for each system. As many have already discovered for themselves, the list of launch titles for both next-gen consoles is not exactly strong when it comes to new releases, but there is more to consider for these new consoles.

That is because Microsoft and Sony have taken new approaches to make this console transition much smoother and more seamless than before, thanks to backwards compatibility and free upgrade programs. For Microsoft specifically, it has also instigated a change in business practices to place less emphasis on exclusives and more of a focus on meeting customers wherever they are.

Backwards Compatibility

Starting with backwards compatibility, each next-generation platform will play thousands of games from the back catalog, and in many cases, older titles will perform better on the new machines thanks to their improved horsepower without any extra effort on the developer’s part. Simply put, many games will look and perform better by virtue of being on the new machines.

For Gears 5, developer The Coalition has been able to dramatically improve the input lag and offer frame rates up to 120fps, which is a first on console for the game. Another Microsoft game, Halo: The Master Chief Collection, is getting 120fps/4K support, which is an exciting thing to think about for Halo fans looking to continue playing the game but now with superior speed and performance. Even Halo 5, which is not getting a dedicated next-gen update, will look and perform better on Series X. On Sony’s side, the library of PS Plus Collection games–which include the likes of God of War, Uncharted 4, and Resident Evil 7–will have faster loading times and better frame rates.

Microsoft seemingly has the edge when it comes to breadth of content, as the Series X will play titles from Xbox One, Xbox 360, and the original Xbox. Basically, it’s everything except Kinect games. The PS5, meanwhile, will play 99 percent of PS4 games–and many more through PlayStation Now streaming–reaching thousands of games in all. For comparison, the Xbox One and PS4 launched with no backwards compatibility support, which created friction for fans looking to upgrade. Now, fans can buy into next gen with the confidence that they won’t lose their games and game saves–and hey, even Rock Band 4 controllers work on PS5 and Xbox Series X.

Launch Games

Simply looking at the number and profile of launch titles, neither Sony nor Microsoft is releasing a giant catalog of exclusives. Sony’s marquee launch titles are the Demon’s Souls remake, Astro’s Playroom, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, and Sackboy: A Big Adventure. However, only the Demon’s Souls remake and Astro’s Playroom are fully exclusive to PS5, with Spider-Man and Sackboy also releasing on PS4. And in a blow to the PS5 launch lineup, Destruction All Stars was recently delayed from November to February 2021.

Looking at the Series X, Microsoft has Gears Tactics–a title originally released for PC earlier in 2020–as its only major new release as a launch title for the console. The launch lineup is sparse because Microsoft’s original plan was to lead with Halo Infinite–the retail boxes for the Series X even come emblazoned with Master Chief–but due to development complications related to COVID-19 and other factors, the game was pushed to 2021.

It was a big blow for the Series X’s launch lineup, as Halo is one of Microsoft’s crown jewels, and it would have marked the first time since 2001 that a Halo title launched with new Xbox hardware. But as Xbox marketing spokesperson Cindy Walker told NYT, Microsoft does not need a marque title like Halo Infinite for the Series X to have a successful launch.

“Having Halo at our launch would have been tremendous,” Walker said. “[But] we are not reliant on massive exclusive titles to drive console adoption. Our players will have thousands of games from four generations of Xbox available to play on launch day.”

Looking back in time, the PS4 had Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack as first-party launch titles, while the Xbox One had Dead Rising 3, Ryse: Son of Rome, and Zoo Tycoon as in-house exclusives for the console. The third-party lineup of launch titles included the likes of Battlefield 4, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and Need for Speed Rivals.

Those consoles also included sports games like Madden NFL 25, NBA 2K14, and NBA Live 14 as launch titles. The launch lineup for both consoles was strong relative to this new console generation, but as GameSpot’s Alessandro Fillari laid out earlier this year, both Sony and Microsoft are rethinking the importance of launch titles this time around.

The Game Has Changed For Microsoft

Microsoft is playing a different game. The commonly held idea historically is that you need a strong pipeline of exclusive games to sell consoles, but Microsoft is taking a different approach this year. As Phil Spencer has said in seemingly every interview he gives these days, Microsoft doesn’t care much if you buy a new Xbox this holiday because the company has diversified its offerings and made its games also available on PC and mobile. The name “Xbox” no longer pertains to a gaming console, either–it’s the overarching umbrella name for Microsoft’s gaming strategy all-up. Spencer recently laid this out in an interview with GameReactor.

