Can’t stress enough I feel exclusives have 0 weight in themselves beyond small bumps. Sony barely has to try and MS has to be objectively better just to stay not-far-behind. It’s unfair and subjective but in doing so I benefit immensely. While Xbox will lose in the console space, I actually believe it’s more then possible the Xbox brand can surpass PS between Console/Xcloud/GamePass/PC Xbox.
Combined sales 180 - 200 million
Even though I can see where you are coming from, I hav to disagree. Sure, brand recognition and accumulated goodwill do wonders for companys. But how did they get there, if it wasn't for the production of quality products.
But there is also the other side of this: when you are top dog, you still have to present top quality products. The expectations are way higher. Say Rockstar comes out with GTA 6, but it is as good as Days Gone (which I think is an alright game). People would not take it well at all. BendStudio is not THE AAA studio, it is actually quite obscure in comparison to Rockstar, so reception was better. But still not great, since people come to expect more from Sony first party.
Crackdown 3 was quite disappointing. Imagine it would have been as good as Days Gone. Of course it would have done better than the Crackdown 3 we got. But I lean towards assuming that it would have done even better (critically and commercially) than the Days Gone we've got.
That is, because contrary to what you said, I think Microsoft first party can get away with less, since the expectations are less and people are more eager for something and will more easily settle for good enough.
Also, I think exclusives play an abolutely huge role in console sales.
Also also, we don't know if "Sony barely has to try", since their output of exlusives is quite fantastic and I think they really try hard. In my estimation people would be quick to word their dissatisfaction if Sony barely tried, with a resulting dip in quality and quantity of exclusives and less consoles sold.