Predictions are something we typically reserve for E3, but with rumors swirling around that the next generation of consoles is hot on our heels, we are making an exception. The PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Two both look to further increase their power compared to their previous incarnations, but one aspect we expect both to embrace is backwards compatibility. Not between multiple generations, but rather between their respective previous generation consoles to create a more fluid transition between the new generation of consoles and the previous.
For both console developers, having a viable backward compatability program or compatible hardware opens the door for a more fluid transition. Consider how the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 worked together during the launch of the PlayStation 4; they didn’t at all. PlayStation 3 games couldn’t be played on the PlayStation 4 and many of the games that were on the PlayStation 3 needed to be released in a new format to work on the PlayStation 4. In much the same way we currently see Wii U titles working their way over to the Nintendo Switch, we saw a litany of PlayStation 3 titles being remastered for the PlayStation 4. Sony knew that many missed out on PlayStation 3 exclusives and the PlayStation 4 was taking off and could use more titles, enter in games like God of War III Remastered and The Last of Us Remastered to fill in the gaps.
Having to remake games like this isn’t the most efficient means of delivering older titles to gamers. One only needs to look at the PlayStation 3 library to see the multitude of games that never made it over to the PlayStation 4 and still don’t have any signs of working their way over. But, if that next system was at least partially compatible with the previous generations, that problem instantly disappears. Now as a developer you no longer need to spend the extra development time needed to create a whole new version of a game that is compatible with a new set of hardware. It’s already available, and now your product has a new lease on life for consumers to purchase. If you wish to patch the game to run at a higher fidelity and graphics setting, you can do that and take advantage of the new platforms powers, or do nothing, the choice is yours as a developer in this situation.
While developers certainly benefit, so do the console makers as well. When a new console launches it can be one of the scariest times for a console maker. From what we have seen time and time again, console launches can make or break a company for an entire generation and can be almost impossible to escape until the next round of console releases. This makes it key that a console does well in its first months/years of its existence, and having a high adoption rate early on heavily influences the health of the product throughout its life. To assure a high adoption rate, console makers need to have not only high-quality titles launch (especially exclusive ones) but also a variety of titles as well. This is an almost impossible task during a console’s launch due to the rarity of devkits coupled with developers concerned with which console will be the most profitable to focus on in this new generation. But if a console can support its previous generations released, that small number of games simply doesn’t need to exist. Instead, developers can put forth a smaller amount of effort to enhance their game for the new hardware and re-release them as enhanced for the new hardware. For a console maker, having such a system now opens up the floodgates for a multitude of games to be available right at launch and removes some of the fear in having a limited amount of titles available on a new system.
Having a high adoption rate of a new console is important, but that is a logic drawn from the current way consoles release and their life cycle. Having a more fluid release could also mean that having such a successful launch initially isn’t as an important metric moving forward. If consumers know that a newer model exists, but their older model is still valid—much the way the PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X exist—they might be less likely to upgrade immediately but still be interested in upgrading to take advantage of the benefits. For a new console, this break can create a less drastic spike but still create a succesful launch in an easier to predict way.
In all cases, having a more fluid transition enables console makers to not only better predict their sales, but allow console makers to have a better library when first launching.
For consumers, the benefits are largely the opposite or similar to how console makers benefit. As a consumer, if you opt to be an early adopter of the PlayStation 5 or an Xbox Two under this more fluid transition, then you benefit from more games being available when the console launches. Additionaly, following the trends of the PlayStation 4 Pro and the Xbox One X, those who adopt early should also be able to take advantage of improved graphics and frame rates from those older titles. If you are someone who is new to a specific console from a previous generation (had an Xbox One and bought a PlayStation 5) you not only get to experience the new games coming out, but also now have the ability to enjoy the exclusives from the previous generations as well. Theoretically, this type of mid-step could work both ways too, having titles being available for both the PlayStation 5 and the PlayStation 4 Pro, giving greater longevity to those mid-step consoles. Finally, with developers having a lesser need to provide new versions of the same game, this means more resources can be devoted to newer titles and new projects.
We are all still waiting for the announcement of the next consoles and how they may function. But, if this generation with its half steps are any indiction of whats to come (especially if Microsoft gets its way), we could be looking at the most fluid console generation to release ever! This enables both console makers and consumers to shift to a more favorable progression of technology, one that those who play PC games know all to well. So while we may not know exactly what the next consoles will be, we say, the signs are certainly pointing in that directions, and there are many benefits to reap from this.