Is There a Future in Console Gaming?

Coming off the past whirlwind of a week, I’ve noticed a couple different things:

  1. I have an excuse to be lazy about not covering an event immediately after it happens because the aftermath of a major event gives way to much more discussion.
  2. I finally finished Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, so I’ll ideally have a review out on that soon.
  3. It only takes one bad decision to make your consumers believe your future as a company  is pretty much ruined.

Now while consumers may be incredibly petty and critical, they have a reason to be, especially when it comes to a hobby as expensive as video games.It’s basically $65 to pre-order a game and the consoles to play said games on are, ironically, so expensive that you might not be able to play anything on them for awhile because you’ll have spent so much. It’s a paradox, and unfortunately, consumers have a reason to be upset about this particular cycle of consoles in particular.

Keep in mind, this all started with Microsoft and Sony both announcing 4k editions of their current consoles that will make games look even better. It’s a lot to take in so let’s start with looking at a basic sequence of events:

  1. Rumors surface of a Playstation 4.5 codenamed “Neo” that Sony plans on announcing shortly. It’s rumored that it will have 4k resolution and also upgrade every feature of the basic console.
  2. Before E3, Sony confirms the Playstation Neo is real, but we won’t be hearing about it at the press conference.
  3. At E3, Microsoft surprises everyone with the announcement of three new consoles, a slimmer Xbox One,  The Xbox One S, a 4k HDR-capable console, and Project Scorpio, which Microsoft claims will be “the most powerful console ever” with 6 teraflops of power, eight CPU cores, and “true” 4k (which is kind of funny, because I guess that means the Xbox One S is selling you on false 4k? I know what they mean, but that mistake must’ve flown over the marketing team).
  4. Last week, Sony unveils the PS4 Neo as the PS4 Pro, along with it’s smaller counterpart the PS4 Slim.

So first, let’s define a couple of terms:

4k resolution just looks really nice. I can’t think of a normal explanation for it that isn’t too complicated so the simplest way to boil it down is this: Normal HDtvs are 1080p, a 4k TV is 2160p. So I’m not joking when I say it’s a very good picture.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, and simply put gives an attention to detail that makes all the small details in video games stand out that much more. Since it’s hard to see how great all of this looks in a couple stills,  I’ll take the small segments Sony showed from their conference and post it here: keep in mind, unless you’re watching on a 4k TV or computer, no matter how good it looks right now, it looks that much better on a 4k TV:

So obviously the detail here is striking, and a huge boon for the more detail-oriented gamers. So what’s the catch?

A couple things actually. First, like I mentioned earlier unless you have a 4k TV, there’s no way to experience true 4k resolution. One of the biggest selling points of these new consoles is something that very few people are going to experience. That’s not even mentioning how many developers will be willing to make their games 4k compatible. There’s plenty of third-party developers who might want to opt-out of enabling their games with 4k since only a select few will be able to see it as it’s intended.

The only other major selling point is the upgraded storage devices. PS4 boasts a 1TB hard drive and the new Xbox One S can hold up to twice that. The catch? Better graphics means a lot more memory, as one IGN reporter mentioned. One TB might not make any difference if it’s going to take that much more power to run a graphically demanding game. On the PS4, Arkham Knight takes up a whopping 41 GB of space, surpassing GTAV in size (reported by Gearnuke), and that’s saying something. Imagine how much memory it would take up with HDR and 4k enabled on a PS4 Pro; or just look at Ubisoft’s upcoming Watch Dogs 2:

One of the oddest things about the PS4 Pro is the lack of a 4k Blu-ray player. Since Sony is the publisher of Blu-rays it’s weird not to include a 4k player, especially when the new Xbox One S comes with a 4k Blu-ray player. When you factor in Xbox One’s doubled storage space, a future console in the form of Project Scorpio promising to be the most powerful console yet, there’s a strong argument to make that Microsoft’s new consoles have the edge.

But all in all, the biggest problem with any of this is the words, “new consoles.” The Xbox 360 lasted nine years before it was time for an upgrade, and now Microsoft and Sony are telling us that three years into this current generation it’s time to spend another $500 plus? Take a look at Sony’s current lineup for the end of the year. This month, the $300 PS4 Slim drops, which is just a standard PS4 that’s now smaller and HDR compatible, a VR headset that’s $400 releasing in October, and the PS4 Pro, which is $400. If you buy one of the new PS4’s with a VR headset, you’ll be spending over $700, for what’s essentially a new coat of paint on your consoles and games. More than anything, the frustrating part is that people are beginning to accept this idea. Project Scorpio is a long way from being complete, but is Microsoft encouraging people to buy the new Xbox One’s and a year later spend even more money for a new console?

Competition is good, there’s no denying that, and now that Microsoft appears to be winning the console war, hopefully it will encourage Sony to put that much more effort into consoles that, as of right now, feel rushed and lazy. But this competition is at the cost of the consumer, who might not have the money to buy a new console or upgrade it every three years. Consoles are looking more like PC’s with each step they take, and with Steam now allowing (and encouraging) people to play on their TV’s, it begs the question, what’s the difference anymore? If Project Scorpio can promise an “upgradeable”console, and both Microsoft and Sony can have graphics and memory capabilities at least close to a powerful PC, maybe it’s time to take a step back from all the infighting and ask if there will be consoles worth fighting about at all.

 

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