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With PS5 and Xbox Series X/S out in the open, Xbox Series S is the clear value winner

PS5 DualSense, Xbox Series X Controller
PS5 DualSense, Xbox Series X Controller (Image credit: Windows Central)

With the Sony rather unceremoniously dropping PlayStation 5 preorders without warning yesterday (despite prior claims there would be at least some warning), we finally got the full official picture on what the cost of next-gen gaming will look like for console fans.

The PlayStation 5 Digital Edition comes in at $399, with its disc-based cousin hitting $499 for a direct showdown with the Xbox Series X. The outlier is, interestingly, Microsoft's worst-kept-secret, the Xbox Series S — which is just $299.

In years passed, Microsoft's $249 Xbox One S "All-Digital" experiment turned out to be a success, despite skepticism across the board. Now both Sony and Microsoft are gunning for this emerging digital-only economy, where the margins on game sales are far superior, cutting out retailers almost entirely, while also killing the used game sales market in the process. Where Microsoft and Sony are sharply diverging is on the aftersale value proposition.

Sony's PlayStation beats Microsoft's Xbox a lot of things, but in 2020, value is objectively not one of them.

The small print

Playstation 5 Dualsense Controller

Source: Sony (Image credit: Source: Sony)

Sony's masterful management of the games media continues with the PlayStation 5 price reveal, which came hot on the heels of mysterious rumors of a console shortage, which Sony swiftly denied. Regardless, Bloomberg's report was enough to spook investors, driving down Sony's share price, and making waves among that all-important first-come-first-serve hardcore early adopter segment. Regardless of whether or not those rumors were genuine, the PlayStation 5 was likely to sell out regardless, as consumers flock to console gaming in an unprecedented global pandemic that is only likely to get worse as we head towards the holiday season.

Sony managed to get the price of its digital PS5 down to $399, putting it $100 lower than the Xbox Series X. The price disparity allows mainstream journalists with only a surface understanding of the industry and a bias to pander to whichever system is likely to be more popular with their audience to claim that the "PlayStation 5 is cheaper than the next-gen Xbox," omitting all the obvious details.

Among all the hubbub, you'd be forgiven if you missed the fact that Sony is joining other AAA publishers by dropping a fairly hefty price hike on its games, in some cases making a mockery of exchange rates in the process. PlayStation 5 games will go from $60 to $70 in the US, but will jump from £50 to £70 in the UK, a whopping $25 markup.

Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S (Image credit: Microsoft)

Playstation 5 Family (Image credit: Sony)

Source: Microsoft and Sony

There's a compelling argument that game prices should've increased years ago. Video game project budgets are ballooning to meet the increasing standards set by industry-leaders like Sony. Publishers are squeezing every ounce of aftermarket upsell they can into their games with post-sale microtransactions and similar mechanics while expecting more of their developers, who often work under intense conditions with long hours. To that end, Microsoft and other publishers holding on to $60 may well follow suit. But with Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft has effectively promised that it doesn't matter.

Whichever side of the argument you fall on about the value of a single AAA game, for the consumer, the clear value winner –even when you disregard the looming economic uncertainty– is Xbox Game Pass and Xbox All Access.

Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Series S is a value king

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

While Sony announced some very limited form of Xbox Game Pass with extra offerings to PlayStation Plus subscribers, it also went on record this morning to say it doesn't think Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass model is sustainable.

For hardcore gamers, a question of quality still hangs over Xbox Game Studios.

It's hard to take Sony's word at face value these days, considering they also said just a few months ago that it wouldn't be putting out cross-gen games between PS4 and PS5, criticizing Microsoft, only to U-turn and do just that.

With Sony's propensity for bending the truth, it's certainly possible they could one day do another U-turn and begin putting its headline titles like God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, and others day-and-date into a subscription service, similar to Xbox Game Pass. At that point, Microsoft could have a bit of a problem on their hands (more on that in a moment). It's not the case in 2020 or potentially for the foreseeable, though, making Xbox Game Pass the defacto best bang-for-your-buck way to play this holiday season. Ideal for parents, thanks to its price and Microsoft's Family Safety app, and ideal for people who graze and perhaps don't want to spend $70 a pop on the latest games. Xbox All Access also lets you spread out the cost of Game Pass and a console over two years, significantly reducing the day-one cost of entry.

