Why Are So Many Games Releasing On Current And Next-Gen Consoles?

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So far almost every big game coming out later this year has “Also Releasing On Next Generation Consoles” at the end of the trailer. Having games come out on more than one generation of hardware near hardware transitions isn’t unusual, but I think the extent to which it’s happening now definitely is. I still don’t know if this is a good or bad thing.

This is the first year I remember where nearly all of the biggest games are cross-generational, and it’s easy to think this bet-hedging on the part of game publishers might slow down consumer adoption of next generation consoles. Maybe publishers think adoption is already going to be slow, but if so, this strategy could result in a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s a matter of several factors though: things like the next-gen difference, what customers ultimately care about, and exclusives.

I think this could have a bigger effect than it may have had during the Xbox 360’s launch. I think more than half of the 360’s launch lineup was made up of games that were also available for the previous generation of consoles. Not many of them however were the kinds of games that actually draw hardware purchases — mostly sports games or franchise titles. This was also before the era of $10+ million games hinging on 5-plus million sales.

Among others, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Batman: Arkham Origins, Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag, and Battlefield 4 will be coming out on the PS3 and Xbox 360 as well as the PS4 and the next Xbox this year. Grand Theft Auto V is only coming out on current generation machines and we know the PS4 won’t play PS3 games. On that front, the PS3 itself is getting quite a few enticing exclusives this year like The Last of Us, Beyond: Two Souls, and most notably Gran Turismo 6. It’s funny that the “Year of the PS3” ends up being the year in which the PS4 launches.

Basically, pretty much all of the most important games on the market right now — the games that would most effectively sell new hardware, will be playable on the current consoles. Gamers this fall won’t feel bad about delaying buying into next-gen.

On the flipside, this strategy also ensures that the PS4 and next Xbox will have a lot of really big games to play right out of the gate. Launch lineups are rarely very good — they usually don’t start day one with games as good as Call of Duty, Arkham, Battlefield, or Assassin’s Creed. Those who do decide to upgrade hardware certainly won’t have a lack of games to play, it’s just a matter of whether the upgrade is worth it.

We really don’t know yet what the next-gen versions of these games will look like compared to the current-gen versions. Last time around most cross-gen games were basically PS2 games running at higher resolutions with extra graphical effects thrown on like King Kong or the original Need for Speed Most Wanted. I think we could see the same thing happen this year with a few games being more targeted towards next-gen. I think the best metric we have to go on right now are the differences between recent console games and their PC versions running at max settings, which varies from game to game.

Battlefield 4 will probably be a game you want to play on either next-gen machines or PC. With Battlefield 3 there was a pretty huge difference between the console versions and the PC version, and EA is promoting an upgraded version of that already impressive engine. People are pretty down on Medal of Honor Warfighter, but I think this footage of the PC version maxed-out looks like how I would want a PS4 game to look. The same could be true of any other game EA reveals in the near future running on the Frostbite 3 engine. We can’t really say much on Call of Duty until next week when they reveal the game and its new engine.

I have a feeling Assassin’s Creed IV on the other hand won’t see as big a change in the leap to newer hardware. The PC versions of previous Creed games haven’t looked like drastic upgrades from what I’ve seen. They’re pretty much games made for current consoles. I could be wrong and Ubisoft could be making significant upgrades to their AnvilNext engine though. We’ve only seen a little bit of gameplay. Ubisoft has already confirmed that Watch_Dogs is targeting next-gen hardware and then porting down to current-gen.

Other games are also interesting cases. If Metro Last Light or even Metro 2033 get PS4 ports as 4A games have hinted might be possible, those could really be impressive. 2033 has been known as one of the more technically demanding and beautiful games on PC, comparable to the Crysis games, and I imagine Last Light could only be more so. We’ve already seen that the PS3 version of Diablo III looks considerably chopped down compared to the PC version (which doesn’t even require a beast computer to run), so I think the PS4 version will definitely look and run noticeably better.

Aside from all those games, the main thing software-wise that will and has always prompted hardware upgrades is exclusive games. This is what I see as the main problem right now: we haven’t seen a huge number yet.

It’s probably not fair to call out Sony and Microsoft just yet because if I were them I’d be revealing exclusives at E3 — which will probably be mostly first party games. Third parties are obviously doing the cross-gen thing because whether you buy the PS3 or PS4 version of their game, they end up with the same cut of your money.  You gotta admit it’s gonna be hard for Sony and Microsoft to bring out exclusives that can generate sufficient hype in the face of Call of Duty, Battlefield, Assassin’s Creed, and the current-gen-only GTA V.

Sony’s biggest reveals so far are KillZone Shadow Fall and inFamous: Second Son. DriveClub now has to contend with Sony’s own current-gen Gran Turismo 6. Square Enix has that Final Fantasy announcement coming (they’ve also got Lightning Returns hitting current-gen machines this year) and there’s the possibility of The Last Guardian being a PS4 game which would make me reluctantly get one.

Microsoft reportedly has new IPs coming but we won’t know anything until at least next week. Halo 5 ain’t gonna be ready until at least fall 2014. I’m predicting Forza 5 but that’s just me. They could be at a real good short term advantage if the next Xbox is backwards compatible. It’ll be easy for people to upgrade knowing they can play GTA V on their new Xbox, but not the PS4.

Ultimately though it could just be a matter of who the publishers and console manufacturers are going for right now. After seven years of the same consoles I think the hardcore early adopters will go ahead and upgrade to new consoles. That audience usually makes up the bulk of hardware launch sales anyway, with the mass audience typically buying in once prices have gone down. Maybe publishers have finally realized this and are adjusting their pipelines accordingly.

I still think the gaming industry tried to kill off the PS2 too quickly, and the PS3 paid for it. The PS2 was cheap and still getting great games while the PS3 was struggling to build its value. Compared to the adoption of new platforms in other media, video games tend to take things into turbo speed when you think about it. DVD didn’t go away as soon as Blu-Ray emerged, and neither did CD as soon as the mp3 emerged.

What we could be looking at is a soft launch of the next console generation. Publishers might be realizing that most people aren’t going to buy new consoles at $400 or $500, just as most people probably found Blu-Ray players prohibitively expensive when they first hit the market. At the same time, the PS3 and Xbox 360 still have quite a bit of room left for price drops. The basic set of each console (with a hard drive in the case of the 360) still costs $300, which in my opinion is a bigger reason for their decreasing sales than simple market saturation. Who knows how much they could continue selling at $150 or $100. Plus there are also the rumors of an even slimmer, all-digital $100 Xbox 360.

Hardcore gamers maybe “starving” for new hardware as Ubisoft recently said, but I think the industry at large has realized that not everyone is.

BULLETS:

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