It wasn’t too long ago you could buy a console which would last an entire generation. A generation that could last upwards of 10 years, or around 7 or 8 years before a new console would be announced and everyone becomes desperate for a new release. It was great. You give up the ability to play the most high end specs to get longevity. Dump 400 dollars in the unit (or 600 for those of us that bought a PS3 at launch) and it lasts years. No need to worry about “minimum specs” releasing, or if your specific hardware will have the proper features to run a game correctly.
Then things changed and Sony announced a mid-generation slight upgrade with the PS4 Pro. While Microsoft denied they would follow suit they eventually did with Scorpio, which is releasing later this year. We didn’t even make it 3 years into the generation and they already want to push new hardware out.
Both feature increased performance features and, while they deny it, we are already seeing our biggest fear rise before our eyes. Games on “lower end” units are seeing decreased performance. Look at Mass Effect having framerate issues on the original PS4 and not the PS4 Pro for a great example. Primarily, this was the fear many of us had. The divide between performance for the “high end” units and the low end ones. No matter how they sell it, they are advertising the increased power. If they are going to give people a reason to buy the higher end units then there will be a divide, thus ruining the major reason to own a console.
Nintendo has been down this road a few times now, but they did things almost similar to what consoles already had with “slim” models. While new models were releasing rather fast, the older models were not becoming outdated. Normally their leaps consist of some major change to hardware though, and older units remain supported. Sure DS to 3DS wasn’t a huge change, but we were not too mad about it. What we were mad about was the “new 3DS” releasing which simply put a tiny bit of horsepower into the 3DS. What then happened was a select few games were exclusive to the unit, and some games played like absolute crap on older units. Luckily a lot of developers opted to ignore the “new 3DS” in hopes of selling more units. However it is these slight upgrades that turn off casual fans of the company, like myself, because it seems like once we jump in we are already behind.
Which leaves us with the last reason to own a console, games, but that too seems to be lacking.
The most important thing to look at is the fact we are seeing these mid generation releases for no reason. What exactly do we need more horsepower for? Each console only has a handful of exclusives, and a majority of modern day releases consist of low power indie titles. Microsoft started out strong with exclusives but has dwindled off as of late. My Xbox hasn’t been turned on in some time, and cancelling Xbox Live hasn’t hurt me in the slightest. Why would I rush out and buy a better Xbox if I have nothing to play on it?
Then we look at Sony and, as a fan, I must admit that PS4 has felt rather dry in comparison to previous generations. They jumped on the lame “timed third party” train, and their exclusive train has been rather slow with a few AAA releases a year, and most them getting delayed. Their E3 showcase last year was jaw dropping, but then you realize the games were announced for years to come which thins it out a bit for yearly releases.
To make matters worse we see these amazing looking games and now we are told that we have to “upgrade” to PS4 Pro for the “right experience” or get PS VR, so we question why we had a PS4 this whole time. I feel like Scorpio is going to do the same thing to Xbox One and that will be even more painful considering the agony Xbox One fans have had to endure to support the machine.
The fact is, Scorpio and PS4 Pro is where this generation should have started, but they wanted to start it early. Get cheap units out the door and get the excitement of a new generation going. Then they fell behind with PC card makers substantially passing them up and they decided to release proper units. Now they are trying to create this same buzz of new consoles for a mid generation upgrade, 3-4 years into the generation life cycle, but it’s honestly not working. It’s missing two key aspects. Games and features.
This generation hasn’t been exciting and there is nothing to really push boundaries for new hardware. When I talk to people about Xbox Scorpio, expecting them to show excitement, I instead get responses like “yeah, and what are we going to play on it?” Sure we get all this horsepower, as both Sony and Microsoft constantly tell us, but what is it going to be used for? Another rendition of Halo? More Uncharted? Slight boosts in third party titles?
That’s the problem with the whole idea, we haven’t seen the limits just yet. When last generation was ending we were seeing the consoles being pushed to their absolute max. We had a robust lineup of titles to look at, and we simply NEEDED something more. Currently we have a handful of titles we enjoy and a few gems that have popped up, but nothing that has felt hardware restricted in the slightest.
Unless you are a 4k enthusiast (which is basically all we are getting, higher resolutions and some texture upgrades); yet they are making us feel like owning an “older unit” is outdated, and somewhat punishing us with improper performance. It reminds me a lot of the mobile industry where a new yearly phone releases and the old phone is now “out dated” and can’t run simplistic apps because they are not geared for it.
Furthermore, there’s a rumor that Scorpio will allow users to upgrade internal components to increase performance over time. (Noting, Microsoft won’t directly deny this rumor yet.) You might think it’s a great idea because you can just buy a new upgrade 5 or so years down the road, but looking at trends that isn’t how that works. Look at PC’s, new graphics cards release yearly, which slowly out date older cards due to performance constraints as games gear towards new cards. Mobile phones see yearly model releases and what happens to older phones? Updates end, apps become incompatible, and this phone with a lot of horsepower becomes an expensive paper anchor.
With bigger hardware also comes higher stress on developers, and publishers, to take advantage of it. Perhaps PS2 and other generations had so many games because they were simply easier to make. You had a studio of a dozen people and you could make a game that competes with the entire industry. Today, with the demand for high visuals and features, we see studios with hundreds of people that make one or two games a year. Now we are asking them to not only up their performance, but find a way to make it run “better” on new units, while not hindering performance on slower units.
This leads to major dry runs of games. I was actually personally trying to budget some money to buy some new games, but quickly realized there was almost nothing releasing for months and decided against it. I browse digital stores and if it wasn’t for indie titles I’d have nothing to really click on. I check out Scorpio or PS4 Pro and look for reasons to buy one and can’t find one. I mean, other than “needing” 4k output which both companies knew was coming and should have prepped for to begin with. Basically I’m looking for reasons to be excited and can’t find any, mostly because there are no games that get me excited. Adding more games to your library doesn’t require a hardware increase.
Giving credit where it is due, Microsoft is doing one thing correctly with backwards compatibility. The acknowledgment that all generations of Xbox will function with future iterations is very promising and a bright spot in Xbox’s long twisting road. It’s a promise I hope they keep, and a lesson I hope Sony eventually learns. We want access to more games, it’s that simple.