While 2023 was a rough year for the video game industry in many ways, the quality of 2023’s best new releases is undeniable. Naturally, those exceptional titles benefited the three industry’s three major consoles (the PlayStation 5 Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch), which all enjoyed banner years in many traditional respects. Of course, that just makes the ever-present argument over which console “won” the year that much more difficult to settle (or at least weigh in on).
As in previous years, we’re going to take a look at the state of the current console wars by assigning each major current console one to three points in five different categories (with one point going to the last place console in that category, two points going to the second place console, and a full three points to the first place console). Here are the categories we’ll be judging each console by this year:
Sales – How many units of each console were sold in 2023? This category is based on the most recently published official sales figures as well as the most reliable available estimates.
Hardware and Console Features – This category accounts for the built-in advantages (and disadvantages) offered by every piece of hardware in each console’s “family.”
Services – Points are awarded in this category for the quality of exclusive services offered by each console. Unlike built-in features offered by each piece of hardware, these services are typically optional.
Exclusive Games – Points are awarded in this category for the quality (and, when appropriate, quantity) of exclusive games released for each console family in 2023.
The Future – This category is based on what upcoming exclusive games and services each console manufacturer revealed that have a confirmed 2024 release date. When appropriate, this category will also touch upon impending major announcements/releases that do not have a confirmed 2024 release date.
With all of that out of the way, let’s dive into the breakdowns.
Xbox Series X/S: 2023 In Review
While it was hardly a disastrous year for Xbox Series X/S sales, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the console’s global sales struggles.
Despite some minor retail victories here and there, Xbox remains a virtual non-entity in Japan. What’s much more surprising is hardware’s continued sales struggles in Europe. The PS5 is dominating that region in ways that even Xbox doomsayers could not have predicted. The sales race is slightly closer in the U.S., the gap grows just a little larger every year. Xbox may be quick to downplay how much they value traditional hardware sales alone, but they certainly made little notable progress in that area in 2023.
Hardware and Console Features – 3
This is an especially tough category to determine in 2023.
While I’ll discuss what the other consoles did and didn’t do in 2023, I think that this is an area where the Xbox “wins” largely by standing still. Despite not releasing any significant hardware upgrades in 2023 outside of the Xbox Series S 1TB, the Xbox Series X/S benefited from a few smart UI improvements that enhanced one of the console’s better existing features. The Series X/S also still includes some features (most notably, Quick Resume) that are becoming even more difficult to live without.
Sony covered a lot of ground in this area in 2023, but as I’ve said elsewhere, the quality of the Series X/S hardware remains one of the console line’s best features.
Services – 3
Game Pass lost a lot of value in 2023 by virtue of Xbox’s continuing lack of exclusives (more on that in a bit), but it remains an incredible service that has no real competition.
It’s clearer than ever that the Xbox Series X/S line should first and foremost be viewed as the ideal Game Pass delivery system. Again, there’s a lot to be said about the downsides of that business model, but the fact remains that it often feels much better to have Game Pass than it does to be without it. It may not be financially viable in its current form in the long run, but much like the early days of Netflix’s streaming service, it’s probably a good idea to celebrate the great times while they last.
Exclusive Games – 1
While this category has long been the Xbox Series X/S’ biggest weakness, 2023 was a particularly disappointing year for Xbox exclusives.
It really comes down to Starfield. What should have been the biggest Xbox exclusive in years (and one of the biggest exclusives in quite some time) ended up being a surprisingly mixed experience that continues to be the subject of some heated debates. It’s rarely as great or terrible as its biggest proponents and critics would have you believe, but in some ways, it’s all the more bizarre that Starfield feels like such a non-entity just a few months after its debut.
Hi-Fi Rush and Planet of Lana were certainly two of 2023’s better surprises, but the failure and struggles of games like Starfield and Redfall made this a year to forget.
The Future – 1
This is a very competitive category that I didn’t initially expect Xbox to lose. However, when you get down to it, Xbox currently has too few confirmed games or upgrades to look forward to in 2024.
Xbox’s future is burdened by unanswered questions. We simply don’t know when games like Fable, Perfect Dark, and Indiana Jones will be released. We don’t even really know what kind of state they’re in at the moment. We also don’t know what the immediate and long-term benefits of the Activision Blizzard acquisition will be, just as we don’t know what the next Xbox Series X/S hardware upgrade will look like.
