It’s not cold, you’re just being paranoid

With the life cycle of the Xbox One and PS4 entering their golden years, it looks as though both Microsoft and Sony are setting up camps as they begin making the early steps of what looks like the next console war. But it feels a little different this time around; the landscape that we play games in now is a totally different entity as opposed to when we got our hands on the Xbox One and PS4. This change seems to have skewed whatever “console war,” we’ll see this time around, because it won’t just come down to the games. It’s this changing environment that makes this feel more like a Console Cold War.

Now granted, it might seem a touch dramatic to use that label when it comes to talking about consoles and video games, but the recent movements of both Sony and Microsoft have the same frenzied actions of that iconic era. How? Well, let’s skip the 4K pissing match that was the PS4 Pro/Xbox One S/Xbox One X, and start with the latest studio acquisitions from Microsoft.

Having purchased four studios in Ninja Theory, Compulsion Games, Undead Labs, and Playground Games, Microsoft have drawn a clear line in the sand; one that looks set to give them access to a new source of future exclusive titles. And yes, they already have that with Undead’s State of Decay series and the Forza franchise from Playground Games, but bringing Ninja Theory on board after the success of Hellblade, and Compulsion Games gaining more attention as We Happy Few nears its release, surely puts Microsoft in good stead as they look to inject new life into an otherwise dire library of exclusives.

It’s a move that’s seen Microsoft not quite scrambling, but definitely playing a long overdue game of catchup to Sony, and whilst they’ve slipped up on keeping We Happy Few as an exclusive, they’ve managed to hoover up some of the most promising studios – both proven and unproven – underlining Microsoft’s new “If we can’t do it ourselves, we’ll buy the people who can,” stance.

Whilst Microsoft used E3 to show off the moves they made with studios – among other announcements that led many to agree that Microsft “won,” E3, Sony leaned heavily on their exclusive titles. If Microsoft’s actions were the gaming world’s version of America or the Soviets racing to pick their teams, then Sony’s recent conference was basically showing off their firepower. Add to this the recent news that the PS4 was the best-selling console of 2018 so far, and it looks like Sony are confident in what they’re doing; only poking their head out to show off their latest shiny toy.

It’s an atmosphere that’s comically similar to the Cold War; just replace nuclear arms and sovereign nations with games and developers, and you’ll see that both companies are showing off a lot but not actually doing much – yet.

But like I said at the start of this strange feature, it’s not just about games anymore, and looks can be deceiving. Whilst Sony certainly still boast the more exciting exclusives, Microsoft have been doing what can only be called a PR extravaganza. Earlier this year, they took the basic model of Sony’s PSN service and perfected it, giving it a far easier to understand and better feel, plus using the platform to promote what first-party titles they do have, has given many players a reason to dust off their Xboxes and put them to use again.

And the recent finalisation of the cross-play agreement between Microsoft and Nintendo has given the corporation a much softer feel. The tagline of “Survive Together,” is a far cry from what any of us expected during Microsoft’s actions leading up to the Xbox One release, as it looks to show off how they take into consideration all players, regardless of which platform they play on. Whilst the agreement is only attached to Minecraft at the moment, it’s a move that may even lead to further cross-play agreements for third-party titles between the two consoles.

Compare this to the isolationism tactics of Sony, who have already received grief from fans about their absence from the Minecraft cross-play and locking Fortnite players to PS4-only arenas, in a strange “Father knows best,” set of actions that’s alienated PS4 players in a Berlin Wall-esque state, leaving Sony fans left only to watch the decadence of cross-play go into full swing.

But, as much as a Console Cold War seems like an exciting and dramatic idea (and one that probably best shows off me having watched Atomic Blonde and Bridge of Spies recently) it’s also one that might just not be the case. Because all this feels too familiar; not quite deja vu, but like a bad rip-off of a television show. Remember, it was only about 20 years ago that Nintendo and Sony were close to a partnership that would’ve possibly seen Sega demoted from their console status much sooner, in an act that – whilst not allowing the same freedom of cross-play – showed that Sony was more than willing to enter into collaborative acts before they became the hardware titan of the gaming world.

And whilst Sony’s recent moves could easily be interpreted as a series of brash and arrogant moves that could very possibly harden a lot of players’ opinions of the company, Microsoft were just as foolhardy when they tried to introduce hardline DRM rules. So, whilst a Cold War scenario may be a romanticised skew on the recent moves of Microsoft and Sony, these are also actions that we’ve seen so many times before; with the Xbox One flying too close to the sun after the success of the Xbox 360, it could just be that Sony are throwing their weight around, with the hubris that only a market-leader can have.

But what do you think? Are we seeing the early signs of a new type of console war? Are they even a thing anymore? Does it even matter!? Let us know what you think in the comments below.