Are We Ready To Talk About PS5?

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Some rumblings about a “PlayStation 5” have been going around lately. I either haven’t laid out what I think might happen with the next Sony console or just haven’t done so in at least a couple years. As the current console generation drags on almost two years after the release of upgraded consoles and going on five years since the initial launch of this generation, how much longer do we have to go?

The Kotaku piece linked above points out how some have speculated a PS5 showing up as early as 2019 or even later this year. According to Kotaku, if any developers do have development kits, they’re the earliest kind of kit that’s pretty much just a PC with an approximation of the specs developers can expect down the line. In my opinion the real juicy bit of the article is actually all the way at the bottom: According to what developers currently know or can surmise based on what they know, the PS5 would be a machine that, unlike the PlayStaiton 4 Pro, will run games that won’t run on the original PS4 at all, and that it’s probably closer to 2020.

Personally, I never expected to see a PS5 (or a true next-generation Xbox) earlier than 2020. It’s true that this would be seven years since the launch of the original PS4 and Xbox One, making the current console generation of similar length to the previous one which was supposed to be an aberration, but the truth is the PS4 still seems to be doing pretty well right now. Now doesn’t feel like the time to ramp it down, but more on that later.

Perhaps the biggest reason console generations might be getting longer is it’s taking longer for the computer hardware for appreciable gains in graphics to appear. A good way to guess when a PS5 might show up is to simply check out the future roadmap of the company making the chips going into PlayStation and Xbox consoles — AMD.

At CES 2018 earlier this year AMD laid out just such a roadmap stretching towards 2020, previewing what kinds of processors it plans to have available by then. If anyone who is really an expert is reading this, would it be smart to assume Sony might go for a “Zen 2” CPU and a “Vega” or “Navi” GPU? As far as I understand it that would put manufacture of a console on track for a release sometime in 2020.

Some other report, possibly the one the Kotaku piece sort of debunked, also stated there’s “no guarantee” the PS5 will be backwards compatible with PS4 games. It’s obviously too soon to state anything concrete about this, but I will say this: Compared to the transition from the last console generation to the current one, backwards compatibility seems like it’s not only going to be somewhat easier due to the continuing use of x86 architecture, but also more important. It’s also becoming increasingly likely Microsoft will prioritize it going forward.

Part of the reason it doesn’t seem like the right time to ramp down the PS4 is because of long-tail service-driven games that are getting more and more players years after their initial launches with no sign of slowing down. One of the biggest challenges facing a hypothetical PS5 with no support for PS4 games would be launching without MinecraftFortniteGrand Theft Auto VOverwatchRainbow Six Siege, and whatever other mega-popular service games come out over the next couple years. No new PS5-exclusive game is going to be good enough to draw enough players away from those games for any significant amount of time, not even if the graphics look like Avatar. And Sony can’t rely on the developers of all those games having PS5 ports ready in short order. Backwards compatibility would be logically the easiest way to let users keep playing their favorite games after upgrading to a new console. The environment of these games is increasingly looking like the PC landscape, where popular games stay popular for so long they transcend hardware generations, where you get games like Warcraft III and Team Fortress 2 that remain healthy for over a decade.

Microsoft’s recent emphasis on backwards compatibility, making games you might have bought years ago like Red Dead Redemption or SSX3 play on your new Xbox One X at high resolution, indicates that company will go in this direction whenever a new Xbox arrives. Microsoft is apparently making its games increasingly hardware-agnostic1 between Xbox console models and Windows. There’s a great chance the games I mentioned in the above paragraph will be playable on the next Xbox on day one, maybe even with some automatic upgrades. I don’t think it would look good if a PS5 forced users to pay again for new versions of their favorite PS4 games while Xbox users simply had to upgrade their hardware in order to upgrade their games.

Whenever the next round of game consoles shows up, what’s been going on during the current generation indicates the transition will be different next time around. How different remains to be seen.

Oh, and optical discs for game console are probably gonna be around for a while yet. The infrastructure just doesn’t exist yet in a lot of places to go full digital for 50-100GB games.

BULLETS:

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2 thoughts on “Are We Ready To Talk About PS5?

  1. volvocrusher says:

    I could see MS transition to all digital if they go the direction I think they will with pushing game pass and a console model that more closely resembles cell phone upgrades. Sony will be a while though because Japan isn’t ready for an all digital future, MS doesn’t need to worry about that.

    • RedSwirl says:

      Microsoft is bound to the same problem as Sony — too many places right now don’t have the infrastructure to go all digital for 50-100GB games.

      I’m sure Microsoft would live to move towards prioritizing things like Game Pass and Xbox Live purchases, but the next-gen consoles on both sides WILL still have optical drives. There might be a version of each one without an optical drive if it can save a lot of money and drive digital purchases, but there will definitely be disc drive versions available. Too many people are still stuck with like, 10mpbs internet and 300GB monthly data caps.

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