Forget About Last Gen
Does that title anger you? Does it anger you because you don’t have a new console yet, or because you are still playing on your old one? Does it anger you because you may think that we don’t need new machines yet?
If I have elicited such a response from you, I’ve done my duty and perhaps doomed the necessity of this piece. However, if you are confused by this admittedly ambiguous preamble, I encourage you to keep reading.
The console business is just that – a business. As of May 2013, cumulative sales for the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii were 254.2 million units, with this figure undoubtedly higher as of this writing. As of late last month, worldwide sales figures for the PS4 and Xbox One were 7.2 million units. Again, this number will be higher as of this writing and again, this is irrelevant. The real point is that these numbers illustrate one irrefutable fact. The install base on last gen consoles is substantially larger than that of the new consoles.
From a business perspective, the decision to develop on the platforms with a larger install base is quite clear. Larger install base means more consumers. More consumers means more money. At the very core of our industry, this is what business means. And from such a perspective, I can respect the decision.
However, I am not in the console business – at least on the actual business side of things. I am a consumer. And it is in this mindset that I write this piece. As a consumer, as a proponent for our industry, as a gamer, developers should forget about last gen.
Let us consider for a moment the longevity of the last gen consoles. Xbox 360 released in 2005, with the PS3 and Wii following suite in 2006. When the 360 released, I was a senior in high school. In that time, I have graduated high school, graduated college, and am currently in the second job of my career. All of this in a span of just over 8 years.
When these machines were released, specifically the 360 and PS3, they were the technical crown jewels of their day. Now, however, my phone will trounce them both. They are positively ancient by technology standards.
Ah, you might say, but both of these platforms have produced amazing games very late in their lifecycle. And you would not be wrong. Halo 4 from 2012 and The Last of Us from 2013 are amazing games. They pushed the aging silicon so incredibly hard. But again, this is not my point. To me, the only thing this represents is optimizations that were necessary in order to stay within the incredibly low hardware ceiling.
This isn’t a good thing. I constantly think about what these late lifecycle games would have looked like and performed had they been developed for more powerful hardware. I firmly believe that the core gameplay would have in fact improved. With new power, the developers would have been able to realize their true vision for the game instead of struggling to find spare of bits of memory. And of course, the visuals would have been markedly better.
Today, the new consoles are out on the market. This is the perfect time for studios to come out with new IPs taking full advantage of the extra power. This is a good thing. Rather than continuing to cling on to ancient hardware, new ground can be broken. Emergent technologies can be explored and new technologies can be developed. This is progress and is at the heart of the technology industry which video games are very much a subset of.
As a gamer, I don’t want more experiences on my old machine. I had 8 long years of that, and this is not a complaint. I enjoyed the games for those 8 years. But no longer should it be acceptable to continue to develop on those consoles. I can point to several cross platform, cross generation titles that feel distinctly “held back” simply because they were released on older hardware, and I’m not only pointing at the visuals.
Assassin’s Creed IV and Call of Duty: Ghosts are just two such examples. You get the feeling that if they weren’t shackled to older hardware, Ubisoft and Infinity Ward could have done so much more. Larger world/maps, fewer to no load screens, more intelligent AI, and of course, much improved visuals.
Just recently, I learned that developer Turtle Rock is not developing Evolve for Xbox 360 nor PS3. They site a negative impact to gameplay as the primary reason. However, looking deeper, they explain that the negative impact to gameplay would have come from the technical limitations of those machines:
“We’re out in nature, where there’s trees, bushes, rocks, there’s a lot…It’s a high density of foliage and props…. In Evolve, if you fade trees and rocks, now the monster can’t hide. We’ve changed the gameplay.”
This makes me happy as it is indeed encouraging news. As 2014 continues, I’m sure we will see fewer and fewer cross generation titles – and this is a great thing.
Not only will this put the focus on developing technologies for these new machines, but it will also force adoption from consumers. This may sound anti-consumer, but really, it’s to our benefit. The more consumers who use these new machines will encourage more and more developers to develop on them. This in turn creates more and more new experiences. This is good and absolutely necessary for the health of our industry. We need to move forward, not linger on the past. We need to embrace new hardware and new technology with open arms, not cling on to the safety of the well-known.
If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind.