The Challenge of the Next-Gen
The next-generation of gaming consoles will soon be upon us, or at least that’s what Sony and Microsoft would have you believe. Tomorrow (technically midnight tonight) the Playstation 4 will hit stores and supposedly usher in a new era of gaming. While there’s a temptation to reminisce in the current and-soon-to-be previous generation of consoles, it’s a bit early to say one’s farewell to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Don’t get me wrong, the Playstation 4 looks like a capable machine and even though the wonderfully named “Resolutiongate” is completely false I would still give the PS4 a slight edge over its competitor the Xbox One. However both consoles face a challenge that no console has faced.
The strongest selling point of the next-gen are the graphics. There’s a lot of promise in games that are bigger, prettier and faster. The PS4 is in a better position at launch than its predecessor, the Playstation 3, but the problem with having better graphics is the inability to show them off. There’s a marketing theory that you can’t sell HD with an SD television. The people who use the lower level of graphical fidelity aren’t able to grasp the value of a better picture because they can’t directly experiennce it. This was something that Blu-Rays had to overcome. I don’t remember being sold on that concept until I saw a movie playing in an electronics store, an even then it was still a while before I started buying Blu-Rays. This problem is only worsened by the way video games are marketed.
Video games use trailers and gameplay demos as a marketing tool. Most of the videos are watched online. The graphics of any video game trailer are limited by the machine that runs it, or more specifically, the video player. Any website that involves video-sharing, from IGN to Youtube is forced to compress their videos, which reduces the quality. Up to this point, the compression hasn’t been an issue; you can more-or-less get a sense of a game’s graphics by watching a video, even if it’s been compressed.
This changes with the PS4 and the Xbox One. Apparently we’ve reached a ceiling of compressed video quality. There are a lot of people who claim to be unable to see the jump in graphics between the PS3 and PS4. It’s hard to tell how many people feel this way but it’s clearly an issue.. Developers are trying to work around this, Guerilla Games for example released a gameplay video of Killzone: Shadow Fall through a download only link. The point behind this was that a video sharing site like Youtube can’t show how good the game looks. The inevitable law of diminishing returns has been reached much quicker than Sony and Microsoft anticipated.
Interestingly enough, PC games have managed to avoid this problem. Despite that PC graphics will always be the best, a lot of multi-platform games such as Assassin’s Creed and Tomb Raider are shown running on a console for gameplay videos. There’s a very simple reason behind this, video game consoles reach a more mainstream audience than PC. People who play video games on a PC are a lot more dedicated (part of the reason MMOs are so successful on PC), and it’s a different market altogether. Graphics are still important in PC games, but not every PC game is run on the same graphic settings, so there’s a lessened focus on them.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that this issue will lead to the downfall of the PS4 or the Xbox One. It’s just that neither system is going to sell people on the improved graphics. The problem is that both of their predecessors relied on improved graphics during their earlier years on the market. The first notable games on the PS3 and Xbox 360 were Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Gears of War, respectively (both exclusives). These games heavily promoted their graphics; this same tactic is less likely to work for this generation of gaming consoles. The PS3 and Xbox 360 were on the market for two years before the arrival of their killer apps, MGS4 and Halo 3. If the Wii U has been any indication, this isn’t an ideal business strategy.
The only reason I would buy a PS4 is when the PS3 is no longer a practical system to play games on, and it’ll be a while before that’s the case; the system has plenty of life in it. I won’t be bidding my farewell to the PS3 until that happens. So in the meantime I wish the PS4 and the Xbox One the best of luck in their respective launches, though I get the sense both consoles are going to need it.