Last-Gen Gamers Are Being Left Behind

New-gen consoles have barely been out for a year, but there’s already a familiar story: a game launches and runs great on the PS4 and Xbox One, much less so on the PS3 and 360. Shadow of Mordor was an egregious example of this performance gap, but it’s not the only one. Is there any hope for last-gen gamers?

It’s hard to say with any certainty. Top developers have handled this year’s games with dramatically different levels of tact and grace when their work spans generations. But I still find it hard to remain optimistic about the future of last-gen games. I mean, just consider the bumbling construction at the end of that last sentence.

The tech pros at Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry took a deep dive into the old and new-gen versions of Shadow of Mordor, and their findings reaffirmed my doubts. Granted, the “absolutely colossal […] gulf in quality” that they saw between the two versions of the game doesn’t necessarily say speak to any technological deficiencies in their respective hardware. Digital Foundry acknowledges, for instance, that Mordor’s failings on last-gen might be partly the result of a lack of substantive quality assurance testing.

But even if that is the case, a question remains: is creating and supporting games on two distinct generations a prohibitively expensive indulgence? Digital Foundry observes that the last-gen consoles have been struggling with big open-world games for a while now:

But can Shadow of Mordor’s open-world design excuse this to any extent? After all, ambitious sandbox games have rarely proven a strong suit for the PS3 or 360. Even as a jewel in the generation’s crown, the incredible Grand Theft Auto 5 still has trouble rendering complex inner-city areas, plagued as it is with pop-in and frame-rate lulls on last-gen.

Another case in point is the Assassin’s Creed series. After seven releases in as many years, each one improving upon its core AnvilNext tech, the series is still resigned to sub-30fps frame-rates as the generation draws to a close. By comparison, Shadow of Mordor’s engine has no existing template on last-gen from which it can quickly develop an open-world design. Sadly, the end result here reminds us of the early, ramshackle efforts at this gameplay form on PS3 and 360.

Returning to Mordor specifically, the Digital Foundry authors ultimately conclude that while “Shadow of Mordor’s core game design may well be too much for the Xbox 360 and PS3,” it’s the apparent lack of care and attention” to the port that led to its biggest problems. But they still make this unsettling note:

It’s a worrying sign for PS3 and 360 owners keen to stave off a console upgrade for as long as possible. Inevitably, it falls on each developer to make the best call when weighing the viability of these last-gen versions. The increasing need to be technically progressive on PS4 and Xbox One – to truly show off their mettle going forward – also stands to make each port to last-gen a greater challenge. We hope to see this fantastic era in gaming wind down with grace, but with more ‘me too’ releases in this mould, the aftertaste isn’t set to always be so sweet.

As Digital Foundry notes, the quality of last-gen games is a matter for the developer in question to address. And many are already finding creative solutions to work around the generational tech barrier. Bungie figured out how to make both of its versions of Destiny work pretty well. Ubisoft made two separate Assassin’s Creed games this year, and the last-gen one was a lot more fun in spite of its comparatively outdated appearance. Rockstar put its last-gen foot forward with GTA V, but then it made a new-gen version so spectacular that it convinced many gamers (myself included) to buy and play the thing all over again.

Studios looking beyond 2014, meanwhile, have chosen to abandon the last-gen entirely, like Techland did when it announced it was scrapping the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of its upcoming zombie game Dying Light.

Will other developers follow suit? The way I see it, the issue is that most (if not all) major game-makers feel like they’re caught in a bind at present. Yes, it would be easier to only acknowledge the newest generation of tech. But at least for this holiday season, as Digital Foundry puts it, “the massive install bases on PS3 and 360 can’t be ignored.”

“Basic economics dictates that last-gen versions must exist to check these boxes,” the authors conclude, “and in Shadow of Mordor’s case, we’re left with fundamentally disappointing ports.”

Not all all ports need to be that shoddy, of course. But at the end of the day, there’s only one way to get past the dilemma of a generational divide: by moving ever further into the new one. Unless developers want to renew their focus on old consoles, but I have a hard time seeing how anyone would make a strong case to do that.


      • Yup. As someone financially trapped in last gen I sure as heck don’t expect things to slow down and wait for me.

        But the moment things turn around… Massive gaming catch up marathon!

        It’s *almost* worth the waiting.

    • Except if we are doing that kind of comparison Win98 would be 4-5 generations ago…

      That’s like saying no one makes NES games anymore.. which is true. However there are still plenty of games that run on Win7/Vista and even XP…..

      • Perhaps a better comparison would be to a new (mid-high range) PC, 9 years ago. It would’ve had XP on it, and hardware that wouldn’t have a chance of running AAA games getting released today. This console generation has been fantastic, and it’s great that new games are still getting released for the old hardware – it shouldn’t be down to the consumer though, to have to research as to whether or not a game actually works or not. That argument is not isolated to new games/old hardware anyway; we’re seeing buggy (to the point of non-functioning) games getting released all the time, on old console hardware, new console hardware and PC.

  • They’ve been out long enough that I feel people can’t complain if their last gen console isn’t supported or doesn’t run something well.

    • Agreed. Also, if you don’t want to upgrade from last gen, PS3 and 360 have a large enough back catalogue (many in the bargain bin) to keep you going for some time to come.

  • The Xbox 360 will be over a decade old this time next year.
    What on earth did you expect!?

    Frankly the fact that it’s STILL getting games like AC: Rouge is pretty impressive.