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Even beyond that, the vast majority of displays out there are still 1080p. We haven't shifted over to 4K UHD as the global universal display standard. That makes the Xbox Series S, designed to max out at 1440p, a more sensible purchase for practically anyone who doesn't have a 4K set. The CPU, at the very least, matches the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, meaning games should run just as smoothly, even if they sacrifice some visual potency in the process.

Microsoft is effectively promising that all of its first-party games, from Halo, Forza, Gears, and many, many more are launching day-one into Xbox Game Pass as well, creating an immense amount of gameplay hours for $15 a month. And while that may not sway any of PlayStation's existing customers from PlayStation 5 fully, it potentially creates a no-brainer impulse purchase out of the Xbox Series S as a companion console for indulging in some of Microsoft's games without breaking the bank. Also, for future gamers and youngsters, I think parents will find the Xbox Series S as an excellent entry-level entertainment device that not only plays games, but can also throw in Disney+ and Netflix, something the Nintendo Switch is currently unable to do.

A very different console war

Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Even with the undeniable value of the Xbox Series S and subscriptions like Xbox All Access and Xbox Game Pass, I don't foresee that Xbox hardware will shift Sony from the top spot any time soon. Generation 8 was the wrong gen for Microsoft to lose, with people becoming effectively digitally-locked into their ecosystems, similarly to an iPhone user who won't switch to Android because they've already purchased tons of digital content on iOS that can't be refunded.

Microsoft may find Xbox to be at least as profitable as Sony's PlayStation division.

Despite selling fewer hardware units, Microsoft may find Xbox to be at least as profitable as Sony's PlayStation division. New markets opened up by Xbox Game Pass for PC and Microsoft's support of Steam, and their mammoth investment in cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass' Project xCloud feature could open up Xbox to emerging economies in a way console gaming simply hasn't been able to. Each Xbox Game Pass user on mobile is effectively an Xbox console user anyway, since the server blades are based on the same tech.

For hardcore gamers, a question of quality still hangs over Xbox Game Studios. Just as it's undeniable that Xbox Game Pass has the value, it's equally as undeniable that Sony is the king of AAA exclusives, with God of War, Spider-man, The Last of Us 2, and many others consistently delivering blockbuster Metacritic scores and adulation from fans. Microsoft is investing heavily in games, but the results have yet to bear much fruit. Some early signs have been positive, with Grounded from Obsidian capturing a considerable amount of attention on streaming platforms despite being in an early access format. Other signs have been less positive, though, with Halo Infinite delayed into 2021 after being widely mocked for its cartoony graphics. Hardcore gamers are just that, though, hardcore, and ultimately a smaller slice of the market than we'd often like to admit.

Nobody can predict the future with complete certainty, but Xbox has the pieces in play to thrive in Gen-9 with the Xbox Series S, Series X, and Xbox Game Pass. And millions will be grateful that it was Microsoft who offered the lowest point of entry to next-gen gaming.

