What do upgraded consoles mean for system shelf life?

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So yesterday Sony announced the PlayStation 4 Pro, which for those that don’t already know, is pretty much a half step up for the console. Retailing at AU$559.95 the new console isn’t the cheapest piece of hardware, and it could be superseded before too long.

The 4.5 stats.

The Pro’s stats.

Historically consoles have had relatively short shelf lives, sticking around for an average of five to six years before being replaced. To make better sense of all that let’s look at system release dates from the past.

  • 1985 Nintendo release the NES
  • 1991: Nintendo release the SNES (six years since last)
  • 1995: Sony release the PlayStation
  • 1996: Nintendo release the Nintendo 64 (five years since last)
  • 2000: Sony release the PlayStation 2 (five years since last)
  • 2001: Microsoft release the Xbox
  • 2001: Nintendo release the Gamecube (five years since last)
  • 2005: Microsoft release the Xbox 360 (four years since last console)
  • 2006 Sony release the PlayStation 3 (six years since last)
  • 2006: Nintendo release the Wii (five years since last console)
  • 2012 Nintendo release the Wii U (six years since last)
  • 2013 Sony release the PlayStation 4 (seven years since last)
  • 2013 Microsoft release the Xbox One (eight years since last)

The latest trend in upgraded consoles marks the first time systems have received technical enhancements midway through a cycle. Although the PlayStation Pro will technically be a beefed up PlayStation 4, it’s unlike anything we’ve seen before, as the superior system will exclusively run PS4 games. And the same will go for Xbox with the Scorpio. Typically newer iterations of a mid-cycle console have been compact and slimmer versions, not drastically improved versions of the hardware. So how does this impact the industry, and more importantly, what does it mean for gamers?

Consoles have increasingly been competing with PCs, which typically have far superior specs and can out perform almost every game when devs decide to make a port work… *cough cough Arkham*. There’s a reason the last few years of the PS3 and 360 were seeing a dip in profit, the long seven to eight year period of unchanged technology meant they drastically lagged behind in terms of potential towards the end. Of course this happens with PC systems too, but the difference is they can be tweaked and customised to stay current. When you have a console it’s all or nothing in terms of performance and the games being produced.

Currently we’re seeing one of the biggest shake ups in gaming history, with the introduction of 4K integration and VR hitting at roughly the same time. As a gamer this might not bother you too much right now, you might not be fussed about 4K, or all that interested in VR, but the thing is, if they take off, which is very much a possibility, it might change the specs games are developed to. As better technology becomes the norm, catering the same games to two drastically different consoles could prove to be too much, which would be about the time we see another next generation leap.

cpt-picard-engage

Thank you to everyone that understands the relevance of this image.

The likelihood of another seven-eight year run of console doesn’t seem so likely, considering the drop in profits towards the end of the last cycle mixed with rapidly progressing technology, the PlayStation pro and Xbox Scorpio could be the swan song of this current generation, providing a temporary boost in performance, but falling short to yet another superior model within the next two or so years.

Should we see another long term stagnation of current gen, then it could be good news for casual gamers, and not so good news for performance crazed fans. The introduction of improved consoles will mean a reduction in cost of the basic models, making them more accessible to casuals, leaving the hardcore to reach for an upgrade to satisfy their needs, but this might not be enough if we still have four of five years until a next generation release. Towards the end of this period it will be more than likely even the upgraded consoles won’t meet expectations pumped out by PC, leaving the base console well and truly behind.

Developers might find it hard to provide innovative and impressive titles with slow to adapt systems. Generating a complex processing task for the higher end models could render it impossible to run on the base model. Just look at Shadow of Mordor when that was released on last gen as well as the current. The most compelling part of the game, the nemesis system, had to be axed to accommodate the older hardware. Now imagine that same situation on different systems supporting the same physical release. Not the easiest challenge to overcome.

Come at me, developers.

Come at me, developers.

It’s hard to predict how this sort of thing will go down, but in general it’s assumed developers will only be using the .5 consoles to render better frame rates and improved performance, not to generate more complex tasks.

But this move still changes the way consoles have previously been sold to us. The new system seems to adapt well to one of rolling updates, like we see with smart phone technology, in which generally the last two previous operating systems are fully supported. However if this system were fully adopted it’d drag consoles into unexplored territory, one which consumers might not be eager to follow.

Upgrade Charlie on Twitter @clbraith and don’t forget to follow @load_screen and like us on Facebook.

Editor/Co-owner

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