If it wasn’t already abundantly clear, 2021 is going to be a strange one for games. The pervasive impact of the pandemic on game development continues, with WB Montreal’s Gotham Knights joining the likes of Hogwarts Legacy and The Lord of the Rings: Gollum as the latest high-profile games to be delayed into 2022, and I assure you — many more are to come. Alongside the pandemic, Cyberpunk 2077’s infamous launch stumbles and subsequent long road to recovery are also causing publishers to think twice about releasing games before they’re fully ready for public consumption, no matter the platform.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s going to be some massive void of things to play on your new consoles — far from it. There are obviously still AAA games being released, the indie calendar continues to be fleshed out, and a bunch of high-profile games from last generation like Marvel’s Avengers are seeing their PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X updates come to fruition.

But perhaps most interesting about this whole situation is how Xbox and PlayStation are dealing with a potentially much leaner 2021 and much more packed 2022. In particular, it’s becoming clear that both of the first-parties are becoming more generous with their libraries when it comes to their subscription services, as well as just giving away free games for the sake of free games. In all honesty, it’s starting to feel like PlayStation and Xbox are parents who got separated and the relationship is amicable, but they’re still trying to one-up each other when it comes to buying the love of the children. And as those children, that’s a good thing for us.

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In just this past week, the ink finally dried on the massive $7.5 billion Microsoft and ZeniMax deal, making Bethesda officially a part of the Xbox family. With this, we got a slew of classic Bethesda games added to Game Pass, including entries in the Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, and Dishonored franchises, some of which were even the recipients of Auto HDR and FPS Boost, making them look and play better than they ever have on console. And of course, this comes alongside the promise that all Bethesda games going forward will launch on Game Pass. It’s clear that Microsoft is positioning Game Pass as a library of experiences that can keep you entrenched in the Xbox ecosystem and help pass the time to when so many of these bigger promised games like Starfield are finally ready.

But Game Pass isn’t just a collection of Xbox’s past. The announcement that People Can Fly’s Outriders would be hitting the service on day one transformed the shared-world RPG shooter from an interesting “maybe” to a definite “yes” in the eyes of millions of Game Pass users. The game is going to see a substantial bump in players at launch thanks to its inclusion on the service, which is a crucial part of an ongoing experience like this having the legs to survive. And on top of Outriders, Xbox revealed the next wave of Game Pass inclusions, including games new to Xbox like Undertale and Octopath Traveler, as well as straight-up new indies like Genesis Noir and Narita Boy. All of this further solidifies that Game Pass is the single best deal across the entire medium.

While Xbox is using its incredible service in order to keep us fed and happy on our new Series X | S, PlayStation is taking a slightly different approach. For the past six months or so, Sony hasn’t been shy in just turning on the faucet and letting a torrent of PlayStation 4-era classics pour out. This started with the PlayStation+ Collection at the launch of PlayStation 5, which included Resident Evil 7, Bloodborne, God of War, The Last Guardian, and Persona 5 among its 20+ games for PS+ members. If for some reason you passed on the PS4 before jumping into the PS5, this gave you an immediate library of some of the very best games of the past generation.

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This continued in Sony’s Play at Home campaign, which acted as its response to the pandemic. Over a dozen games are being made completely free to download, without even the need for a PS+ membership. This includes incredible indies like The Witness, Rez Infinite, and Abzu. It also has some of the very best PSVR experiences, including Moss and Astrobot. Even if you might not have a PSVR yet, adding these games to your digital library means that if you do decide to eventually hop in, perhaps once the newly revealed PSVR successor is finally released after this year, you’ll already have a few classics to toy around with.

The other big games included in Play at Home are the 2016 reboot of Ratchet & Clank and Horizon Zero Dawn. These are both notable because not only are they good games, but they also act as smart marketing tools for upcoming releases of Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and Horizon Forbidden West. Sony obviously doesn’t need a massive shift in its strategy — the transition year between PS4 and PS5 was filled with excellent experiences on both, and the fact that we still can’t walk into a store and simply purchase a next-gen console is proof (mostly) that things are going well on the sales front. But it does seem like Sony might be feeling a bit of the heat radiating from Xbox’s Game Pass moves, which in the end can only mean more good things for us.

It’s apparent that both companies are feeling the pressure to win over customers with value propositions and keep them inside their respective ecosystem with a web of free games. And while it’s clearly a smart business move on their parts, it’s great to be able to be in the middle of it and reap the rewards. Christmas might have been delayed into 2022, but at least PlayStation and Xbox are trying to throw us separate birthday parties to make up for it.

Marty Sliva
Marty Sliva has been writing about video games, popular culture, and the 1995 film Babe professionally for the past decade. You can follow him on Twitter @McBiggitty.

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