Console Wars: The Next Generation

Let us pull out our crystal balls and inevitably get everything wrong about the next consoles.

This will serve as an informal discussion about what I think will happen during the imminent next generation of consoles and what each console manufacturer is currently doing that will carry over into the next gen. What challenges will each company face in the coming gen and what will each company need to do in order to come out on top? Continue reading to find out my opinions and be sure to take screenshots so we can remember just how wrong I was when the new gen is announced!

Nintendo:

 Let’s start with the most predictable. It’s the most predictable because Nintendo’s next gen system is currently on the market: the Nintendo Switch. And since it continues to sell well I don’t foresee Nintendo abandoning the Switch anytime soon. In fact, Nintendo itself has stated that they plan to stick with the Switch for a long, long time. I think this is a solid plan going forward but Nintendo will face some challenges if they do continue supporting the Switch well into the future.

The main problem Nintendo will have if they support the Switch for years to come is the power of the machine. From what I’ve read, the Switch is about as powerful as the base model PS4 and Xbox One. This has allowed companies to put their current gen games (like Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Skyrim, Doom, etc.) onto the system. The Switch struggles to run these games in some cases and the maximum resolution it outputs is 1080p in TV mode. This will become a glaring problem for Nintendo once the next gen comes around since Sony and Microsoft’s next machines will definitely be way more powerful. Most major AAA third-party games are already skipping the Switch since it isn’t very powerful but this will only get worse once the next gen gets here. I could see the Switch continuing to receive smaller Indie titles but getting AAA games onto the platform in the future will be a major challenge.

The main advantage Nintendo will have going forward is its exclusives both from a first-party and second-party perspective. We have already seen the release of excellent titles like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Octopath Traveler (among others). Several upcoming titles for the Switch also have the potential to be just as popular. I personally am most looking forward to Bayonnetta 3, Metroid Prime 3, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and the Pokémon game releasing sometime next year. Additionally, the Switch will receive strong third-party exclusive support from two well-known Japanese publishers: Bandai Namco and Square Enix. Both publishers have stated they have teams working specifically on Nintendo Switch projects. Square Enix in particular is interested in continuing its support for the Switch because of the recent success of Octopath Traveler. With the promise of all this exclusive support (not forgetting that Nintendo’s own studios probably have a few surprises up their sleeves as well), I think the Switch will continue to find success.

The biggest question involving Nintendo is whether or not they will announce a dedicated handheld successor to the 3DS line. The 3DS line continues to sell extremely well despite the fact it’s seven years old and it would be interesting to see if Nintendo would want to pursue that type of experience any further. I think the answer is no and the reason I think that is because most of the series’ that Nintendo’s handhelds are known for (Pokémon, Fire Emblem etc.) have entries in active development for the Switch. Nintendo has more than likely combined its handheld and home console businesses for good. I don’t really mind if it did that as I don’t want to have to buy two separate pieces of hardware to enjoy all that Nintendo has to offer.

Microsoft:

 For years now, many people have derided both Microsoft and Sony for making their two consoles so similar. I’ve even seen them called the “HD twins.” I don’t know if a relatively well-known commentator used that phrase and it caught on or what but I’ve seen it multiple times before in different comment sections. In many ways, that attitude has been right. You have to pay to play online on both platforms, both give out free games each month with their online subscriptions, both have most AAA games on their platforms, and each of their consoles are at a relatively similar power level. During this current gen, however, several major differences have started to appear between the two platforms. This has mostly been coming from the Microsoft side and I believe these differences provide a roadmap for Microsoft’s plans for next gen.

The biggest difference has been backwards compatibility. Neither the PS4 nor the Xbox One supported backwards compatibility natively at launch back in November 2013. Through software emulation offered by Microsoft, there are now currently almost 500 Xbox 360 and 33 OG Xbox backward compatible titles available on Xbox One. I must say that this a great feature and one I have used very often. I would think, given the popularity of the feature, that Microsoft would be interested in keeping this around for future generations. Microsoft has been a little vague about the subject but I believe the feature will stick around for the next Xbox.

