For years, gaming consoles have been split into easily distinct generational cycles. Consumers have long settled into a comfortable routine of purchasing a new console every five to eight years or so, each iteration bringing fairly sizeable improvements over their predecessors. From 8-bit to 16-bit, standard definition to high definition, the term ‘next-gen’ brings with it a certain degree of expectation among consumers.
With the release of PS4 and Xbox One, the leap of quality over their older siblings was admittedly smaller than a lot of people were perhaps anticipating. The graphics were of course an improvement, quite vastly in some cases, but without the obvious upgrade that high definition afforded the PS3 and Xbox 360, it was more a case of ‘evolution’ than ‘revolution’ with the current generation consoles.
This can also be attributed to the games we’re seeing on the current systems. Whilst the big hitting franchise Call of Duty wasn’t born on PS3 or 360, it was on those consoles that it truly flourished, becoming one of the defining series of games for that generation, much like Grand Theft Auto became one of the defining franchises in the PS2 era. These games, for their time, were billed as ‘next-gen’, bringing to the table experiences that simply couldn’t have been possible on older machines (or rather could have been with some drastic sacrifices). With the PS4 and Xbox One, so far we’re just seeing evolutions of established franchises, with Call of Duty and Battlefield leading the charge, bringing with them little more than prettier graphics and more robust online infrastructures. A glimmer of potential was seen in the recent PS4 title No Man’s Sky, a game that boasted 18 quintillion freely explorable planets, something that would not have been possible on PS3. The game fell short by most people’s expectations, with many adamant that we have yet to see a true ‘next-gen’ title.
With the gap in quality shrinking between console generations, will developers and consumers be content with the same consoles for the next five years or so? Sony and Microsoft certainly don’t seem to think so. Their plan (so far as I can guess with what little information we have) is to take the Xbox and PlayStation brand and turn them into an upgradable platform. Much like phones and tablets, we’ll start seeing new iterations of consoles on a more frequent basis which, in theory, will provide up to date specs whilst remaining backwards compatible with past releases. The head of Xbox Games Marketing Aaron Greenberg believes that this will be the last console generation, at least as we know it, stating that “we (Microsoft) think the future is without console generations”.
A bold statement indeed. It’s not however, completely out of the question. In time, consumers will accept this new business practice, but with Microsoft’s first upgrade of Xbox One, Project Scorpio, they have already hit somewhat of a brick wall. Boasting six teraflops of graphical performance for true 4K gaming, Project Scorpio is a massive leap from what the current Xbox One is capable of, almost to the point of being a next generation console in itself. However, Microsoft has explicitly stated that there will be no exclusive games on Project Scorpio – all games going forward will work on every Xbox machine. If that’s true, how will they hope to advance forward if all their future software has to accommodate to less powerful hardware? At some point, they must break away from the current Xbox One and make Scorpio their one and only SKU. This will of course cause inevitable outrage in those who choose not to upgrade to the Scorpio, and understandably so; Microsoft reassuring these owners from the get go that they don’t need to upgrade if they don’t want has forced the company into a situation where there *will* be backlash no matter what their decision will ultimately be.
Sony has found itself in a similar situation with the newly announced Playstation 4 Pro. Previously known as the Playstation Neo, this boosts the CPU to more than double that of the current model, rendering games in 4K. This upgrade in pixel density is what Sony chose to focus on with their reveal, making the gap between PS4 and PS4 Pro less prominent than that of the Xbox One and Scorpio. Nevertheless, Sony will find themselves in a situation where they will need to make a decision: do they continue to bring games to both systems and sacrifice certain elements for the base PS4, or will they eventually focus purely on the Pro?
Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that console gaming is changing. We’ve had upgrades in the past, notably with the New Nintendo 3DS. But what Microsoft and Sony are proposing is something more drastic. I fully expect a Playstation 5 at some point in the future, but at the same time I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t one.
If you follow.