As rumors, leaks, and teasers continue to spread about the Sony PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, console gamers around the world are getting excited. As a fan of home console gaming myself, I don't share the anticipation. Here's why.
From a hardware perspective, the upcoming PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X are already turning heads. Console gaming has always been a numbers game, with every generation promising more power, faster load times, more beautiful games and better connectivity. However, as a guy who grew up on the Nintendo SNES, the N64, and later the Sony PlayStation consoles, I am growing increasingly concerned about where the gaming industry is heading.
The home console is becoming increasingly serialized
Back in the day, you used to be able to go out and buy a home gaming console and it would be good for a generation. Sure, these consoles have never been cheap. Even back in the days when I bought my first consoles - a Nintendo 64 and a Sony PlayStation - the hardware was usually the result of a joint Christmas present for me and my younger brother, plus all the savings we had from delivering newspapers and all the other jobs children did in the UK in the 1990s. It was a lot of money to us, and it was a major investment for my parents, but they could be safe in the knowledge that we would not be hassling them for an upgrade for several years.
The serialization of games consoles has been coming for a while. I remember when Nintendo released the expansion pack for N64 in 1998. As a then 12-year-old, I didn't really understand what it was until I was required to have one to play The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Fast-forward to 2016 and the launch of the PlayStation 4 Pro, the upgraded fourth-generation console added 4K resolution gaming and an upgraded GPU three-years into the lifecycle of the console generation, and in hindsight, it gave us an insight into what to expect in the future.
We are now expecting both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X to launch in multiple tiers right from day one. Thus, games consoles will become serialized much like the smartphone industry has been doing for years. No longer will consumers have a choice between Xbox or PlayStation, but between regular and Pro variants of the same console. What does this mean for the compatibility of games? How much are consumers going to have shell out for the top-specs?
The PS5 and Xbox Series X are going to cost a fortune
Again we can take a look at the smartphone industry to see where this trend is heading. The price of a flagship smartphone has been increasing for some time, and we are now at the point where the once-eyebrow-raising price tag of $1,000 now only buys you the non-Pro model of most major flagship smartphones. Prices of $1,200 - $1,300 are now the norm for the best possible hardware on the market. I am convinced that both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X will be the most expensive home games consoles both Sony and Microsoft have ever released, at least if you go for the top-of-the-range model with the most storage.
Then there are the additional costs that come with gaming. If these consoles are going to support 8K resolutions running at 120Hz, most people are going to need a new TV to get the full experience. HDMI 2.0 supports a maximum of 4K at 60fps, for example, and most TVs in people's homes today have these ports. They don't support Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM) and Variable Refresh Rate (VRR). So serious gamers are going to need HDMI 2.1, which means shelling out more cash on an LG or Samsung television at some point if you want to be prepared for an entire console generation of gaming.
The subscription economy is going to take over gaming
I have written extensively about how the subscription economy is costing consumers more, and this trend is already coming to gaming. Services like Google Stadia are taking the home console and putting it in the cloud, but Sony and Microsoft are not about to miss out on those monthly payments. With PlayStation Now and Xbox Gamepass Ultimate, gamers are already used to this on the software side, but we are going to see it come to the hardware side too.
Like Apple's iPhone upgrade plan, Microsoft is already dipping its toes into this strategy with its Xbox All Access. Sony is likely to follow suit with something similar for PlayStation, too. So gamers can expect more monthly subscriptions this generation on both the hardware and software side. Gaming has never been cheap, but it is about to become very expensive indeed.
Incremental hardware upgrades help home consoles stay at least competitive with PC hardware, I get that. But I do miss the days when you could buy a console for an admittedly large outlay, but know that it was good for an entire generation's worth of great games. Those with deep pockets could pay for a slimmer, sleeker, faster version, but for the majority of gamers and parents, your PlayStation 3 was your PlayStation 3, right up until it became a PlayStation 4. You could still play the latest Metal Gear Solid or Final Fantasy without needing to upgrade within a single console generation. This is going to disappear in 2020 and beyond. Where Pro, Max, Ultra models are going to infiltrate the market, and games are going to come with hardware requirements that split the different tiers.
Sony will reveal more details about the PlayStation 5 today in an online it is calling 'deep dive'. I'll be happy to be proved wrong here, but I am not holding out much hope. Let's see what happens.
Tomorrow at 9am Pacific Time, PS5 lead system architect Mark Cerny will provide a deep dive into PS5’s system architecture, and how it will shape the future of games.— PlayStation (@PlayStation) March 17, 2020
Watch tomorrow at PlayStation Blog: https://t.co/bgP1rXMeC8 pic.twitter.com/BSYX9tOYhE
Perhaps I am just at that age where the old days start to feel 'good' no matter what new tech comes out. Where nostalgia trumps innovation and excitement. But I am worried about where the next console generation is heading. What do you think? Are you excited for the Sony PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X? Share your thoughts below the line.