Power! Resolution! Graphical fidelity! Those seem to be the biggest three topics in many gaming discussions these days. All of a sudden, it seems like everyone cares so much about the specs of a system it’s as if they’re software/hardware developers. Honestly, I don’t understand why there are endless debates between gamers over specs, but I do know that the companies behind the industry don’t try and steer the conversations away from that—they encourage it. What could be a bigger boost of encouragement than the launch of two mid-generation upgrades: the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro? Why do we suddenly have these two ‘new’ systems?
The gaming industry has been chugging along for over 30 years at this point. Basically since the early days, the topics of power and graphics have always been popular in discussions between gamers. All one has to do is take a look at most gaming advertisements back in the late 80s and throughout the 90s to see how this came to be.
Older gamers certainly remember the days of “Genesis does what Nintendont!” and “Now you’re playing with Power!” These snappy phrases from SEGA and Nintendo along with other console manufacturers were blasted regularly to try and woo customers over to their platform instead of the others.
Fast-forward to the present day and it’s easy to see that this hasn’t really changed. Companies are still constantly looking for ways to try and make themselves look better than their competition, and one of those ways is by continuing to emphasize the performance of their systems and highlight the graphical fidelity of their games. The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X have pushed this persuasion tactic to a new level; one that is not only higher than before, but also something that’s never really been seen before. How so?
The ‘power race’ isn’t anything new, but the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X have kicked it up to a whole new level.
Both the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X are classified as ‘mid-generation upgrades’. What that means is that they’re ‘new’ systems, but not exactly. Instead of being successors to the existing PS4 and Xbox One, they’re upgraded versions of those machines. The components inside have been swapped out for much more powerful parts than what’s found in the original systems, thus allowing developers to push their games even further with higher resolutions, more graphical effects and better performance. All of that sounds great, and it really is, but did Sony and Microsoft really need to make this move?
Consoles have always been separated into specific generations. Like humans, console generations are calculated by means of the period of time. The average length of a console generation is about 5-6 years, with some platforms either running slightly higher or lower than that. The pattern has been that the console manufacturers release systems with longevity in mind; the full capabilities of these systems would gradually be realized as the generation continues. By the time it comes to an end, the systems have been fully pushed to their limits, needing to be replaced with more powerful successors. The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X have changed the game.
These two ‘new’ systems have the same message behind them: these are the ‘premium’ models for the most elite console gamers. The boost in power allows for games to be enjoyed in 4K, thus marking a notable improvement over the original 2013 models. But, these aren’t the next-generation of consoles. The ‘base’ PS4 and Xbox One will remain on the shelves alongside their upgraded counterparts, thus making the situation for consumers all the more complicated.
Unlike what happens when a generation changes, the ‘old’ system will remain on shelves alongside the ‘new’ one.
Since the older models offer more value, customers will be swayed to pick it up instead due to the lower price tag.
Unlike what happens with a generational transition, people will not be easily swayed because the ‘new’ models technically aren’t even new, they’re just the same machine except upgraded. To the average consumer, the differences between the PS4 versus the Pro and the Xbox One versus the X will be minor. What most people will be interested in is the difference in price. Coming in at $400 and $500 respectively, both upgraded systems are indeed a notably larger investment than the base models. It fits the message that these are meant for the most elite console gamers, but here’s the thing—this group is the minority.
There are definitely thousands of very passionate gamers out there, but compared to the overall market, they’re a pretty small crowd. The average Joe simply does not care that much about ‘Game XYZ’ running at full 4K on the Xbox One X, and to a lesser extent PS4 Pro, compared to an Xbox One S and PS4 Slim’s limit of 1080p. When they see both the base and premium systems sitting on the shelf alongside each other, the price difference alone will sway them to go for the cheaper option, despite the fact that it will offer a lesser experience. The base models offer more value seeing that customers can spend a smaller amount of cash for the hardware and then use their extra funds to purchase things like games, controllers and network subscriptions. “More bang for your buck”, as the saying goes.
I believe that Sony and especially Microsoft should have just waited at least another two years and then they could have released the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X—and not as upgraded versions of existing systems, but rather, true successors. The original PS4 and Xbox One have already been producing great-looking games since they launched. I have yet to see a game running on the PS4 Pro/Xbox One X that blew me away so much that I felt the need to buy the upgraded system. Especially when you take into consideration that in order to completely enjoy the enhanced experience you would need to buy a 4K TV, this whole situation just seems like an unnecessary and very pricey investment.
The games do look great on the newer systems, but the average Joe is much more concerned about the price difference.
Since both systems are notably more powerful than their original ‘predecessors’, developers are already able to push their games further despite the fact that we have not transitioned generations. But the question that I’m left asking is this: why now? Why have both Sony and Microsoft seemingly all of a sudden decided that having one system in a single generation is no longer how it should be?
While most systems tend to last about a half-decade, the Xbox 360 and PS3 both pushed the envelope in terms of age. Having launched in 2005 and 2006, respectively, they were seven & eight years-old (respectively) by the time the PS4 and Xbox One released in 2013. This extended lifecycle has caused a very interesting ripple effect: an unbalanced generation cycle.
Developers were running the PS3 and 360 pretty hard by the time it came to the end of their lifecycles. A hardware upgrade was definitely necessary. With that said, it’s only been a tad over three years since the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One. That’s a much smaller period of time than before, so why are we getting yet another boost in power at this point in time? Well, it goes back to that theory of an unbalanced generation cycle. The PS4 and Xbox One released later than they should have, thus resulting in both systems releasing in a slightly ‘aged’ state.
Both Sony and Microsoft have admitted that they began working on the new mid-generation systems right after they released the originals. It’s to be expected that work on new hardware begins as soon as the last model is released, but this turnaround time is notably smaller. And the fact that both companies are doing the same thing just makes this phenomenon even stranger. It’s unlikely that they would have communicated with each other and ended up coming to the same conclusion. As a result, my theory is that third-party developers, who have very strong influence over these platforms, convinced both companies to build more powerful machines quickly in order to compensate for the PS3 and 360 overstaying their welcome.