“Our high-level goal inside of our team, of how we measure ourselves, is how many people are playing on Xbox,” Spencer said. “And when we say ‘playing on Xbox’ it doesn’t mean an Xbox console. It means somebody who is logging in and playing a part of our ecosystem, whether first-party or third-party. And it could be on an Android phone. It could be on a Switch. It could be on a PC. That’s how we think about it.”

If Microsoft’s strategy comes to fruition, it can have its cake and eat it too, by selling every console it can make this year and also bringing more people into the Xbox fold with Xbox Game Pass and its cloud streaming component (formerly known as xCloud). Next-generation consoles–the PS5 and Series X/S–are expected to sell out of stock completely this year. As Spencer recently said, “I am going to predict that we are both going to sell every console we build in 2020.” If Microsoft had its marquee game, Halo Infinite, the situation would have been the same, the only difference being that the Series X would have sold out faster.

Looking at Microsoft’s financials shows how much of an impact content and services–the bread and butter of the games business–has on the company’s bottom line. For the July-September 2020 period, Xbox content and services revenue rose by a whopping $649 million compared to the year prior. There is no question that COVID-19 is driving increased spending on games as people stay home more than ever, but what this really demonstrates is how much money there is to be made from selling games and subscriptions; it’s such a big number that Microsoft doesn’t need to push people to buy a new Xbox (which is a money-loser, anyway).

Third-Party

The real meat and potatoes of the next-gen launch lineups for the PS5 and Series X will be third-party games, and there are plenty of those coming. Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs: Legion and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla will be there at launch, while Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is basically a launch title, as it releases on November 13, just days after the Xbox Series X/S and PS5 are released. The enduringly popular battle royale game Fortnite will be available for the PS5 and Series X at launch, while Borderlands 3 and Destiny 2: Beyond Light will as well. EA’s marquee sports titles, Madden NFL 21 and FIFA 21, will miss the next-gen launch dates, but they’ll arrive within the launch window, debuting for the consoles on December 4. In short, there will be plenty of options for people on day one, and this is before you even factor in the literally thousands of other games that are playable through backwards compatibility.

None of these games are brand-new titles, but they are getting a new lease on life thanks to the power of the new consoles. You might have already played dozens of hours of Fortnite or Madden, but with the new consoles–with their faster processors and solid-state drives–you’ll ideally get a better experience. As Alessandro said in his earlier piece, Microsoft and Sony appear to be moving into an iPhone-style approach where the content you already own moves with you when you decide to upgrade hardware, and you enjoy the benefits of the increased horsepower. And importantly, in many cases, it won’t cost extra to upgrade your games.

Free Upgrades

Another important factor for this console generation is the free upgrade paths that both Sony and Microsoft, as well as third-party publishers, are offering. Microsoft’s Smart Delivery program makes it so you can buy select games today for your Xbox One and get the upgraded editions on Series X at no extra cost. Not every title supports this, of course, but the list of supported games is extensive and impressive, including the likes of Cyberpunk 2077, Destiny 2, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, Far Cry 6, Halo Infinite, Gears Tactics, Marvel’s Avengers, and Borderlands 3, among many others.

Sony doesn’t have an official free upgrade program, but titles like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and Horizon Forbidden West will all offer free upgrades from PS4 to PS5. Individual publishers have upgrade promotions, too, such as EA, which has its Dual Entitlement program covering titles like Madden NFL 21 and FIFA 21. This is a marked change from the last console cycle with its $10 upgrade fees (if upgrades were available at all). That being said, not every game supports free upgrades, and some next-gen games will cost $70.

Looking Ahead

The PS5 and Xbox Series X might have ostensibly weak launch lineups, but things are different these days. The goalposts for success have changed, for Microsoft in particular with its platform-agnostic approach. Sony, too, doesn’t need a marquee launch title in one of its major established franchises because the PS5 (and the Series X, for that matter) has been positioned as a box that will play the current-gen games you already have with higher fidelity and improved load times. And if you don’t buy in right away, compelling games like Halo Infinite and God of War: Ragnarok, and any number of other exciting exclusives that are in the works, might be enough to draw you in next year and beyond.

For more on what’s to come with PS5 and Xbox Series X/S, be sure to check out our Generation Next hub, which focuses on all the latest news, features and videos focusing on the new era of gaming.

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