The next major difference is Game Pass. Game Pass is a service on Xbox One whereby you pay ten bucks a month and get unlimited access to over a hundred titles. You can download these titles directly onto your Xbox’s hard drive instead of streaming them (unlike PS Now). In addition, you can purchase the games that are in Game Pass at a discount should they ever be taken off the service. Despite conventional thinking, Game Pass has actually lead to an increase in game sales on Xbox One. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of Game Pass, however, is that all first-party games will launch directly into the service. This is perhaps the biggest difference between Game Pass and PS Now (besides the streaming). Given that it has also lead to a sizable increase in Microsoft’s gaming revenue (the gaming division at Microsoft saw a 39% increase in revenue last year alone), I don’t see the service being cut anytime soon. This leads me to believe that Game Pass will be a more central feature on the next Xbox console.

Two similar yet different initiatives that Microsoft has undertaken this gen is Xbox Play Anywhere and crossplay with other platforms. Play Anywhere is where a person can buy a game digitally on Xbox One and get a copy for the same game on PC through the Windows 10 store. Microsoft has endeavored to put all of its Microsoft published games onto its PC storefront. In a similar vein, Microsoft has allowed many games it’s published and a few third-party games to begin having crossplay functionality between Xbox One, PC, and even the Nintendo Switch. This isn’t necessarily a big deal but it has given Microsoft a few positive news stories and lead to some bad PR for Sony. This is important because I think it will force many people to go to Microsoft or even Nintendo to play their online games since they can play with other platforms on the Xbox One and Switch. From what Microsoft’s executives have said recently, crossplay as a feature will remain a central part of their strategy going forward.

The biggest problem that Microsoft has had with the current gen Xbox One is the games: both exclusive and third-party. The good news for Xbox One owners (and Xbox fans in general) is that Microsoft appears to be working on resolving the problems on both fronts. Xbox’s exclusive offerings (for the most part) haven’t been received very well. And that’s not counting the games that didn’t even make it to market (goodbye Fable Legends, Scalebound). During E3 2018, Head of Gaming at Microsoft Phil Spencer acknowledged Xbox’s exclusive problem and then followed it up with the announcement that Microsoft had acquired (or, in one studio’s case, founded) five studios: The Initiative, Playground Games, Undead Labs, Ninja Theory, and Compulsion Games. This signals to me that Microsoft is getting serious about fixing its exclusives problem. I am worried that these studios will get stuck developing one series like the other first-party Microsoft studios 343 Industries, The Coalition, and Turn 10 Studios. Xbox’s Head of First-Party, Matt Booty (yeah, that’s his real name), however, has assured people that these new studios can make whatever they want. I hope this is true but there is a long history of Microsoft’s studios not being able to branch out from their mainstay series’.

On the third-party front, Microsoft has been working to get as many games as possible onto the Xbox One. At E3 this year, they debuted many games that would be coming to the platform. Microsoft has even worked hard to get games that originally debuted on PS4 onto the Xbox One: Nier: Automata, No Man’s Sky, and Rocket League being the most prominent examples. The area that the Xbox One has really struggled with, Japanese games, has been addressed as well (someone, I don’t know who, wrote a long article about it here). All of Microsoft’s efforts over the past few years have been to win developers back to the platform and I think it is working. Microsoft seems determined to not make the same mistakes again and is actively preparing for the next fight that is probably coming sooner than we think.

Perhaps the biggest question mark in regards to Microsoft’s next console is streaming. Phil Spencer announced at E3 that his team was working on a streaming service that would debut sometime within the next few years. Recent rumors have come to the surface saying that Microsoft is working on not one but two next gen consoles. One would be a traditional hardware iteration while the other would be a box designed specifically for streaming games. If true, this would be quite interesting as it would mean that Microsoft doesn’t really know what the future of games will be (no one does) and that they are preparing for all possibilities. I think it is a smart plan to keep their options open. People often forget that there were predictions that the PS4 and Xbox One would sell poorly at the start of this gen and that consoles were essentially dead. The people who made those predictions were dead wrong but their prediction could still come true in the future. This is especially pertinent since many companies are now actively working on streaming services.