Xbox Series X/S


Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • The extreme value that is Game Pass and Xcloud makes the Series X the winner in my book. Also Xbox has written the book on backwards compatibility. Old consoles break and those games are lost forever.
  • Back compat is the main reason I'm getting the Series X instead of the S - the discs. So many times I run into these gems in the wild for like $5 or less, some from the X360, and some from the XB1. I recently bought a whole games lot of 45 games (and pretty solid selection at that!) for $300. Deals like these are what make me stick to the disc medium as an option. It's just so satisfying not to miss passing deals like these!
  • "Back compat is the main reason I'm getting the Series X instead of the S - the discs. So many times I run into these gems in the wild for like $5 or less, some from the X360, and some from the XB1" Very good point
  • Yes, another reason not to go for digital-only. These digital-only only takes out options, and even the money you'll save initially might not be good enough because people would be forced to spend on more expensive digital games and extremely limited stores to get the games. And that's not talking on the need to get bigger hard disk space...
  • A digital only console does not take up more hard drive space than a console with a disc drive. All games are digital and must be downloaded. The disc is DRM essentially, especially when the patches make the data saved to download irrelevant. Other than that, sales for disc games continue to be cheaper (I have Cyberpunk 2077 preordered for $50 through Amazon) and is the only reason I continue to purchase that way when I do make one unless I get a good enough sale digitally. It really sucks that this is still the case for new content, I can understand used.
  • Really? I always thought that games digital games take little more space because part of the data is read from the BR disk. I think the difference though is having to keep a library without the need to download games again and again. Disk games takes a lot less time and I guess with the new SSDs of both consoles removing and installing games from disks will be a lot faster. I guess digital-only is more of a burden when you have smaller hard drive. I got Cyberpunk for 45€ and it's the day one. It's coming with Postcards, the Map, some
    stickers plus some digital stuff. Plus a retailer exclusive steelbook.
    I go to the PSN store it's 70€, I guess it'll have some digital stuff but that's it. And I would think it'll remain at 70 for at least 1 year, I mean a game like Borderlands 3 that came out last year is at 70 bucks.
  • I maybe talking out of my ass then, but I believe that was last gen where it actually still read the discs for part of it. I think it worked on the PS3 for part of the game since the total size of the game is so much lower than current games. I dont know how the 360 handled installs once they allowed it, I thought it was the whole thing, but I do know that some games were actually slower to load because it was designed to run off the disc. I guess we would have to do a side by side on a few games to know for sure for the current games. I am almost positive that when I convert my disc games to digital that I dont even have a download. If I do, it may be a few hundred kB for the license. That's a great point about the map in the game. I haven,t even thought about that. I probably haven't used one of those since GTA 3 since games have pretty good in game maps and people make good interactive ones online, but yeah, that is a huge loss for some people.
  • So in looking more the only thing I know for sure is that no one knows. Here is a forum from 5 years ago. It might be that it is possible they leave some assets on the disc, but I'm thinking they don't since that is just another way they have to package the game contents.
  • I think you're right. And even if it does take more space it's negligible.
    It's something I always thought to be true since often I hear the BR drive making noise but essentially I think it's more a DRM check like you said.
  • It is critical Microsoft captures as much NEW market/consumers as possible going forward, if they really want to profit from games. And I think Microsoft recognizes this - hence the $299 Series S to rope-in new customers. I don't think the next gen should be a play for the existing customers of Xbox or PlayStation - those are effectively locked-in to their ecosystems. I think it's a play for fresh guys - the upcoming kids just getting into console gaming. Those are the ones to go for. If the Series S truly delivers on performance equivalent to the Series X, with only reduced resolution, then that is awesome, as most 'casual' gamers won't even care.
  • Ask a kid to choose between XBox Series S or Spider-Man. I think we all know the answer.
  • The whole "Sony has better games" meme needs a honking big asterisk.
    As in "Sony has batter games in *some* categories."
    XBOX has *always* been better at WRPGs: Morrowind, Jade Empire, Kotor, Fable, Mass Effect were all XBOX exclusives. Most still are because of BC. Oblivion played way better on 360, Witcher 2 never hit PS3 or 4 and Fallout4 Mods on XBOX are way more powerful. Plus Obsidian is now first party.