The Xbox team continues to find themselves in a position where they theoretically have a ton of major projects in the works but never seem to be able to release those things anywhere close to their ideal or predicted timeframes. At the moment, there are just too few Xbox exclusives that I’m confident are coming out in 2024, and there are too many questions surrounding those titles that do have even a vague 2024 release window.
Nintendo Switch: 2023 In Review
Sales – 2
To be clear, the Nintendo Switch remains the best-selling console of these three devices (in terms of lifetime sales) and will likely end up being one of the best-selling consoles ever. It’s an astonishing sales success no matter how you choose to look at it.
However, if we are talking about 2023 numbers specifically, then I have to acknowledge the fascinating sales figures that popped up throughout the year and how they give the PS5 a slight advantage in this category. I’ll discuss those figures a bit more when we get to that console, but this was a close race.
Hardware and Console Features – 1
Though Nintendo doesn’t need to do much more with the Switch hardware at this point, the console’s relatively stagnant nature is becoming more and more detrimental to its short-term value.
The Switch obviously can’t run the biggest and best next-gen games, but one look at the unfortunate Switch port of Mortal Kombat 11 revealed that it simply can’t keep up with even midrange third-party titles unless a serious amount of effort is put into the Switch versions of those games. The Switch still deserves some points for its incredible design, but its hardware strengths are no longer enough to make up for its increasingly apparent weaknesses.
Services – 2
Much like last year, the Switch’s “advantages” in this category are largely the result of the relatively simple nature of the console’s online services.
The various Switch Online packages are relatively cheap and offer access to a small (but increasingly interesting) collection of retro titles and other bonus pieces of content. It’s not much, but it’s relatively easy to set up a Switch subscription and simply enjoy it without having to think too hard about the bill. That’s more than can be said for some of the competition.
Exclusive Games – 3
Surprised? Don’t be. The Nintendo Switch is somewhat quietly enjoying one of its best years for exclusives ever, which is pretty incredible when you consider how much it has accomplished already.
Tears of the Kingdom was the star of the Switch’s 2023 exclusive lineup, but Super Mario Wonder deserves a lot more love than it will likely receive this award season. 2023 also gifted Switch gamers with the brilliant Super Mario RPG remake, the exceptional Metroid Prime Remastered, the shockingly great Pikmin 4, and an Advance Wars collection that deserves more attention. It was another great year to be a Switch gamer.
The Future – 2
I’m looking forward to upcoming Switch games like Princess Peach: Showtime!, Unicorn Overlords, and Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, and I suppose there’s always a chance we could finally get Metroid Prime 4 in 2024. However, it must be said the Nintendo Switch’s future exists under the cloud of Nintendo’s next piece of hardware.
While that hardware is often referred to as the “Nintendo Switch 2,” we don’t actually know if it will be a new Switch or what its relationship to the current Switch will be. For that matter, we really don’t know anything about the console with absolute certainty, and that’s kind of the problem. For the moment, though, it’s clear enough that the Nintendo Switch’s immediate future is going to suffer at least somewhat due to the seemingly imminent debut of the console’s apparent successor. That prolonged holding pattern doesn’t necessarily benefit Switch owners in the near future, though there is a good chance that Nintendo will send the console out with a bang in 2024 and may even find a way to prolong its lifespan beyond that.
PlayStation 5: 2023 In Review
Sales – 3
While the last of the holiday numbers may tell a slightly different tale, the PS5 will likely end up outselling the Nintendo Switch in 2023 just as it did from the October 2022 to October 2023 period. It will also almost certainly generate the most revenue of any of the major consoles during that time.
Even if the PS5 somehow falls a few units short in the overall sales race, the PS5’s growth in 2023 has been remarkable. It is crushing the competition in Europe, is starting to pull away in North America, and continues to gain momentum in Japan (where the hardware didn’t much help to begin with). More importantly, the PS5’s increased supply numbers are revealing the extent of the demand for the console. With nearly 50 million units sold to date, the PS5 could very well end up becoming one of Sony’s best-selling consoles ever.
Hardware and Console Features – 2
While the release of the PS5 Slim gave the console a slight sales boost towards the end of the year, that “upgrade” is far from essential and is burdened by an unfortunate price point. Elsewhere, Sony has failed to make the most of some of the console’s more advanced UI features and has even reduced the functionality of some of the console’s existing features in recent months (even if only because of outside factors).
