Earlier this month, new rumors surrounding the PlayStation 5 sprouted. A lot of the information seems rather outlandish, but one tidbit, in particular, caught my attention: this system could be released very soon. If this were a normal generation, I’d probably believe this to be the case. But, this isn’t a normal generation. The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X are the first of their kind—mid-generation console upgrades. This raises an important question: how long will the current generation stick around?
In a past article, I asked the question: “Why do the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X exist?” The conclusion that I came to is a point that was brought up by others and seems quite likely. There’s a chance that major third-party companies perhaps persuaded Sony and Microsoft to build more powerful machines quickly after the 2013 launch of the PS4 and Xbox One. The reason likely being that since the PS3 and 360 were kept around so long, their successors were technically ‘late.’ This opened the door for the technology to be improved upon a lot earlier than usual. Still, whether or not this really is the reason as to why these mid-gen upgrades exist is debatable. Even so, I can say for sure that their existence is what has primarily made the current situation of console generations so strange.
The original PS4 and Xbox One both turned four years old back in November. They can definitely be considered established platforms at this point, no longer fitting the tag of ‘next-gen.’ With the average console generation lasting five to six years, this would mean that we’re basically coming up on the final stretch for these systems. But, again, we have to consider the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. The Pro is just over a year old at this point, and the Xbox One X hasn’t even been around for a solid six-months yet. Simply put, both of these systems are very young. On top of that, they are admittedly more powerful than their standard counterparts. This is what really makes the current landscape of consoles so strange: how long can developers balance the workload between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ systems?
Before now, the only time a situation like this would come up is if a system is either severely underpowered (like the Wii) or during a generational transition (like moving from the PS3 to PS4). This natural fragmentation is something to be expected under those circumstances. But now, there’s fragmentation of individual platforms. The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X are still a part of the PS4 and Xbox One family. So, if the truly next-generation of systems comes out anytime soon, what’s going to happen to the current platforms? The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X can already do things the standard systems can’t. The power gap will only widen if you throw a PS5 and Next-Xbox into the mix. This is simpler than developers having to code for the thousands of different PC hardware configurations out there, but still not as straightforward as a single set of blueprints per generation like has been the case until now.
The PS4 Pro can do things the normal PS4 can’t. If the PS5 comes out anytime soon, how long will support for the older last?
Still, it isn’t impossible for the standard PS4 and Xbox One to be kept around for a while longer, even if the next-gen systems release anytime soon. Take a look at the world of PCs and mobile devices. There are new models released every year, so hardware is constantly being refreshed. Even so, millions of people tend to hang onto their machines for several years. Thus, most developers tend to support older components as long as they can.
For instance, my gaming laptop is powered by a Nvidia GTX 960M graphics card and Intel Core i7 6700HQ processor. Both of these components came out in 2015. At this point, they’ve been replaced by several newer and more capable models. Even so, both of these components are still widely supported today, allowing my machine to run modern games and programs. Sure, it’s not the highest-end of experiences, but the point is that this hardware still gets the job done. By the looks of it, we could be running into the same situation with consoles.
If the PS5 and Next-Xbox come out anytime soon, there’s a good chance that a lot of PS4 and Xbox One owners might not be keen to upgrade, especially if they recently moved over to the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. Thus, we could have a situation where essentially three different versions of a console platform are being supported simultaneously. Of course, we’ve seen cross-generational support before, but this is a little different. It wouldn’t really make sense for Sony, Microsoft and third-party developers to drop support for the Pro and X since they’re still new machines. So, we could essentially end up with two generations running alongside each other. This wouldn’t actually be the first time something like this has happened, though. The PS2 was able to stick around for quite some time after the PS3 was released, so there is a bit of a precedent. If things really do turn out this way, then consoles may end up functioning just like the aforementioned PC and mobile markets. That is, as time passes, the older hardware is just gradually phased out without much of a fuss and consumers will naturally move on to new releases. That’s more or less been the situation since the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X launched, although they have been marketed as ‘optional’ upgrades.
PCs are replaced regularly, but older hardware tends to be supported for a while. Similarly, old and new hardware has run alongside each other in the console world before.
While this is a plausible scenario, it still basically goes against the traditional console cycle. Gamers have grown accustomed to definitive periods when new hardware is introduced, and the older machines are phased out. The PS4 Pro and Xbox One X have totally disrupted that flow, thus creating an anomaly. The generational cycle has kept the console landscape much simpler than that of PCs, as there hasn’t been any real fragmentation until now. On PC, everyone fundamentally has a different experience due to the thousands of different hardware configurations that are out there. With consoles, it’s simply generation after generation. But, it looks like those days just might be over.
I have to admit this isn’t a truly terrible new set of rules. When a new console generation begins, the previous one becomes unsupported relatively quickly. This then pushes most consumers to adopt the new hardware. If generations now end up running simultaneously, then more budget-strapped consumers will still be able to get new titles for a while (even if they don’t look or run as good), thus giving them more freedom to choose when to upgrade.
It’s impossible to know for sure when the PS5 and Next-Xbox will launch, but I still find it hard to believe it will be anytime soon like this year or next year. As I’ve discussed in a past article, it would be best if Sony and Microsoft waited until at least 2020. That way, nobody has to feel jilted. But, if these companies really do decide to keep support for the current standard systems running alongside the newer ones, perhaps the next set of consoles may very well be near on the horizon.