Sony:

 Out of the Big Three, Sony is arguably the one that has changed the least during the current gen and, as a result, makes it hard for me to predict what their plans are for the next gen. They have undeniably and categorically won this generation. With over eighty million consoles sold, the PS4 has trounced the competition. There are many reasons for this but it makes me worry that Sony has become complacent. Only time will tell but we will see soon enough.

The reason I say that Sony has become complacent is because they haven’t really created or offered any major new programs or features since the PS4 launched. There has been no backward compatibility (Sony even seems dismissive of the idea), no real desire on Sony’s part for crossplay (including Fortnite, the biggest game of the year), and their PS Now streaming service hasn’t exactly caught the world on fire either. I, for one, think that it would be a huge mistake on Sony’s part not to include backwards compatibility on the PS5. Their arguments against crossplay have been laughable at best and petty at worst. I’m not even convinced they will keep PS Now when the next gen hits (unless it’s doing way better than I’ve read or heard and they’re keeping it a secret). Sony even lost one of its best competitive advantages, free online multiplayer, when the PS4 came out. I doubt Sony will drop its PS+ subscription cost now that they are making a lot of money from it. It seems to me that Sony hasn’t had much of an incentive to update its services or offer something new to its audience. It doesn’t really inspire me to make a prediction about what services will be on offer (besides the standard PS+) on PS5 nor what Sony’s strategy is going forward. The only thing I can say for certain is that Sony will certainly continue to push VR with the PS5.

Although I can’t make a broad prediction about Sony’s whole strategy for the PS5, I can, however, make a bold claim (but not really) about one aspect of it: Sony will continue to have world-class games on its platform. Sony has the best first-party studios out of all the hardware manufacturers, hands-down (Nintendo is a close second). Naughty Dog, Guerilla Games, Sony Santa Monica, and Sony Japan Studio have all made stellar titles during the current gen (and previous ones) and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. In fact, many great looking games are still on the way for the PS4 from Sony’s first-party studios (The Last of Us: Part II, Ghost of Tsushima). Sony’s first-party studios are the envy of the gaming world and really the jewels in its crown. I fully expect Sony to keep doing whatever it takes to make sure their studios have whatever they need to continue producing topnotch content.

Not only does Sony have great first-party support but it also has great third-party support as well. Nearly every AAA third-party game has come to the PS4 this gen. This includes both Japanese and Western games. Sony doesn’t have Microsoft’s problem of games from a certain region skipping its platform. In addition, Sony, just like Nintendo, has great third-party exclusive support. Insomniac Games, Square Enix, and SEGA always bring their best games to PlayStation consoles so I don’t see why that would stop. This is one of Sony’s greatest strengths and I think it is banking on that to continue well into the future. I think it is the correct assumption to make.

With all this in mind, I firmly believe that Sony will stay the course, so to speak, when the PS5 releases. The PS4 is the number one console by a country mile this gen and I think Sony sees that as a vindication of its policies and services. I also believe that the future of gaming is uncertain and Sony knows that and will wait a while to make major changes. If I were in charge at Sony, I would be a little leery about waiting too long to make important changes or updates to the PlayStation ecosystem though. The reason being that Microsoft, and even Nintendo, are making major moves that are laying the foundation for the future console war next gen. The important thing to remember is that, as a gaming company, you don’t have to work too hard to keep your hardcore fans on your system. It’s the people who are platform agnostic who make a console really successful. Microsoft lost a lot of people to the PS4 who used to play on the Xbox 360 and it is making major moves to win them back. That’s why I think backwards compatibility, crossplay, and a more robust subscription service should be a part of Sony’s strategy going into next gen. Sony must keep those people who made the switch to their side during this gen happy if it hopes to keep them around for the PS5. I believe the next gen will be a bigger battle than the current one and therefore Sony should take the threat from Microsoft more seriously. It is Sony’s fight to lose, after all.

 

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the post! What are some of your thoughts about the next gen and even the current one? What do you think will define the next fight?

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