The End of Generations

By John Wahl

The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S are here and we’ve had several weeks now to check out the new consoles. All four new pieces of hardware from Sony and Microsoft are very impressive, despite having a some areas which need a bit of tweaking and refinement. They offer crisp, clear visuals and lightning fast load times that will make it difficult to ever go back to the way things were before. And after roughly three weeks with these new machines, one thing has become crystal clear.

The era of video game generations is over.

Typically, the way it has worked in generations past is that every 6 or 7 years we get a new piece of hardware. That hardware usually has cool new features and a games lineup that is only available on that new piece of tech. That’s more or less the way that console gaming has worked since it’s inception. This past generation saw a new wrinkle in that formula when both Sony and Microsoft introduced mid-generation consoles with the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X. These consoles boosted the power of their predecessors, offering things like 4K resolution and improved framerates.

After the success of both of those consoles, many people began to wonder if we would see console gaming adopt the “phone model” and offer new updates to consoles every 2 years or so as opposed to hard resets every 6 or 7 years. When the Xbox Series X was announced it seemed that perhaps that was indeed the case, with the new Xbox looking more like a continuation of their ecosystem as opposed to something altogether new, and promising to fully support their entire back catalog while offering impressive new tech like Quick Resume and a fast loading SSD.

Sony on the other hand seemed to indicate that they were taking a more traditional approach. The PlayStation 5 would be a forward thinking console which would leverage the power of the hardware to create games only possible on this new console. And their commitment to backwards compatibility was fuzzy, indicating that they may be aimed for a more traditional “hard break” between generations. They were two different approaches, neither of them right or wrong, that would differentiate the two console makers moving forward.

Shortly before launch though, Sony seemed to have a change of heart and pulled a 180, indicating that they would in fact also be blurring generational lines by offering most of their upcoming 1st party titles on the PS4 as well as the PS5. And now that we’ve had our hands on these new pieces hardware for awhile, it seems more apparent than ever that the way we have always viewed generations is gone and most likely never coming back.

With the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series, the companies are both attempting to embrace their current library of games and seamlessly transition current customers over to the new hardware. While Sony’s backwards compatibility features and catalog aren’t as robust as that offered by Xbox, they too are letting people play their PlayStation 4 games on their PS5s with many of them getting patched to take advantage of the newer consoles features. My suspicion is that it’s merely technical limitations that are stopping them from supporting generations before that, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them try and find some workaround like cloud gaming to make it happen in the future.

Microsoft is taking this philosophy one step further by making the UI of the Series X the same as the one currently used on the One X, meaning that when you plug in your new next gen hardware you’ll be greeted to an interface that will be immediately familiar (which could be good or bad depending on your feelings on it). It gives the whole experience the feeling not unlike that of upgrading your PC. Everything is more powerful, but works the way you remember.

The other way in which I feel these new consoles differ from generations past is in the technological and visual upgrades. Don’t get me wrong, these new consoles offer impressive advancements that will make your games look more beautiful than ever before, but the fact of the matter is that they just don’t offer the same leap that we’ve seen in years past when going from cartridge to disc based media, or the jump from SD to HD gaming. This is just the nature of the technology and we’re going to have to get used to these smaller and smaller advancements in the future. If you’re not the kind of person who is very technically savvy or pays attention to features like HDR or Ray Tracing, you’d be excused for not being able to tell the differences at a quick glance.

The features that make the PS5 and Series X stand out are hard to demonstrate with screenshots or 420p videos on YouTube. Fast loading, Quick Resume, Smart Delivery, 60fps, 4K resolution. There are all fantastic features, but they aren’t as easily identifiable to many customers and are tough to use when telling people why they should spend $500 to upgrade. Not to mention many of the features are dependent on you having a fairly new television capable of using them.

All of these factors add up to the fact that it just doesn’t make sense to continue with those hard reset generations that we have seen before. Consumers have made it clear that they want their game libraries to move forward with them with each new hardware upgrade, and the technical improvements (while impressive) are becoming harder and harder to point to and say “Look at why you need this new console!” And even these great new consoles are showing their limitation right off of the bat. Many of the new games are forcing players to choose between performance mode (60 fps) and fidelity mode (4k), meaning that we’re very likely to see new hardware in just a couple of years which will be able to do both, so start saving your pennies now for your PS5 Pro and your Xbox Series XL.

2 thoughts on “The End of Generations

  1. “My suspicion is that it’s merely technical limitations that are stopping them from supporting generations before that”

    this is massively the case for the PS3 for SONY even now because of the bonkers way they designed the PS3 and used the SPUs on the board (which is why it was so annoying to develop for). Even the PS5 doesn’t have the hardware to handle PS3 games properly.

    Love this though, you make a lot of really good points. it’s a really good read!

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