  • It’s like Tablets vs PC. Games rarely port directly between the two and they work best when you make a game specifically for the platform in mind. Same applies here. If you want to make a game for last gen, make a game for last gen, if you want to make a game for current gen, make a game for current gen. As someone once said, “The man who chases two hares will end up with none.”

  • The 360 and PS3 are dragging the generation down. Last gen, just like all the rest, as soon as the new stuff is released, the market is flooded with awful, awful third party dev games. Not the case this time. This time we’re getting big budget releases across all the generations. Bit silly.

  • Does anyone even expect or think that a game released for PS4 or Xbox One should run at the same level on a PS3 or 360?

  • I actually felt the opposite. This transition felt like it was weighted more towards sticking with previous generation consoles than moving to the new ones. It’s started to flip now but that’s only natural.
    This generation also seems to struggle more with the previous generation impacting design on multi-generation titles. In the past there wasn’t much choice, if you wanted a NES and SNES release you made two games with different feature sets. That held true for most transitions until now. Now we’re seeing the XBOX One and PS4 get minor upgrades from the XBOX 360 and PS3 versions, rather than the PS3 and XBOX 360 getting minor downgrades from the XBOX One and PS4 versions.
    Not to villify previous generation holdouts. I just think it’s an interesting trend.

  • You lost me at,

    “New-gen consoles have barely been out for a year, but there’s already a familiar story: a game launches and runs great on the PS4 and Xbox One,”

  • For me, the real issue is why are publishers even releasing these games on last gen? It’s obviously just a cash grab to get some money off owners of last-gen consoles. As the DF article pointed out, they didn’t send out any review copies of the last gen versions, they just showed off the PS4 / XBone versions and hope that owners of last gen consoles might get seduced into thinking their console might be able to run a decent version of the game.

    By the looks of things, the last-gen versions of Shadow of Moror are just plain broken. If they were released on the new consoles running like that, there would be outrage – just look at the response to the latest Assassin’s Creed on PS4 / XBone. Why is it acceptable to release something like this on PS3 or 360? Why isn’t there a similar amount of outrage? I assume they’re still charging a full AAA price tag for these versions? Either make it work properly or, if you can’t do that, don’t release it at all.

    • I haven’t seen numbers like that in…ever. Even when my GPU died and I ended up playing my games on then 4600 iGPU that came for “free” with my CPU I could get more than that…

  • Before I got my Xbones there were a few games that came out cross-generationally. I figured I’d just wait until I got the better hardware before I even looked at them. I’ve been playing games for 2 decades, and a fair bit of that on PC, so it’s obvious the last-gen versions of games are gonna have to be dumbed down in some way. For me it just wasn’t worth it.

    Waiting and playing the non-crippled version seems much better to me than limping through an awesome game and wishing you could have all the features and all the graphics. In my case there were still plenty of cool games that were actually designed for the 360 to tide me over until I was able to upgrade.

  • “Last-Gen Gamers Are Being Left Behind.”

    Good. The sooner devs stop straddling with one foot in the past and one foot in the present, the sooner they can devote themselves to doing shit properly instead of going back to run everything by their ex.

    Tie off the bloody stump of that relationship to move on with the future of gaming and stop stringing last-gen along with divided attention and token efforts.

  • Gosh, If I want to play an open world game, I don’t expect an old console with ancient hardware to be able to do it well. Those games are so technically demanding!

    But a platformer, or a fighting game, with less demand on the hardware? I’ll happily play that on my PS3. Just need to be sensible about what you’re asking it to do.

  • The way I see it… (I think) Devs are only really now getting into the swing of developing for a new platform.

    They likely continue developing for past generations because it is much more cost effective in terms of outlay vs sales revenue than the new generation, on paper at least.

    There are more PS3s than PS4s and they developed for longer on the PS3 so are better at it, thus doing it cheaper. That’s also probably why, as DogMan stated, the new gen games seem to be upgrades of past gen rather than the other way around.

    As time goes on, devs will get better at developing for the new platforms as well as the paper numbers leveling out with new gen consoles selling more and more. It’s pretty predictable if you think of it that way.

    Personally, I will do what I did the last two times. I will buy a PS4 when the PS5 is announced and the PS4 has a solid library with still a year or so of games to come. I don’t get a chance to play much so I’m not hugely fussed on being bleeding-edge current.

    • Personally, I will do what I did the last two times. I will buy a PS4 when the PS5 is announced and the PS4 has a solid library with still a year or so of games to come. I don’t get a chance to play much so I’m not hugely fussed on being bleeding-edge current.

      Same here. I just got a second-hand PS3 at the start of this year, and after a few savvy eBay purchases and one trip to EB Games I now have almost 30 classic games to keep me busy for months. All for less than the price of a new PS4 with two or three games that don’t interest me.

  • All the people complaining that games being released now shouldn’t be expected to run on the previous generation of consoles are forgetting that most of these games have been in development for years – before the PS4 or XBone were available as a target development platform.

    For another six months at least games will be released that were later scaled up to run better on current gen, not scaled down to cater to previous gen. In twelve months or so you’ll have games that were developed solely for the current gen since day one, and then you’ll really see the difference the new hardware provides.

    • Exactly, PC’s are always backwards compatible.

      …you might have to set up virtualization to run ancient stuff *Cough* But at the end of the day, anything is possible, right?

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