Now that the Xbox One X is on the market, we have officially entered one of the weirdest periods of gaming history. All three of the console makers have released new hardware within the past year, and yet, the 8th-generation has basically only hit the halfway point. This, of course, raises an important question: when should we expect the 9th-generation to come around?
The thing about the next generation is that it remains to be seen if it will even be a ‘normal’ generation. For starters, both Sony and Microsoft have introduced upgraded versions of their existing systems in the form of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. So, it does make you wonder how these platforms will continue to grow over time.
Sony has stated that we can expect a PS5 in the future, so that sort of gives us an outlook on what PlayStation’s future will look like. The real mystery lies with the Xbox family. Microsoft’s console design strategy going forward seems like it will be following that of the Windows OS: long-term backward-compatibility. For example, Windows 10, the current version of Windows can run programs that were designed for much earlier versions like XP. In a similar fashion, Team Xbox is trying to blur the lines between the different generations of the system’s lineage, as evidenced by original Xbox titles being modified to run on the Xbox One. Microsoft’s apparent vision going forward is to continue to release new hardware that can play older games.
The real standout in this whole situation is definitely Nintendo and the recent release of the Switch. The system has been lighting up sales charts everywhere which has boosted the Big N back to levels of former glory that it hasn’t seen in years. While this is great, I’m still left wondering: where does the Switch fit in with the rest of the crowd? The thing about the Switch is that it’s obviously been designed to stand out completely from the other systems. It’s not even defined as being a home console—it’s a hybrid: a combination of a home console and handheld system. But, not only is the Switch basically in a category all its own, it’s also technically the first 9th-generation system.
Unlike the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X, the Switch is an all-new platform. Technically, it’s the first 9th-gen system…This is complicated…
While a lot of gamers seem to be under the impression that console generations are determined by power, that isn’t the case. The reality is, console generations are calculated by means of time. A new generation begins when an entirely new system is released. With that in mind, the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X are new hardware, but they are not entirely new systems. Rather, they’re upgraded variants of the original PS4 and Xbox One. While this really hasn’t been done before in the home console market, it still doesn’t rewrite the rules for how we define a console generation. It just makes things even more complicated…
But going back to the Switch, since it is actually a new system, that does technically put it a generation ahead of the PS4 and Xbox One. As the successor to the Wii U, this is fundamentally correct. But, still, there’s the matter of timing.
Putting the Switch aside for a second, let’s consider how long the PS4 and Xbox One will last now that we have the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X. The average console generation runs for at least five years. Usually, by this point, developers have maxed out the existing hardware and are ready to move on to the next. But, then the 7th-generation happened.
The 7th-gen lasted nearly a decade. The release of the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X could result in the 8th-gen running for a similar length of time.
The PS3 and 360 lasted a notably long time compared to most other systems, eight and seven years, respectively. It’s never been officially stated why they were kept around for that long, but this essentially made the PS4 and Xbox One arrive ‘late’, so to speak. Both systems just turned four years old, and what happened? We got new hardware. The PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X are weird because they’re hardware upgrades, but their release fundamentally falls in place with the natural console cycle. So, does this mean we’ll have another extended generation? That’s really the biggest question that needs to be answered. Those who buy the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X will likely feel pretty jilted if Sony and Microsoft release totally new systems within the next two years, so that does make at least three years the more comfortable choice. That would mean this generation would last about seven years, with the 9th kicking off in 2020. But, where does this leave the Switch?
If Nintendo follows its pattern of replacing a system at least every five years, that would give the Switch a possible lifespan of 2017-2022. If Sony and Microsoft really do launch new systems in 2020, that means the Switch would spend about two years competing not just with the ‘hot-and-new’ systems, but also systems that would be much more advanced. Seeing that it’s already weaker than the OG PS4, this would put quite a strain on developers. But, hey, the PS2 survived alongside the PS3, 360 and Wii for a solid eight years, so who says the Switch couldn’t pull off something similar?
As you can see, this whole generation seems rather unbalanced. Things have happened that typically don’t happen, which makes the whole situation seem weird and muddies the vision of the future. If Sony and Microsoft tend to turn this whole mid-generation upgrade thing into an actual strategy, then I guess we can expect the PS5 and Xbox 4 to also be boosted midway into their lives. As for Nintendo, it may even likely do something similar with the Switch; it technically did the first mid-gen upgrade with the release of the New 3DS.
Ultimately, we’ll just have to wait and see how things turn out. The whole industry is going through one wild rollercoaster ride right now, so really our only option as gamers is to just sit back and hang on. At the end of the day, if the last few years have proven anything, it’s this: basically, anything can happen in this industry. Whether it be something amazing or terrible, just about anything can go down and usually without warning. That makes the future all the more interesting (and a tad bit intimidating…)
This generation has proved just how unpredictable the industry can be. Makes you wonder what on earth the future holds…