This might be the end of generations

Last Updated January 18th, 2022

Well, it’s been a year and change since Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X came out. How many of you have one? How many of you have played one of the exclusives that came out last year? How many of you can even name a next-generation exclusive? No, not a console exclusive, for all of you thinking Halo. That came out on PC. I mean a 100 percent exclusive game that only came out on next-generation consoles and not PCs at all.

I’ll give you a hint, there weren’t many, and fewer yet were noteworthy. While releases like Returnal, and Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart were some of the most creative and unique games of the year, titles like Destruction All-Stars were little more than blips on the 2021 gaming radar, and games like Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade were full remakes sold almost exclusively for a single DLC expansion pack. 

In short, there isn’t much that you need a next-generation console for, especially if you have a decently powerful PC. Microsoft is committed to putting their big-name exclusives on PC since their big-ticket item is Game Pass and that’s just as good on the Xbox as it is on the PC. Meanwhile, Sony has recently decided to bring their big-name titles to PC as well, opening its new Playstation PC label specifically for PC ports.

And with so many games cross ported to PC, the idea of a console exclusive has withered away to next to nothing. Couple that with so many titles still coming out on last gen consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One, and the strange mid-generation release of the Switch and one has to ask themselves:

Are generations as we know them coming to an end?

Of course, I’m not saying that technology will stop advancing. As long as we exist we will have an almost irrational thirst for models with more polygons and textures with higher resolutions.

However, major advances in software were always what divided generations. There has always been a bit of a fuzzy dual generation period where we slowly adapt to new technology and new consoles and PC upgrades were slowly being adopted by the general public. But eventually, the development would shift over to the newest generation of technology. On consoles, that meant no more dual-generation releases. On PCs, that meant specs with higher requirements that needed newer processors and graphics cards.

But doing that in our current environment would be business suicide. Supplies of next-generation consoles and graphics cards are slim at best, suffering from reduced manufacturing due to the COVID pandemic, scalpers buying them out and hoarding them before reselling at a higher price, and crypto farmers stockpiling them to try and squeeze out one new bitcoin. So releasing a game that can only be played with the latest technology would severely reduce it’s audience, and thus severely reduce its sales. 

Not to mention software development has been pushed back quite a bit due to the pandemic as well. Major titles have been delayed from months to years, and releases that were supposed to be big releases in 2020 or 2021 have been delayed to 2022 and beyond. These releases began development in the last generation so of course they cant ser\ve as a next generation killer app.

So we are hearing this story again and again of people who are super hype for getting a new PS5 or Xbox Series X and then just… not using it. Sure, they enjoy the new features like reduced load times and strategy guide integration for games, but most of the games played on them are last generation games. My favorite game I played on the PS5 last year was Neo The World Ends With You, a PS4 title. In a very real way, it’s just a high-powered PS4, a PS4 upgrade, that every so often I can play Returnal on.

One has to ask, how much longer is this going to last. The COVID Pandemic, unfortunately, does not appear to be ending any time soon, in which case it’s going to continue being the correct business decision to keep developing for last generation technology. That means that the majority of game projects that will be greenlighted in 2022 will likely be greenlighted with the last generation in mind. Game development can take two to three years, which means we may be seeing games running on last-gen technology up until 2025, which would indeed be strange because we have seen whole console generations last around five years.

So it’s entirely possible that our concept of game generations might start to erode. 

Granted, they are pretty well ingrained in our mindset. We eagerly await the point when the “new games” come out. We have been doing this since before we eagerly awaited our chance to play Super Mario World on the SNES after playing our copy of Mario 3 to death.

But without the ability to quickly adopt new technologies and barriers between both consoles and generations being less common, games might stop registering to us as “next generation” and “last generation” and might just start registering to us as just… games.

What does this mean? Well, on one hand, it means that games might become a little bit more accessible. With less need to upgrade, the barrier to entry to “current” video games will be lower. That would also reduce the sting of games starting to increase their prices to $70.

With the barrier of entry being lower, that opens up more people to massive releases. This will increase the user base for multiplayer games, giving them more longevity and causing developers to support them for longer periods of time. It also means that publishers might look into alternative ways to market massive single-player games, like how Halo Infinite’s multiplayer and single-player campaigns were split, one being free, the other being a standard game price. 

As a possible side effect, buying games on day one might become less important. There will always be a certain group of gamers who need to play on release day, but if you know that the game you want will eventually come out on a system you own, you might feel more comfortable just waiting. 

On the most extreme end, we might just see consoles stop being developed altogether. With PCs becoming an increased focus in game development and games being able to be run on lower spec PCs, the concept of a “gaming PC” might erode as well.  Plus, with smart TVs with services like Stadia and Luna becoming more common, the need for a high-powered gaming device is dropping as well. Again, there will always be a market for high powered gaming rigs, just like there will always be a market for room-scale high powered VR, but much as the Quest 2 is attempting to make VR more accessible to the masses, smart TVs, streaming gaming, and low spec games will make gaming, in general, more accessible to the masses.

So is this the last console generation? Will we not be looking forward to the PlayStation 6 and instead just looking forward to Sony’s new digital distribution platform?

Honestly, it’s hard to say. Making any gigantic claim like that would be hard to back up in our current atmosphere. So many things are changing so quickly these days. It’s truly unprecedented times as the market adapted to gaming and purchasing habits that we have never seen before. Exactly predicting what things will look like in a few years may be impossible, but I can tell you now, it will be significantly different than what we are used to.

And that just might mean that “next-gen” and “last-gen” might mean less and less as upgrading your consoles becomes more and more like upgrading your PCs.

One thing for certain, I expect the PS4 and XBox one to still get plenty of game support through 2022 and possibly even into 2023.