The Xbox Series X.


Joshua Mobley / CBSi

Schools around the country are shut down, as are many shops in large cities. The San Francisco Bay Area is on lockdown. Parks in other parts of the country are closed. Millions of people are stuck at home, anxious about the pandemic coronavirus, hungry for a proper distraction from grim reality. 

So why are Sony and Microsoft spending so much time talking about the intricate specs of their upcoming PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X instead of showing us some exciting new games?

More than 650,000 people tuned into YouTube Wednesday to watch Sony’s “The Road to PS5” presentation by Sony designer Mark Cerny. In it, he went deep into the minutiae of the specs for the company’s upcoming PlayStation, which like the Xbox, is coming this fall. 


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He discussed things like “command buffers,” “system memory” “CUs,” “compression,” and other terms that anyone other than the most hardcore fans would spend the time to learn. Instead, most people will only care about what Sony and Microsoft will likely say on the box: The new devices offer roughly twice the power of their predecessors.

What Sony didn’t do Wednesday, nor did Microsoft do when revealing its Xbox specs Tuesday, was to actually show off any games. We don’t even know how much these new consoles will cost yet, or their official launch dates other than, “holiday 2020.”

“There will be lots of chances later on this year to look at the PlayStation 5 games,” Cerny said when starting his presentation, suggesting he realized his audience may have been expecting more. “Today, I want to talk a bit about our goals for the PlayStation 5 hardware.”

Sure, the talk had been planned for the Game Developers Conference, originally scheduled for this week until it was postponed amid fears of the coronavirus. So, it’s no surprise Cerny’s talk would be in the weeds. 

If we were not in the middle of a pandemic, Cerny’s presentation would have been perfectly appropriate and even expected. But instead, it came off as a miss considering that, in addition to developers, many gamers whose schools are closed, are stuck working from home or are unable to work at all were tuning in to find something to get excited about.

Many commenters watching along began complaining they were bored, typing “Zzzzzzzz,” as Cerny talked through a near-20 section of his presentation discussing storage technology and how files will be organized on the PS5’s SSD (that’s solid-state drive, for the uninitiated, which are where game files are often stored).

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Sony’s PS5 reveal wasn’t well received by everyone.


Sony / YouTube

We’ve been hearing about Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X for over a year now, but we’ve barely heard about any of the games. It’s time for that to change.

With people stuck inside as governments battle the deadly novel coronavirus spreading around the world, it’s on entertainment companies like Sony and Microsoft to step up their game. And the easiest way to do that would be to stop talking about what these devices are, and instead to show off what they can do.

So far, we’ve only seen a few examples. 

Microsoft gave even more details about the insides of the Xbox Series X this week.


Microsoft

Microsoft’s shown off Halo: Infinite, the latest in its blockbuster space-age action series. It’s also shown off Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, a sequel to Hallblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, a popular hack-and-slash horror game from 2017. Sony meanwhile hasn’t announced any PS5-specific games from its studios. Instead, it’s opted to show off how it makes older titles, like the popular action game Marvel’s Spider-Man, faster to load.

On top of that, Sony and Microsoft’s new consoles come at a time when players can access their games from a wide variety of places, not just the large plastic and metal PlayStation and Xbox devices they typically plug into their TVs. Smartphones are becoming increasingly more powerful, attracting popular games like Fortnite, a free-to-download shooter that’s become a cultural phenomenon.

There’s also services such as Nvidia’s GeForce Now, Google’s Stadia and Microsoft’s own Project xCloud use streaming technology similar to Netflix to allow people access to some of the most popular console games on a phone, cheap laptop or tablet connected to the internet.

All that means Sony and Microsoft have to work that much harder to convince people their devices are worth buying. And in the end, that means they need to show off compelling games we can play. And only on those devices.

Rough starts

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The action game Ryse: Son of Rome looked great, but wasn’t well received.


Josh Miller/CNET

The last time Sony and Microsoft launched new game consoles, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One both in 2013, they trotted out a small lineup of games to go with them. Among them were the so-so rated fighting game Killer Instinct and shooting game Killzone: Shadow Fall

There was also the even worse-received action title Ryse: Son of Rome, which was praised for its stunning visuals, but criticized for pretty much everything else. “Ryse is all sizzle and no steak, a stunning visage paired with a vapid personality,” GameSpot’s Mark Walton said in his 2013 review of the game.

This time, the companies are unlikely to repeat that kind of disappointment. Both Sony and Microsoft have promised their libraries of games made in the past 8 years, and even some older ones, will work on the new devices out of the box.

Additionally, some games aimed for older consoles, like CD Projekt Red’s adventure title Cyberpunk 2077 and Microsoft’s Minecraft, will have support for the next-generation consoles.

But that doesn’t mean Sony and Microsoft should hold back. In this unprecedented time, when we’re all under quarantine or warned to stay away from each other for fear of spreading a deadly virus, it would be nice for the game companies to offer us a little more steak than sizzle.

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