For as long as I can remember there has been a life cycle to the way in which video game consoles come and go. A console is traditionally announced, released, enjoyed for 5 or 6 years, and then the next big thing is revealed, signaling the obsolescence of the current model. You buy the shiny, powerful new model and place the older console on a shelf to collect dust and it’s games to go unplayed. This is the way that it’s always been and the way that most of us thought that it would always be. But recent trends show things may be changing, and after some initial reluctance I’ve come to conclusion that this shift in console philosophy is actually a good thing and couldn’t come soon enough.
I think I finally came to terms with this reality when rumors began swirling a few weeks ago about a possible reveal of the PlayStation 5 this year and my gut reaction was “Oh dear god, please don’t do that“. Normally I’m excited about the prospect of a new console generation and what kinds of advancements we will have to look forward to, but the more I think about the current gaming landscape I honestly can’t think of much of anything that I would want out of a ‘PlayStation 5’ or an ‘Xbox…. something’ that would warrant hitting reset on the current generation.
We’ve come to the point in gaming where I don’t know how many more technological ‘leaps and bounds’ there are to make, and I’m perfectly happy with the ‘hops and skips’ that we’ll probably be getting. Both Sony and Microsoft have already taken a partial step in the direction of generation-less consoles with the release of the PlayStation 4 PRO and Xbox One X. Instead of going the usual route of a new console and trying to improve the raw graphics capability, they’ve improved their hardware to take advantage of advancements in television like 4k resolution and HDR support. I think that’s where most of the future improvements will come, as I don’t know how much better I need graphics to look besides just changes to the way that we display them. Look at God of War, do you really need video games to look much better than that?
Besides the slowing down of technological milestones in gaming hardware, the other factor that has me wanting to see a change in how new consoles are designed moving forward is the changing way in which we are purchasing our games these days. More and more, many players are choosing to go all digital with their gaming libraries. Even myself, someone who has held on to buying physical games (for what is probably purely nostalgic reasons) has finally made the decision to go completely digital with all of my video game purchases moving forward. A big part of that decision is due to the brilliant way in which Microsoft is revolutionizing how people access their gaming library.
Ever since they announced that backwards compatibility would be coming to the Xbox One back in 2015, Microsoft has been building towards a generation-less future. They’ve steadily been adding Xbox 360 games to their list of compatible games over that time, and recently added support for the original Xbox console (they currently feature around 500 backwards compatible titles). So now you can play all 3 generations of Xbox games on one system, and the best part is that with the Xbox One X these games run better than ever, they’ve even added 4k support for a number of 360 titles making them look nearly as good as some of the brand new games coming out this year.
Microsoft has also stated that their intention is for their games library to be future proof, meaning that whatever their next console may look like, you will maintain access to your full library of games. The thought of never having to worry about losing access to my older games due to an older console that was either traded in, has broken, or is packed away in a closet is a game changer for me and has ensured that aside from console exclusives, I’ll be buying all of my future games on the Xbox to build up that library of games.
The one company who may stand in the way of this utopian future is Nintendo. So many of their recent consoles have relied on bizarre controllers and gimmicks that it’s hard to make them all available on one platform without having to offer separate controller peripherals for the Wii, Wii U, etc. They are also the one company that you could argue still has gains to make in the technology space, with the hardware in the Switch being closer to the PS3 or Xbox 360 in terms of graphical power. And recently they seem to be unsure about making their back catalogue of games available, so I wouldn’t count on them being a part of this vision.
It will be interesting to see what (if any) hardware announcements are made at E3 this summer, I personally would like to see Sony make a step towards the Xbox philosophy of embracing their history of games and incremental hardware changes. Imagine how amazing it would be to see them announce a new PlayStation that featured native 4k resolution and the ability to play and purchase games from the PS1 era on up to todays releases. If anybody seems primed to take advantage of a large history and catalogue of amazing games, it’s them.
It seems like a drastic change, but I feel like this the way things are leaning in the gaming industry. Your game console could soon be more akin to your iPhone, with the option to upgrade every couple of years with small but important enhancements and the ability to access every game from all of the previous generations. It would be a win/win situation in that Sony and Microsoft could continue to release new hardware for consumers to buy, but gamers would also not have to worry about that “fear of missing out” feeling when a new console hits the streets because we’d all still have access to the same games.
So I say to hell with console generations! Bring on the PlayStation Elite and the Xbox One Y or whatever the hell we’re going to be calling these things now. Video games are changing and I for one am not going to resist it anymore, I’m going to embrace these changes with arms wide open and controller in hand.