The “Pro-Cycle” of Video Game Consoles
With the announcement of the “Nintendo Switch” we now have three new video game consoles coming out in the next year. This puts us into an interesting time that has never before been seen in Video Game Consoles, what I like to call the “Pro-Cycle,” a period of time where we are getting .5 versions of our current game consoles, in place of brand new generations (with the exception of the Nintendo Switch, which was more of a cause of Nintendo making their “Wii” generation, much shorter than Microsoft and PlayStation’s Xbox 360 and PS3 lifespan).
So what does this mean for the industry, for development, and, more importantly, for you?
First, let’s talk about these new consoles and what the really mean to the industry. The PlayStation 4 Neo, or the PlayStation 4 Pro as it was officially named, was leaked earlier this year when developers started to leak information for the Neo developer kits (which contain the tools to allow games to be developed and tested on the new system). These reports gave the impression that the PlayStation 4 Neo, would be able to run games in Native 4K (which is 4 times the size of Standard 1080p HD) and have roughly double the processing power of the current PS4.
Announced in September’s “PlayStation Meeting,” the PS4 Pro wasn’t too far off that promise. Sporting a larger hard drive, advances in processing power, and expanded RAM, the PS4 Pro promises to bring a better 4K (as well as virtual reality) experience to the masses when it launches for $399.99 in November.
Never to be outdone, the Xbox “Project Scorpio” was announced during the e3 Press Conference in June, and if their reveal was to prove anything, Microsoft isn’t messing around with this second generation Xbox One (Scorpio may be a much better term to use for this.) While details on this new console are pretty scarce outside of the Fall 2017 release window, you can expect to hear a lot more about this new Xbox very soon.
What we do know so far is that it was inspired by, and will (allegedly) work with the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Headset, to support VR experiences similar to that which can currently be found on the PC. Likewise, Microsoft announced that the console will have six teraflops of graphics processing (which is roughly five times the power of a current Xbox One) and a new AMD processor that is comparable to what you would find in a gaming PC today. While we have to wait and see on what Microsoft has in store for us, it’s looking like Project Scorpio may be the most powerful console to be released to date.
Finally, we are left with yesterday’s announcement of the Nintendo Switch, a console-tablet-hybrid that will allow gamers to bring their games away from the living room and out into the big scary world. The announcement teaser shows gamers playing Zelda while uncomfortably sitting on a park bench, Skyrim while waiting for your delayed airplane, and NBA 2k in place of actual physical activity. Bringing Nintendo’s ever charming innovation over intensity, the console comes with a dock that remains on your entertainment stand, a detachable controller system that can be used on its own, and a grip peripheral for the console itself when detaching from the dock for gameplay in a mobile form.
While we can assume that the graphics and fidelity of Switch games won’t be held to the same standard as a PS4 or Xbox One, the Switch looks to be the perfect middle ground for gamers who want to be able to play anywhere. While we don’t know much about the console now, other than it’s powered by the mobile NVidia Tegra and THAT IT HAS A PORT OF SKYRIM COMING?!!?!?!?! (ahem… excuse me), with a release date of March 2017, Nintendo has five more months to show the world why they need this console.
So what does all of this mean? It shows a few paths of what we can predict for the future of video game consoles and how we all will be playing games in the future. To start, game consoles are becoming more and more like PCs. For those unfamiliar with PC gaming, it is standard practice to release a new version of popular processors and graphics cards on an annual cycle. With the modular nature of building PC from parts in place of buying them, this allows PC Gamers to swap out their old parts for the latest and greatest at any given time, to enhance their gameplay experiences.
We’ve finally reached a point in consoles where players want more and more performance out of their consoles to keep up with the realism that is expected of games of today. Even though these consoles could probably be squeezed even more (see Uncharted: Drakes Fortune compared to The Last of Us), Sony and Microsoft are starting to release more powerful consoles that can start to support higher quality games without the time it would take to optimize the same quality on older hardware, allowing for games to be made at a greater quality in less time.
More interestingly however, is the ever present “remaster” culture that has been occurring more and more. While it started becoming more mainstream with the PlayStation 3 featuring the re-release of PS2 games that featured graphic updates on high-def hardware, we have now seen more games from the PS3 and Xbox 360 coming over to the PS4 and Xbox One.
Just in the past six months we have seen a re-release of Ratchet & Clank, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered, Dead Island: Definitive Collection, Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered, Resident Evil 4 Re-Release, Gravity Rush: Remastered, BioShock: The Collection, Dead Rising Triple Pack, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered, Batman: Return to Arkham, Lego Harry Potter Collection, not to mention next week’s Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition and November’s Assassin’s Creed: The Ezio Collection (which comes with a ticket to the Assassin’s Creed Movie… so that’s something?).
It’s easy for developers to go back and touch up old games to allow them to continue making revenue off of already produced games, slashing production costs and allowing game studios like BluePoint and Iron Galaxy to create a new niche with porting. This becomes even more present with the Nintendo Switch announcement, where only two “new” games where shown — The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a new 3D Mario Game. All of the other games shown appear to have either been released on the Wii U, or were third-party titles on previous consoles.
So where does of this all take us? We soon could have an ever-updating generation of consoles that will just be updated every year or two. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because this is where PCs — and to a smaller extent, iPhones — have been operating for years. Game industry experts are starting to predict that Nintendo, Xbox, and PlayStation are creating ecosystems that will focus on the platform in place of the system. This will allow the various console manufacturers to create an App Store-like ecosystem, where no matter when you buy a game, it will work as long as you are a part of the ecosystem.
As an example… how many people still have Fruit Ninja or Angry Birds on their phone? I can guarantee that you can go back to games that were made for the iPhone’s launch in 2007, and that app will still work on your new iPhone 7, with little to no extra work for the developers. Apple has kept iOS essentially the same throughout the years, just updating their hardware to handle the platform and applications better and better.
Imagine a world where in 20 years, you can buy the new PlayStation 15, but still be able to go back and revisit 2015’s Until Dawn or Battlefield 1 without needing to buy a new “remastered” version. The original one just works. While games created for the PS15 won’t work with an “old” PS4, it will still allow you to carry forward your digital library, for as long as you are in the PlayStation brand.
So, am I reading into this too much? Are we just getting beefier consoles to support 4K and VR and that’s it? Or are we moving toward an annual or biannual console cycle? What game do you want to play on the PlayStation 15? Let me know in the comments below!