    And shooters, there's both Gears and Halo, plus the usual third party cross-plats and MS was first and still is better at crossplatform online.
    So yeah, Sony has more popular 3rd person action games but that's not all that exists in the gaming world.
    If anything, MS has hosted some very interesting/experimental games like OVERLORD, CRACKDOWN, SUNSET OVERDRIVE, and QUANTUM BREAK. And last I heard SEA OF THIEVES was doing quite well.
    All of which are still playable on the SS and SX. So how about some respect for xbox games?
  • Skyrim originally played best on the 360 before the remastered version.
  • Well said. I thought I was actually in the minority, because I am typically not excited by the PS 'exclusives'. I really love the Mass effects, Morrowinds, Fallouts, etc. Those are my main games. And the occasional shooter every now and then.
  • I bought the Original XBOX to play Morrowind.
    The console was cheaper than than the cheapest required PC VIDEO CARD.
    Ditto for Oblivion and Fallout 4.
    After a while I stopped looking for a cheap PC solution.
    I don't do shooters, QTE, or hack-n-slash, but WRPGs I'll play a year at a time.
    Lots of replay value.
    You're not alone.
  • @fjtorres
    Your post made me laugh. From naming old gen 360 games to prove a point to include SO (which is also on PS4). Last generation was terrible when it comes to number of exclusives for XB1 and in terms of diversity.
    There was such a major drought of AAA exclusives for years. MS clearly had less games and didn't have the better rated games this generation. Now, things may change this gen with the new studios, but bringing 360 generation games and trying to ignore MS's failures this generation to try to prove a point isn't great.
  • Uh, you do realize SUNSET OVERDRIVE is published by Microsoft Studios?
    XBOX and WINDOWS only.
    Different strokes for different folks and all that. Some of us prefer a few of tbe right kinds of games than a lot of the wrong (for us) ones.
  • You do realise that Insomniac made and owns the game/franchise. Publishing? Yeah, they also published RoTR... Does that really matter? Yeah, well it's subjective like everything. Someone may prefer Crackdown 3 to God of war and another person may prefer Hardware: Rivals over Forza Horizon 4.
    I'm not talking about individuals preferences here.
    I'm just talking of how PS4 had more exclusives and more diversity with it's exclusives than XB1. The criticism about MS last gen was that they produced far less last generation compared to the PS4. In terms of diversity and number of games. The fact that you had to bring very old example of old gen games to prove your point about RPG shows the problem. And what made it worst was that often when the XB1 had exclusives they weren't doing as well critically as PS's exclusives... Like I said, let's hope things improve from now on...
  • Jez I do agree, but apparently the internet considers you wrong. All I keep seeing is that Sony already "won" because the PS5 starts at $400.
  • Let's see how people choose with their wallets. In either case, discless versions of both consoles are no go for me, I have way too many X360, XB1, and PS4 discs to go into the next-gen discless. Not an option. Plus can't beat the bargains on game discs. As far as I'm concerned, both consoles are the same price.
  • Really isn't. Digital Foundry, Eurogamer, IGN. There is the most negativity I've ever seen around the Playstation brand. The diehards will buy it. I mean even Xbox One sold out for its first 6 months. But casuals are not gonna go £70 a game. That's downright rediculous. It's the most expensive Playstation generation by far. Tons are upset with the price of exclusives. Even the spin off DLC short Spiderman MM is £51.99 when it should be £29.99. It's unbelievable.
  • They have to charge more for their first party games because they hadn't planned on selling the the PS5, especially the All digital for that cheap, but Microsoft forced their hand by revealing this series s at 299. They're trying to make up for the loss of selling the consoles at such a low price. I truly believe that if Sony had gone first they would have charge $550 to $600 for the PS5. Well done Microsoft
  • I gather you think the SS leak was intentional, then?
    (So do I. Way back when Digital Foundry did their hands-on video of the SX I took note of the design and I figured it was going to launch at $499. The SOC is smaller and the power draw less than the One X and the thing is designed for robot assembly. The SS internals look tbe same. I woudn't be surprised if they cost $200/400 and MS is making at least $50 on each.) Anyway, Sony is saying their pricing was set in concrete last spring.
    That no way no how are the price points a kneejerk reaction to Microsoft.
    That they were always going to $399/499. We'll just have to wait for the iFixit teardown to see if the Bloomberg price leak ($457 build cost) is real or not. Its not as we have any reason to doubt Sony's word.
  • Yeah well they also said earlier this year that they were waiting for Microsoft to determine their pricing. They also said that they would give people an ample enough time to pre-order the console and that it wouldn't be a last minute thing. They also said that they believed in console generations and weren't going the cross- gen route with games and had everyone believing that games like Spider-Man and Horizon weren't possible on current Gen consoles.. It's hard to believe anything that Sony says at this point. I don't believe for a second they were going to sell those consoles at the announced prices. If that was the case then this whole game of chicken they were playing with Microsoft for months was pointless....
