I’ve been a console gamer since I first got my hands on a PlayStation 2. Before that I used to play games on my Amiga 500, until 1995 when our family got our first PC - which from memory was a trusty Pentium Pro 150Mhz with a whopping 8MB of RAM and a roomy 1GB hard drive. But from a gaming perspective, the never-ending saga of having to upgrade video cards, sound cards, RAM and processors every 6 months just to be able to play the latest titles saw me convert to consoles. Since then, I’ve never looked back.
And it’s because of this that the recent announcements made by Sony and Microsoft have got me slightly concerned. Within the next year, both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 will get major hardware upgrades in the middle of what we term “this generation” of console. Just a few years after they launched.
Remember that the previous PlayStation 3 had an impressive ten year life-span, and many will agree that we saw some of the best games for that console towards the end of its reign. Titles like The Last of Us, Grand Theft Auto V and Bioshock: Infinite came at a time when developers had had the time to really discover and push the limits of what an ageing PS3 could deliver. Agreed, the PS3 had a facelift with a slimmer model release midway through, but the core engine of the console didn’t change.
This new proposed hardware update goes against what console manufacturers have been doing for a long time: selling powerful, future-proofed machines at a significant loss, with the intent of making a profit in the long term through selling games for five or more years. Consumers had the security of knowing that their investment would be worth it, and developers also knew they could dedicate resources to that technology for years, rather than months.
So why have both Sony and Microsoft (and Nintendo to a lesser extent, but that’s a different story) decided to change the rules? The details of the new consoles, currently titled Neo for the PlayStation 4 update, and Project Scorpio for Xbox One, haven’t been fully announced yet. But so far it appears they will include better processors and the ability to output 4K video to cater for the slowly increasing supply of super high-definition televisions on the market. No doubt the emergence of VR is also playing a factor, giving an extra performance boost for Sony’s upcoming PlayStation VR and Microsoft’s HoloLens technology (and possibly Xbox partnering with Oculus as well).
So it appears that no-one quite knows how all of this will pan out. Microsoft have gone on record and proclaimed that there will be no Project Scorpio exclusives in terms of game titles - and that the only reason to upgrade will be if you own a 4K capable television. Whether this will be the case - considering the competitive nature of needing to have “the best looking video game” or the “most immersive experience” in an already crowded entertainment market - only time will tell. We know even less about Sony’s Neo. Sony was intentionally very quiet about their new console at the E3 Expo over in Los Angeles recently.
Apparently Sony are telling developers that Neo won't be allowed to segregate the audience between hardware owners, but also that all releases after October 2016 must be Neo-compatible. Andrew House, President and Group CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment has said that "[The Neo] is intended to sit alongside and complement the standard PS4. We will be selling both [versions] through the life cycle. All games will support the standard PS4 and we anticipate all or a very large majority of games will also support the high-end PS4."
Which is good news, considering Sony have shipped 40 million PS4 units in under three years. But let’s face it, if Sony did change their stance in two years time and say that triple A titles will now only appear on Neo, then they are leaving early adopters in the dust with “old” tech. Or, as mentioned before, with a competitive gaming market where only the best technology wins, maybe developers will shift their focus to what the new boxes can deliver and treat the original PS4 or Xbox One as sub-standard, perhaps delivering a lesser port of the high-end product?
Being a dedicated console gamer for years, I’m going to struggle to decide whether I line up for the Neo or Scorpio. Do I try and support the original PS4 and Xbox One, in the hopes that by the time 1080 HD is out the door, the proper next generation console will be out? Or do I cave in and upgrade impulsively, like I normally do?
If this mid-generation console war heats up, and follows the current mobile phone market, where Apple and Samsung release new hardware every year, I might even consider going back to my old PC gaming ways. But I seriously hope not.
What are your thoughts on the Neo or Scorpio and are you worried about your current hardware?