However, the power of the PS5 hardware in 2023 was obvious and appealing enough to elevate it over the Nintendo Switch for the purposes of these rankings. Games like Final Fantasy 16 and Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 show what the PS5 is capable of when a studio can focus solely on that hardware. Perhaps the Xbox Series X can match the PS5 in that respect, but Sony’s commitment to regularly releasing such exclusives has made it much easier to appreciate the console’s considerable capabilities. The PS5’s exceptional controller also continues to make it the ideal way to play major third-party releases.
Services – 1
Though it’s relatively easy to accept some of the reasons why Sony will probably never release a direct Game Pass competitor, the company’s apparent disinterest in that area sometimes feels like it’s gradually morphing into outright hostility.
The entire PlayStation Plus program is a jumble of prices and services that doesn’t come close to offering enough value regardless of what tier you subscribe to. Yes, Game Pass should probably be more expensive than it is in terms of revenue, but it’s laughable to consider that the top-end PlayStation Plus plans cost about as much as Game Pass and do not come anywhere close to matching Game Pass’ features. I’d say that something has to give, but again, I don’t think that Sony cares all that much at this point.
Exclusive Games – 2
I initially thought the PlayStation 5 was going to be the clear winner of this category, but a closer look at the console’s 2023 output revealed a slightly different story.
For me, the best PS5 exclusive of 2023 was Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. That game is incredible, but it’s not the kind of revolutionary experience that can carry a console’s library for a year all on its own. Final Fantasy 16 certainly should have been enough to push the PS5 over the top in this category, but that game struggled to live up to its potential and ultimately felt like a misstep for the franchise’s evolution.
Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores and God Of War Ragnarök: Valhalla were fantastic additions to existing PS5 games, but I ultimately felt like the two-headed beast of Tears of the Kingdom and Super Mario Wonder was strong enough to give the Switch the slight exclusives advantage in 2023.
The Future – 3
Like Xbox and Nintendo, PlayStation’s immediate future isn’t quite as clear as it probably should be. We’re still waiting on some release dates for a few major upcoming games, The Last of Us Online is officially dead, and we still don’t know what, exactly, is going on with that KOTOR remake.
Still, the PS5 has enough confirmed major new releases in 2024 to make it the clear leader of this category. At the very least, Final Fantasy 7 Rebirth is the biggest confirmed exclusive of 2024 by some distance at the moment, and the potential 2024 releases of Marvel’s Wolverine and Death Stranding 2 could certainly add to the PS5’s considerable exclusives war chest. Yes, questions remain, but much as it’s been in recent years, you kind of feel like you know what you’re going to get out of the PS5 in 2024, and what you’re going to get feels pretty exciting.
PS5 vs. Xbox Series X/S vs. Nintendo Switch – Which Console Won 2023?
Third Place: Xbox Series X/S – 9 Points
2023 could have (and probably should have) been a much better year for Xbox gamers. However, the console’s continued lack of notable exclusives, the way that lack of exclusives has negatively impacted Game Pass, and the company’s struggles to close the Activision Blizzard acquisition sooner than they did all added up in the long run. The Xbox Series X/S remains a couple of big releases or announcements away from really changing the narrative, but it officially feels like we’ve been saying that for too many years in a row now.
Second Place: Nintendo Switch – 10 Points
The Switch’s apparent replacement looms, and that console’s seemingly inevitable impending debut may mean the end of the Switch hardware as we know it. However, 2023 was still a very good year for Switch owners. They may have missed out on some third-party games, but the console gifted those millions (and millions) of gamers with some of the absolute best titles released in an all-time great year for new releases. Nintendo’s underpowered quirky console continues to stay in the fight longer than it should
First Place: PlayStation 5 – 11 Points
While Sony could be doing so much more with the PS5 than they currently are, the console is leading the way in the next-gen race and is quickly becoming the reliable piece of consistently exciting hardware that its best-selling predecessor was. Until the competition finds a way to make the most out of the PS5’s few missteps, Sony’s console will likely remain on top.
The post PS5 vs. Xbox Series X/S vs. Nintendo Switch – Which Console Won 2023? appeared first on Den of Geek.