  • That's what they say.
    Makes you wonder what they don't say, right?
  • What a rip off. Especially considering there is no multiplayer support.
  • Xbox the winner
  • I wasn't as impressed with the Sony conference. SPIDERMAN looks great and looking forward to God of War 2. But hopefully I can secure a Series X next week, as Sony didn't really show me why I need a PS5. Also, Spiderman and Horizion 2 are coming to Ps4. Then Dark souls is not my cup of tea, but will try it out on PC. But Xbox hands down imo is offering the most. Hopefully when there first part games finally come out, they will be on par with Sonys first party in quality. But for all other games, my series X will play them better, than PS5.
  • Now that it has been announced that Spider-Man, Fatboy(or whatever it's called) and Horizon zero are going to be cross gen, where are the people that were bashing Microsoft overdoing the same thing? Looks like the PS5 won't have any "true next Gen" games either since they're also on current Gen consoles. Does this mean the PS4 is going to hold back the PS5 or has the narrative magically changed now?
  • Sony literally imploded last night. Its like they wanted to be the bad guy and pi** people off. £70 for a AAA game is just insane. I honestly thought Sony would announce a PS gamepass with day 1 exclusives. How did this happen?? I have never seen so much negativity on the internet surrounding a Playstation product. John Litterman from Digital Foundry on Twitter ripped Sony a new backside. It's going crazy.
  • Where Sony painted a bullseye on their own backs was in charging *less* for the PS4 versions of tbe same game.
    If they really needed to charge more for the new games, then man up and charge $70 for tbe game. To everybody. Period.
    But charging more to the same people who just dropped hundreds of bucks on a new console solely on Sony's word for the *exact same game* was never going to sit well with folks.
    This at a time a lot of developers are not only charging the same for new games but also offering free upgrades to customers who bought the older version years ago. (C.f., CD PROJEKT and WITCHER 3). Did nobody at marketing think the most loyal of loyalists, the launch edition buyers, deserved a bit of consideration? And if they were going to announce it, did they have to announce it *after* preorders? Are they *that* short of cash?
  • They enjoy ripping off their sheep what do you expect? Who in their right mind would pay full price for single player only exclusives with little replay value. Those games are just weekend rentals.
  • Value is a tricky word to use, everyone values things different. While the Series S is the best value to someone on a budget and may only have a 1080p display it's a no brainer. The Digital PS5 is giving you next gen at the cheapest price if you don't mind not having a disc drive. As some have mentioned the Game Pass might be offering more value than the consoles themselves. It's a great time to be a gamer, even on PC at the moment.
  • If you want gamepass like service then Xbox is the better value, if you want the cheaper console without caring about visuals or performance then Xbox Series S is the way to go, if you want the best bang for the buck console in terms of hardware capabilities then the PS5 DE is the way to go, if you want the most powerful console then go for either the PS5 or XSX, they have both pros and cons. With this said, the strategy of both these companies is different and you should buy one by answering this question: Do you care about games or Gamepass like service? If your answer is games then there is no question, the PS5 is the way to go, the first is the most insane year in terms of exclusives I've ever seen (of course there is exceptions, you may not care about PS games for some reason), however if your answer is Gamepass like service, then there is no contest, Xbox Series S/X is the answer, gamepass just delivers the best bang for your buck in terms of games per dollar (of course, there is also exceptions here, if what you want is the cheapest acess for a variety of games with streaming included then PS Now is the right choice [60$/year] I'm still pissed at Sony for Horizon and Spider-Man being held back by the PS4 when they kinda implied they were true next gen games, but thankfully it's only 3 games and Ratchet is saved, I'm also pissed by them raising the price of games, now everyone next year is going to follow. The Pre-order part while they could give a few extra days heads up, I mainly blame on retailers for opening them way earlier.
  • "if you want the best bang for the buck console in terms of hardware capabilities" Then SBox Series X is the way to go, "if you want the most powerful console then go for" XBox Series X period. If you simple want value proposition, go for XBox series S
