Microsoft and Sony are clearly taking two different approaches to their next-generation console ecosystems, and Microsoft, thus far, is winning the battle for player-friendly features. While the Xbox Series X will support the same controllers MS used for the Xbox One, the PlayStation 5 will not. Instead, support for PS4 controllers on the PS5 will be limited and arbitrary.
Specialty peripherals, “such as officially licensed racing wheels, arcade sticks, and flight sticks, will work with PS5 games and supported PS4 games.” Platinum and Gold headsets as well as third-party headsets that connect via USB port or audio jack will work, as well the DualShock 4 wireless controller or officially licensed third-party game pads — provided you are playing “supported PS4 games.” The PS Move and VR Aim controllers will also work with the PS5, provided you are playing a supported VR title (this last is not particularly surprising, since these are VR-specific controllers).
Sony follows this already-confusing statement up by saying: “Please note, not all PlayStation officially licensed or third-party peripherals/accessories may work on PS5,” which more-or-less obviates the guarantee it had previously offered. Officially licensed third-party gamepads will work, except for the ones that don’t work. Which ones are those? Check with your manufacturer.
Microsoft Gets It. Sony Doesn’t
During the PS4 / Xbox One launch cycle, it was Sony delivering knockout after knockout. Microsoft got up on stage and talked about TV shows and Steven Spielberg. Sony told us that the console played games and cost $400. Microsoft wanted its fans to be enthused about killing physical game distribution. Sony emphasized continuity and how things weren’t changing.
Microsoft clearly took that ball and ran with it this generation. The Xbox Series X plays your Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Xbox games. It supports your older controllers. It supports limited-mobility controllers like the Xbox Adaptive controller. It supports streaming Xbox games to your PC. Sony’s backwards compatibility extends to the PS4 and that’s all. Microsoft has gone public with its plans to help gamers by only requiring them to buy one version of the game that will be playable on either version of the console. At least some multiplayer games are going free-to-play next generation on Xbox, while Sony will (apparently) continue to charge for PlayStation Plus to play online in non-F2P games.
To be clear: I do not own an Xbox or a PlayStation and I have no plans to purchase either current or next-generation hardware. But I find it striking how much Microsoft is explicitly evolving the Xbox Series X to resemble a PC. Nobody would build a new PC and expect a peripheral to stop working and there’s no excuse for Sony disabling controller features; buttons can be remapped and gamers who want to use older hardware can learn that certain buttons act differently on modern hardware. Sony’s huge sales advantage over the Xbox One may make the company more confident in forcing customers to pay for the same controllers and games, or it may have some discounting plans of its own, but so far this is a category where Microsoft has shown significant leadership.
Sony may find that its “It plays games” slogan sticks a little less well in 2020 than it did in 2013. The Xbox Series X is leveraging the PC to look more appealing all the time.
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