Since the dawn of gaming, there have been a few constants that we never thought would be broken. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft will always be in competition, games based on movies will usually be crappy, and consoles come out in generations. With the release of the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X, that last constant has been forever shattered.
Iterative consoles are here, but do they represent the future? Will we never see a quantum leap forward with a next generation machine? Will it always be just one upgrade after another? It’s time we looked at the facts and speculate on the future of console gaming.
Shifting The Playing Field: How The Industry Has Changed
Until this latest generation, console releases moved at a pretty normal pace. You had the PS1, the PS2, the PS3, and now the PS4. Consoles moved at a relatively predictable pace, but in the background, there was alway this tension between console gamers and PC gamers.
As consoles aged, so too did the hardware. While developers always did an incredible job of pushing the consoles to their limits, the gap between console and PC hardware has always represented an elephant in room. As the growth of PC power accelerated, this gap only widened, so it’s only fair that Sony wanted to prevent people from leaping from consoles to PC as the generation goes on.
Their solution was to introduce a console that would sit alongside the PS4 within the same generation, but offer additional power that would entice hardcore gamers to stick around instead of jumping to PC.
Andrew House, the boss of PlayStation, spoke with Polygon prior to the release of the PS4 Pro, and explained this reasoning behind the iterative upgrade.
In the interview Andrew house said:
"There's a dip mid-console lifecycle where the players who want the very best graphical experience will start to migrate to PC, because that's obviously where it's to be had. We wanted to keep those people within our ecosystem by giving the very best, and very highest performance quality."
In seeking to hit the PC bar with a console, PS4 Pro doesn't quite meet the expectation. Thus far, it's only really focused on 4K, which is something PC gamers enjoy, but the not the sole reason people tend to gravitate to PC for gaming. Other things like frame rates, graphics, and effects are also higher fidelity on a high-powered PC.
The PS4 Pro does offer more power, but with almost a year under its belt, I haven’t seen enough from it to convince gamers that it’s the better choice over a PC. This is mostly due to the fact that the console is focused primarily on 4K, which is nice, but PC power offers more than just higher resolutions. Better graphics, higher frame rates, and the option to continuously upgrade are all good reasons to choose it over consoles.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the PS4 Pro and I do own one, but I don’t think it was absolutely necessary if I’m being honest. It’s a nice system and I’ve noticed some improvements in specific games that support it, and VR looks nice too, but I would have rather waited on the PS5.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is coming out with the Xbox One X. It’s even more powerful than the PS4 Pro and boasts some serious specs. Again, though, it’s focused primarily on 4K with options for other improvements. While the actual usage of the console’s power remains to be seen, it looks like we have another iterative upgrade that, while substantial, still misses the point of a new console.
It’s important to consider the other side of the playing field as well. Iterative consoles have only just now come into existence. I can’t judge the entire concept based on the first try. While I don’t like the idea of a new console every few years, a lot of us are already dropping this kind of cash on smartphones and tablets. And by the way PC gamers suffer the same heachaches of constantly having to drop some serious cash to keep up with the latest hardware releases.
While consoles are just now getting iterative upgrades, Nintendo has been doing it for years with their lineup of handhelds. The DS went through not one, not two, but four total iterations (DS, DS lite, DSi, DSi XL) before the 3DS came out as the next generation. With over 154 million units sold in its lifetime, it wasn’t a bad business model.
While hardcore gamers like myself will feel the urge to be at the forefront of everything, these new iterative consoles do not have their own games. Everything plays on the new hardware and the old. It’s all the same generation, after all.
While this is the case now, even if we move forward with more iterations, there will be a certain point at which new games cannot run on older consoles. At this time, it makes more sense to jump to a new generation and start fresh.
To our earlier point regarding smartphones, keep in mind that people usually upgrade with a contract to pay the phone off over a long period of time. Consoles don’t currently offer such options. Maybe they could?
There’s pros and cons to the entire situation, which is why we have to consider all the options. The real question now, is whether these consoles represent the future? Will we never see a next generation console? It’s time to look to Sony for answers to that question.
Sony’s Stance on Iterative Consoles: The PS5 is Still Coming
Sony is taking the approach that I think is the best concept for how to handle the future. They are accepting iterative consoles like the PS4 Pro as an option, but they aren’t giving up on the concept of generations either.
Shawn Layden, in an interview with a German Magazine, said that the PS5 will happen, but it won’t be anytime soon. I’m perfectly fine with that approach. I think iterative consoles can be useful, if they’re handled properly. This first run was too focused on 4K to really benefit gamers as a whole, but if the next upgrade sought to boost every aspect of the experience, even just a little, it could make for a much better value proposition.
It’s currently unclear what Microsoft will be doing in the future, as they are currently focused on Xbox One X, but if one thing is certain, we at least know that Sony will still bring us that generational leap we know and love when the PS5 releases.
Personally, I think experimenting with iterative upgrades is fine, so long as we don’t forget what makes console gaming great. It’s nice to have the constant upgrades that PC offers, but consoles have always been a sturdy rock for players to depend on. Anytime a new game was announced, you knew it would work on your system.
You don’t have to worry about tweaking the settings or upgrading your RAM. You put in the disc, download the game, and it just works. That’s always been the main appeal of consoles, and when things started to plateau, a next generation was always ready to blow your socks off and renew your love for the brand.
That cycle has worked flawlessly until now. I think iterative upgrades have a place in the ever-changing industry, but I’m with Sony in the “don’t fix what isn’t broken” crowd. You can have your Pros and your X’s, but don’t forget that one day gamers will want, and expect, a PS5.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you think iterative consoles should be the way of the future? Is a mixed approach the right call? Let us know in the comments!
The opinions and views of this article are solely that of the author's (Bradley Ramsey) and do not reflect the views of Sony or Microsoft.