  • The PS5 has around the same power as the Xbox Series X, one has supposedly better GPU and the other as a faster SSD, so it's impossible to say wich is more powerful. The PS5 DE as the same power as the 100$ more expensive consoles with it only missing the disk drive. It has 2.5x< faster GPU, 1.6x more Ram, 2x the RAM Speed, 1.8x more storage, 2x < storage speed then the Xbox Series S for only 100$ more, that is way more then the 100$ difference from PS4 Slim vs Pro and even more than the 200$ difference between the Xbox One S vs One X.
  • Actually, it is easy.
    Profile any game and calculate how much time it spends processing data through the GPU vs the amount of time doing I/O.
  • It's not really, while one has the potential to bring a bit better resolutions, the other has the potential to bring better textures and load everything faster. What might be important to someone depends, is it playing at little higher resolution or to open a game, switch games, fast travel, etc. more seamlessly? It depends, that's why there is no console that is the most powerful. First party PS5 games will have an edge though, games like Ratchet & Clank are doing stuff that the Xbox Series X can not do without heavily sacrifice on detail or by making cool set pieces boring.
  • You are forgetting the entry price to PS5 DE is pretty good. But your locked into paying £70 a game then. It's actually better off and cheaper to get a Series X with Gamepass.
  • That is if you care about subscription services, I don't see alot of games that I care on PS Now and even less on GP so I wouldn't use it, alot of people (most) just buy a few specific games like CoD, GTA, AC, BF, Farcry, Cyberpunk 2077, etc. at launch launch or close to it or just play games like fortnite (that require gold but not PS+ or NSO) and do nothing else. And PS Now is not that different from GP. The best value for your buck relating to hardware capabilities is the PS5 DE, but even then the Blu-ray drive is really important for a few people, so certain people might find more value on the PS5/XSX, but overall I think that for most people the PS5 DE brings the best value. Value in itself is a complex topic, because if you don't care a single bit about FPS, resolution and graphics then the Series X offers absolutely nothing over the Series S, it may actually be worse because loading times will be bigger on it. If you just want to play CoD then PS4 in the short term will be better than the Series X because of benefits that PS gamers have with CoD games.
  • "Sony's PlayStation beats Microsoft's Xbox a lot of things"
    Are referring to this Gen, prior Gen or which Gen? If you are alluding to this Gen, I think that is a totally false claim.
  • Well, it has more exclusives, more current gen games.
    And it's always been more popular, and sold better in all 3 generations.
  • "there's a clear winner when it comes to value"
    That itself is wrong. There is no "clear winner" when it comes to subjective opinion. It's just opinions and everyone will have his own... All this talk about bias is laughable when a lot here are themselves biased towards MS...
    But that doesn't really matter. Sure, MS crowd here will call MS the winners, Sony crowd will call Sony the winners...
    And that probably no matter what Sony or MS did... Personally I don't care about that at this stage. I think PS5 should clearly outsell the XB Series console, because of many factors. First main console ever with no exclusives, PS is more global than XB who mostly cares for one market, overall popularity of the PS brand... For me it's about gaming and gamers, and while we had some nice trailers and game announcements yesterday, I think it was overall bad news for gamers. The price of the digital only console by Sony may speed up the rise of a digital-only world that both Sony and MS are going for. And while people will say "it's nice to have options", I'll just say it's nice until it's no longer going to be an option. We already know that unlike now with the (XB1 s and XB1 sad) we won't have a weaker XB option with a physical drive. Next, Sony are once again showing greed by increasing the price of their AAA games. ok it's not as bad as NBA 2K increasing the price of their microtransacation-filled services, but it's still bad for me. Yeah, they aren't usually adding microtransactions in their games (unlike some other publisher & console makers). And yes, they must be spending huge on making these games, but these games are also meant to sell their console and get people to their ecosystem. Another worrying trend is that it looks like Sony is investing quite a lot on on timed exclusive. And that's really pathetic. MS has their share of these timed exclusives but it's bad for gamers and gaming that these company spend money so delay games for "other" gamers. Ofc fanboys will celebrate these timed deals but this is bad and anti-gamers whoever is doing it. I'm certainly not going to get a PS5 anytime soon. I have loads of current gen games to play. ofc I probably won't own another XB console again, I already have a PC... The positive thing for gamers and gaming is that it looks like MS has decided to invest massively to make games for their renting service. So I hope MS can compete on that level this time...
    I'm really looking forward to what MS can make, and also on what PS is providing.
  • obviously it's subjective, you're reading an opinion article on the internet
  • Well, then how can you say "but in 2020, value is objectively not one of them." when value itself is a subjective term?