Is it just me or is the current transition to ‘next-generation’ consoles extremely, extremely weird?
On Kotaku today: news that a new, updated version of The Last of Us, previously a PlayStation 3 exclusive, is en route to the PlayStation 4.
In stores today: an Xbox 360 version of Titanfall. A video game experience that was recently heralded as one of the first ‘true’ next-generation games. A game that, thanks to some incredible technical wizardry on the part of Bluepoint Games, is near indistinguishable from the supposedly superior Xbox One version.
Officially announced today: a brand new Borderlands game. A ‘pre-sequel’ currently in development at 2K Australia that isn’t appearing on next-generation consoles at all.
In my house today: two next-generation consoles that haven’t been turned on once in the last month. An Xbox 360 that I continue to play: Dark Souls II, South Park: The Stick of Truth.
In January the most significant next gen release was a port: an updated version of Tomb Raider. My most played game on the PlayStation 4 so far? Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. A game that was released months earlier on the Xbox 360 and PS3.
This generational transition is weird. I can’t remember another one like it.
I can’t remember another transition that has felt so half-hearted, so conservative, so burdened by a reluctance to place proper, major bets on new technology.
There’s a real, tangible fear surrounding new consoles. I first sensed it during E3 2013; game after game. Available on Xbox 360, available on PS3. A strange lack of commitment. Almost every new game I played, even large scale titles (especially large scale titles) were being made available on as many platforms as possible. Despite the fact that the Xbox 360 and PS3 had been at the forefront of one of the longest generations I can remember, there was the sense that no-one had faith in the next generation of consoles.
Everyone was in a secure, definitive holding pattern.
Now the situation has changed dramatically. The PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One have been selling in far greater numbers than anyone had any right to expect. The PlayStation 4, in particular, is flying off shelves faster than Sony can physically build them. So we’re now in a quandary: that nervousness has evaporated. Now we have millions of new console owners with brand new boxes in their homes and nothing to do with them.
Because development is long term game. It’s a big arse ship on the open sea and it takes an incredible amount of time to make an about turn. We’re seeing the results of that today: no major next gen games on the horizon, johnny-come-latelies like the new Borderlands game. The end result of publishers who had too little faith in new consoles. It’s a reality that we might have to struggle with for the rest of this calendar year.
And then there are the publishers scrapping for the short term wins: high definition, ‘definitive’ next gen versions of games we’ve already played is part of that strategy, at attempt to squeeze extra dollars from an audience that many publishers didn’t expect to exist. It’s a sign that – for the near future at least – things aren’t going to get much better. Releases like Tomb Raider Definitive Edition and Naughty Dog’s new The Last of Us port are emblematic of publishers with very few big next gen titles on the horizon. They need something to plug the gap, they need something to pay the bills. This is their short term solution.
The danger, of course, is that sales of next generation consoles will slow in the meantime. That this lack of foresight from publishers, this ‘fear’, will result in a self-fulfilling prophecy: the consumer interest in next generation consoles will drop during this period, and publishers will miss the boat.
The reality is probably less dramatic. Console sales will most likely slow as the next gen gaming drought continues, but will pick up when the promise of big titles draws near. But the dynamic has become all the more transparent in this process. Games sell consoles, but publishers have been less willing this time round to really go all in on the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One and we’re currently facing the consequences of that decision. I suspect we’ll be facing those consequences for the remainder of 2014.