Friday, August 7, 2020

Spider-Man Versus the X-Cloud

Sony no doubt hoped that bringing Spider-Man exclusively to Playstation in the upcoming third party game Marvel's Avengers would encourage players to order the game on its platform and transition to the next-generation PS5. For me personally, the move is more likely to make me pass on the game this holiday season, and may ironically push me towards the Xbox for the next console cycle.  

Previously on Console Wars....
When televisions capable of displaying 4K HDR video came out midway through the current console generation, I chose to pick up an Xbox One X rather than upgrading my existing PS4 to a PS4 Pro.  The two consoles cost similar amounts and both would play third party games at the improved resolution, so it was a trade-off between upgrading the graphics on a handful of remaining PS4 exclusive games (which I could still play on my PS4) versus having access to the Xbox ecosystem.  I doubt I'm the only longtime Playstation owner (PS's 1-4) who picked up his first Xbox for this reason in the last year or two.  

Given that a large portion of the games I play are from Marvel, the exclusive (we don't yet know if it is temporary or permanent) offers an unpleasant choice. By playing on my PS4 I would be downgrading the graphics and presumably performance of the entire rest of the game. By playing on the Xbox I would miss one of Marvel's most iconic characters at a time when my kids are (someday, post-pandemic) old enough that they might learn from friends at school that he is playable on the other platform.  Additionally, as a Polygon commentary notes today, each Avenger appears to function as a character class, so missing one could be a reasonably big deal in an action-RPG if it is indeed any good.

(It is fair to note parenthetically that popular opinion presumes Sony is the villain of this story, locking out Xbox and PC players with sacks of cash, but Marvel licensing can also be a complicated creature. It was rumored that Scarlet Witch was out of the question for Disney Infinity in 2015 because the hypothetical toys to life figure would fall afoul of whatever understanding existed between Disney and Fox concerning the character being part of both the X-Men and Avengers universes. One can imagine a scenario in which Square and Crystal Dynamics weren't willing to pay Disney more to add Spider-Man to their Avengers game, but Sony felt it was worth their while if he could be platform exclusive.) 

Life moves towards the X-Cloud
Meanwhile, Microsoft's ecosystem is moving in the opposite direction. Sony offers the chance to buy first-party exclusive titles that will contend for game of the year awards. With Microsoft's Game Pass subscription you never need to buy another first party title again, and even relatively high profile third party games come to the subscription within the first year of launch - notably for this conversation including Square/Disney crossover Kingdom Hearts III.  For people who can muster the bandwidth - I eye my Verizon box with suspicion since it seem significantly more flakey than the one I had when I lived in a more densely populated area a few years ago - the claim is that you'll even be able to play all these titles via streaming on any Android device (not Apple, but that's another tangent).  

If this hadn't happened, I would almost certainly have paid full MSRP for an Xbox copy of Avengers. Now I'm in wait and see mode, and from experience I can say that once you've skipped the launch hype it gets easier with each passing month to wait for more information as the price only goes down.  More to the point, I don't make purchasing decisions on Xbox; recent AAA games simply appear at no additional out of pocket cost to me, and no harm if I decide to spend an hour of my time on something that I promptly uninstall. 

I'm not boycotting anything - if the PS4 version makes more sense when full reviews are in and there is better detail about Spidey's role then so be it. I'm just saying, I'm at a point in life where my response to the hard exclusive sell is less that I have to have it and more that the other guys are more pleasant to do business with.  

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