Much like the title of this article the idea of releasing new console hardware half way through the cycle without it actually being the “next generation” is a disaster waiting to happen. With all the recent mumblings and murmurs making their way through the Internet, it’s hard to avoid the rumours of the inevitable reveal of new console hardware.
Between Sony’s PlayStation Neo (or PS4.5/PS4K) and the Xbox One Slim (or my personal favourite, Xbox One II [Two]) there has been a lot of talk about a mid-cycle release of new hardware. This is not terribly uncommon. We saw this in the last generation with the many different iterations of the PS3 and Xbox 360, but this time it is a little bit different. If the rumours are to be trusted these new consoles may have some extra horsepower under the hood to help bring games up to a higher level of fidelity in terms of frame rate, resolution, and overall graphical prowess.
For a lot of people itching to get some more frames per second out of their console experience this sounds like a dream come true. Unfortunately for other people that can’t or don’t want to invest in new hardware so early on in the current hardware cycle (relative to previous console life cycles) it is their worst nightmare. I personally consider myself somewhere in the middle. I like the idea of giving developers more clock cycles and memory to play around with, but at the same time don’t want the Xbox One I already purchased to be phased out so abruptly.
Consumer opinions aside, releasing a completely different set of hardware mid-cycle also has a profound effect on developers. One of the things that make development for consoles so attractive for developers and publishers alike is the relatively static hardware. Having a fixed target to optimize and develop for helps relieve a lot of the aches and pains that come along with game development. This is often so much of a factor that games will not even release on the inherently fragmented (hardware-wise) market of personal computers. Something else worth considering is that multiplayer for a game will likely have to run at the lower framerate of the old consoles to keep a balanced playing field, assuming there would be cross-play between the old and new hardware. Even though there has been a fairly quiet shift in game engines to make them much more scalable (for console exclusives more notably), allowing them to run at dynamic resolutions to maintain framerates, I don’t know if this would be enough to help studios swallow the pill of effectively doubling their console target platforms.
Overall there isn’t much anybody can do at this point except to wait and see what Sony and Microsoft present at their respective E3 conferences later this year. A couple notable developers have already come forward and stated they are not terribly enthused about the plans for new hardware, and very likely for good reason. Consumers on the other hand seem to be a little torn between this being the best move for consoles in their history and it being the stupidest decision either of the hardware manufacturers could ever make. Regardless of whether it ends up being great or awful, it seems that both Sony and Microsoft are willing to take the risk and see whether it pays out at the end. For now I’ll just keep thinking of how Microsoft can dig itself out of the naming grave it dug with Xbox One.