Microsoft was, as you’d expect, following Sony’s reveal of the PS5 very closely. Sony announced the full PS5 tech specs in March 2020, which prompted an Xbox executive to provide Xbox chief Phil Spencer and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella with a summary of Sony’s console, internal emails from the FTC v. Microsoft case reveal. Then, more than two years later, Microsoft also reacted to Sony’s PS5 price increase.
The emails show Liz Hamren, former head of platform engineering and hardware at Xbox, pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of Sony’s PS5 specs compared to Microsoft’s Xbox Series X. PlayStation hardware lead Mark Cerny detailed the PS5 specs just two days before Microsoft publicly announced its own Xbox Series X specs.
Hamren lists the variable GPU and CPU clock rates of the PS5, “versus us running at higher sustained rates.” Hamren admits Sony has a clear advantage on SSD performance with the PS5:
Cerny talked at length about the move to SSDs and the advantages for game developers and consumers. They have optimized for raw higher raw throughput (2x ours with slightly better hardware compression and associated performance improvements) as opposed to a more integrated streaming architecture enabled by Sampler Feedback Streaming.
Elsewhere, the 12 teraflops of performance versus Sony’s 10 teraflops was also briefly discussed. “[Cerny] emphasized that GPU teraflops and CU is not a good measurement of performance. We made this same point with Digital Foundry, but we do have a clear performance advantage (12 v 10),” wrote Hamren.
Originally much of the email was redacted, but we’ve now been able to publish a full copy of the unredacted email which reveals Microsoft believed it would have a major performance advantage. See redacted vs. unredacted below.
The former Xbox exec also said that Cerny “spent what seemed like a disproportionate amount of time on audio innovations,” and that Xbox believed it had parity. Hamren also claims Sony’s expandable storage solution for the PS5 is “similar to us in reality due to minimum size and speed requirements.” But in reality, Sony’s approach means consumers can use any regular NVMe SSDs, instead of the proprietary and often more expensive Xbox drives that are only available from Seagate and Western Digital.
In internal emails, Microsoft was also quick to react to Sony’s PS5 price increase last year — despite not hiking Xbox prices immediately. Xbox CFO Tim Stuart emailed Xbox chief Spencer and Microsoft CFO Amy Hood early in the morning of Sony’s announcement in 2022, noting that the Xbox team had “anticipated this and are moving quickly toward a plan now that we’ve seen confirmation.”
There’s a discussion in the email chain, which is heavily redacted, but it appears that Spencer wants the company to remain gamer-focused with any price increases. Ami Silverman, who at the time was head of Microsoft’s consumer sales and marketing, responds with “all good points, let’s be gamer obsessed here as we have not gotten out of the woods... we know this could be our time to win fans vs lose being a follower.”
Silverman is clearly referring to Xbox sales being behind PlayStation ones and not wanting to lose any momentum by immediately following Sony’s price hike with Microsoft’s own increase in Xbox prices. Microsoft repeatedly mentioned losing the console wars and being in a distant third place during the FTC v. Microsoft hearing.
Spencer then explains he purchased a PS5 in August 2022. “Sony has been force bundling HZD for $50 [additional] for awhile now,” said Spencer. “I bought my PS5 2 weeks ago and only option was HZD bundle at $549.” HZD incorrectly refers to Horizon Zero Dawn here, as it was Horizon Forbidden West that Sony bundled with the PS5.
The back and forth might explain why Microsoft held off on an Xbox Series X price increase for nearly a year. Microsoft increased its Xbox Series X prices in most countries in August, apart from the US, Japan, Chile, Brazil, and Colombia. The updated Xbox Series X console pricing largely matches the price hike Sony announced for the PS5 in 2022.
Update, 1:15PM ET: Added a link to the unredacted email.